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MLK Day special: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his own words

Today is the federal holiday that honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was born January 15, 1929. He was assassinated April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was just 39 years old. While Dr. King is primarily remembered as a civil rights leader, he also championed the cause of the poor and organized the Poor People’s Campaign to address issues of economic justice. Dr. King was also a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy and the Vietnam War. We play his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, which he delivered at New York City’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, as well as his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” that he gave on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Today is a federal holiday that honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was born January 15th, 1929. He was assassinated April 4th, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was just 39 years old.

While Dr. King is primarily remembered as a civil rights leader, he also championed the cause of the poor, organizing the Poor People’s Campaign to address issues of economic justice. And Dr. King was a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy and the Vietnam War.

“Beyond Vietnam” was the speech he delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4th, 1967, a year to the day before he was assassinated. In it, Dr. King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Life magazine called the speech “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The Washington Post said King, quote, “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people,” unquote. Well, today we let you decide. We play an excerpt of Dr. King’s speech, “Beyond Vietnam.”

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: After 1954, they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which could have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over the united Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again. When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be remembered.
Also, it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva Agreements concerning foreign troops. And they remind us that they did not begin to send troops in large numbers and even supplies into the South, until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.
Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the North. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than 8,000 miles away from its shores.
At this point, I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else, for it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after the short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long, they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America, who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.
This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote: “Each day the war goes on, the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism,” unquote.
If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.
The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.
In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war and set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement.
Part of our ongoing — part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under the new regime, which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country, if necessary.
Meanwhile — meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task: While we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment, we must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.
These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
Now, there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality — and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing clergy and laymen concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.
In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past 10 years, we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression, which has now justified the presence of U.S. military “advisers” in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago, he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin — we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay a hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King, April 4th, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York, explaining why he opposed the war in Vietnam. We’ll come back to his speech in a minute.

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AMY GOODMAN: Mahalia Jackson, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s favorite song. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we return to Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech “Beyond Vietnam.” He gave this speech April 4th, 1967, a year to the day before he was assassinated. He was speaking at Riverside Church in New York.

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions.
It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarism. With this powerful commitment, we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.”
A genuine revolution of values means, in the final analysis, that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.
This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft-misunderstood, this oft-misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man.
When I speak of love, I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response, I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I’m speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the First Epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says, “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word,” unquote.
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam writes, “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…” We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.
As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:
Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
Twixt that darkness and that light.

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet ’tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong:
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., April 4th, 1967, speaking at Riverside Church in New York, explaining why he opposed the war in Vietnam, the speech he delivered exactly a year to the day before he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, April 4th, 1968. The night before he died, Dr. King delivered his last major address. He was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers as he built momentum for a Poor People’s March on Washington. This is some of Dr. King’s last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt, and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through — or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.
I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire, and I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his 95 theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would come on up even to 1863 and watch a vacillating president by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even come up to the early '30s and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation and come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. But I wouldn't stop there.
Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.”
Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land, confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the 20th century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.
Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee, the cry is always the same: “We want to be free!”
And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.
And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that he’s allowed me to be in Memphis.
I can remember — I can remember when Negroes were just going around, as Ralph has said, so often scratching where they didn’t itch and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.
And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying — we are saying that we are God’s children. And if we are God’s children, we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.
Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., April 3rd, 1968, the night before he was assassinated. We’ll come back to this speech in Memphis, Tennessee, in a minute.

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AMY GOODMAN: Nina Simone singing “Why? (The King of Love Is Dead).” This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech the night before he was assassinated. It was April 3rd, 1968, a rainy night in Memphis, Tennessee.

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth. And they did come. But we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.”
Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist and some others, we had been sprinkled. But we knew water. That couldn’t stop us.
And we just went on before the dogs, and we would look at them; and we’d go on before the water hoses, and we would look at it. And we’d just go on singing, “Over my head I see freedom in the air.” And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, “Take ’em off.” And they did. And we would just go on in the paddy wagon singing, “We Shall Overcome.” And every now and then we’d get in jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows, being moved by our prayers and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to, and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham.
Now let me say, as I move to my conclusion, that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school, be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base. Now, that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air and placed it on the dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou” and to be concerned about his brother.
Now, you know we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that “One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body 24 hours before the ceremony.” And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem — or down to Jericho, rather, to organize a Jericho Road Improvement Association. That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.
But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1,200 miles — or rather 1,200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, 15 or 20 minutes later, you’re about 2,200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And, you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
That’s the question before you tonight, not “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?” not “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.
You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented Black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was “Are you Martin Luther King?” And I was looking down writing, and I said, “Yes.” And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it, I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the x-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, you’re drowned in your own blood; that’s the end of you.
It came out in The New York Times the next morning, that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheelchair in the hospital. They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the president and the vice president. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I had received a visit and a letter from the governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what that letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply, “Dear Dr. King, I am a ninth grade student at the White Plains High School.” And she said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
And I want to say tonight — I want to say tonight that I too am happy that I didn’t sneeze, because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in interstate travel.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.
If I had sneezed — if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the Black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation and brought into being the civil rights bill.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great movement there.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.
I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.
And they were telling me — now, it doesn’t matter now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us. The pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked and to be sure that nothing would be wrong on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully, and we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”
And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats or talk about the threats that were out, of what would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers. Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King, speaking April 3rd, 1968. Within 24 hours, he would be dead, assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, April 4th, 1968. Today is the federal holiday that honors him.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced by Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Nermeen Shaikh, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Libby Rainey, Sam Alcoff, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Charina Nadura, Tey-Marie Astudillo, Adriano Contreras and María Taracena. Mike Di Filippo and Miguel Nogueira are our engineers. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Julie Crosby, Miriam Barnard, Hugh Gran, David Prude, Vesta Goodarz and Carl Marxer. And to our camera crew, Jon Randolph, Kieran Krug-Meadows, Anna Özbek and Matt Ealy. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

Fascism expert says Trump’s cult of personality is growing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Noam Chomsky sounds the alarm on the rise of anti-science rhetoric in America

Today, a special broadcast: an hour with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, who just turned 93 years old. Chomsky spoke to Democracy Now! prior to the discovery of the Omicron coronavirus variant, but he predicted new variants would emerge. “If you let the virus run rampant in poor countries, everyone understands that mutation is likely, the kind of mutation that led to the Delta variant, now the Delta Plus variant in India, and who knows what will develop,” Chomsky said.


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

AMY GOODMAN: Today, a special broadcast, an hour with Noam Chomsky. The world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author just turned 93 years old. Democracy Now!'s Nermeen Shaikh and I recently interviewed Noam as part of Democracy Now!'s 25th anniversary celebration. Noam Chomsky joined us from his home in Tucson, Arizona, where he teaches at the University of Arizona. We asked him about the state of the pandemic and why so many Americans have refused to get vaccinated.

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s overwhelmingly a far-right phenomenon. Others have been drawn in. And I think there are many sources. Actually, one of them is probably social media, which does circulate lots of dubious or even false information. And if people are wedded to a particular part of it, that’s what they’ll be fed. But beyond that, there is skepticism, which has justification, about the role of government. Happens to be misplaced in this case, but you can understand the origins of the skepticism.
And it’s not just the pandemic. Much worse than that are the attitudes of skepticism about global warming. So, one rather shocking fact that I learned recently is that during the Trump years, among Republicans, the belief that global warming is a serious problem — not even an urgent problem, just a serious problem — declined about 20%. That’s very serious. Here we’re talking not just about the spread of a pandemic, but about marching over the precipice and ending the prospects for sustained, organized human life. That’s the kind of thing we’re facing. Well, you can talk about the origins of the skepticism, but it has to be dealt with and overcome, and very decisively and without delay, or else the whole human species and all the others that we are casually destroying will be in severe danger.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, can you talk about how you think that skepticism can be overcome — I mean, you, yourself, a serious critic of the corporate-government alliance — why people should trust large pharmaceutical companies like Moderna and Pfizer, that are making billions, why in this case we should trust that vaccines will save the population?
NOAM CHOMSKY: If the information came from Pfizer and Moderna, there would be no reason to trust it. But it just happens that 100% of health agencies throughout the world and the vast majority of the medical profession and the health sciences accept the actually quite overwhelming evidence that vaccination radically reduces onset of infection and deaths. The evidence on that is very compelling. And it’s therefore not surprising that it’s basically universally accepted by relevant authorities. So, yes, if we heard it just from Big Pharma PR, there would be every reason for skepticism. But you can look at the data. They’re available. And you can — when you do so, you can understand why there is essentially universal acceptance among the agencies that have no stake in the matter other than trying to save lives. You can understand why poor African countries who weren’t paid off by Big Pharma are pleading for vaccines. Their health agencies are.
And, in fact, the only exception I noted about this, apart from Trump for a period, was Bolsonaro’s Brazil, and he is now being under charges of a long senatorial investigation for charges of crimes against humanity for his failure to follow the normal protocol of trying to maximize the use of vaccines. Now that his reticence, reluctance on this matter has been overturned, it’s having the usual effect. Vaccinations are increasing, and incidence of disease and deaths is sharply declining. That correlation is so clear that it takes a real strange refusal to look at facts to see it. And again, as I say, health agencies throughout world are uniform and agreed with the medical profession on the efficacy of vaccines.
There are other things that have to be done: social distancing, care, masking in crowded places. There are measures that have to be taken. Countries where these measures have been followed carefully are doing quite well. But where there’s a high level of skepticism, whatever its roots, there are serious problems.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think the U.S. should do to ensure that countries get vaccines around the world, not only for altruistic reasons, but because you can’t end this pandemic here or anywhere unless these vaccines get out everywhere? And I’m talking about Moderna and Pfizer. Moderna, the U.S. gave billions to. Pfizer, the U.S. promised to purchase so much. And both corporations, among others, have made billions. And yet, what can the U.S. do to ensure that these vaccines can be made in other places, like requiring that Moderna release the recipe? Still they will make a fortune. What has Biden not done that would allow people to have access to these life-saving vaccines?
NOAM CHOMSKY: I should say that Europe’s record is even worse than that of the United States. Biden has made some effort, but the wealthy countries have not, including the United States, though not primarily the United States — they have not taken measures that are within their capacity to ensure that other countries that have the resources to produce vaccines will have access not only to the products, the vaccines, but also to the process of manufacturing them.
We should recognize that the World Trade Organization rules, instituted mainly in the 1990s largely under U.S. initiative, they are radically protectionist, radically anti-free market. They provide protection to major corporations, Big Pharma, not only for the products they produce but to the processes by which they produce them. And that patent can easily be broken. The governments have the capacity to insist that the processes be available and that vaccines be distributed to the countries that need it.
First of all, this will save uncounted numbers of lives. And, as you said, it means saving ourselves. If you let the virus run rampant in poor countries, everyone understands that mutation is likely, the kind of mutation that led to the Delta variant, now the Delta Plus variant in India, and who knows what will develop. Could be a — we’ve been kind of lucky so far. The coronaviruses have been either highly lethal and not too contagious, like Ebola, or highly contagious but not too lethal, like COVID-19. But the next one coming down the pike might be both, might even be nonsuppressible by vaccines.
We know the measures that have to be taken to try to prevent this from happening: research, preparations, health systems that work. It’s not a small point. Like, there are now new antivirals coming along which don’t stop the disease but prevent hospitalization. But you have to have a functioning health system. Very hard to see how these could even be usable in the United States, where the health system simply is not organized in such a way that people can get access to what they need.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: You yourself have experienced the ruinous effect of low vaccination rates in certain states, where hospitals have been unable to provide regular services because all the beds are taken up with COVID patients. Earlier this year, you needed hospital care but were unable to access a facility because all the beds were taken with COVID patients. Could you explain where this happened and what exactly happened?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, don’t want to go into the details, but I had something which was severe, couldn’t get to the hospital where my doctors are. They were overwhelmed with patients. Had to go to a couple other hospitals, and finally they managed. So, you know, it’s not the worst case by any means. I should say that even getting a booster shot was not easy. My wife was trying for — Valeria — for weeks simply to try to get an appointment. The system — I’m lucky. I’m relatively privileged. For others, it’s much worse.
Hospitals are overflowing, with almost 100% unvaccinated patients in regions of the country, which are mostly red states, which have been reluctant and unwilling to carry out appropriate measures. Hospitals have been forced to cancel regular procedures just because of the crush of almost entirely unvaccinated patients filling beds. There’s a lot of extra deaths, enormous social costs. And all of this is under control. We know how to deal with it. It’s a social malady, a breakdown of the social and cultural order, which is very serious in the pandemic case, but, as I want to keep stressing, far more serious in the case of environmental destruction. And we don’t have much time there. We can survive pandemics at enormous cost. We’re not going to survive environmental destruction.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, the 93-year-old world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. When we come back, we talk about the climate emergency, the rise of proto-fascism in the United States and more.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Hurley performing “O My Stars” in our Democracy Now! studios back just before the pandemic in 2020.

Watch: Noam Chomsky explains how the Republican Party is marching the world to destruction

Noam Chomsky warns the Republican Party is “marching” the world to destruction by ignoring the climate emergency while embracing proto-fascism at home. Chomsky talks about the January 6 insurrection, how neoliberalism is a form of class warfare and how President Biden’s climate plans fall short of what is needed.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to our discussion with world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author Noam Chomsky. Nermeen Shaikh and I recently spoke to him. He was at his home in Tucson, Arizona.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, you have called the Republican Party the most dangerous organization in human history. You’ve also called the political leaders a gang of sadists. I was wondering if you could elaborate on this. But also, in all of your 93 years, have you ever seen such an anti-science, anti-fact trend in this country before? And then, if you can talk about how it links up with other such movements around the world and how it should be dealt with?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, it’s a fact that there has been a strain of anti-science sentiment in significant parts of the United States for a long time. This is the country that had the Scopes trial. There’s an unusual power in the United States of evangelical, anti-science extremism.
But as a political movement, it’s — has nothing been like what it is in the contemporary period. The Republican Party, under Trump, and his minions — he basically owns the party — they have been in the lead of trying to destroy the prospects for organized human life on Earth, not just unilaterally pulling out of the Paris Agreement, but acting with enthusiasm to maximize fossil fuel use, to dismantle the systems that somewhat mitigated their effects, denial of what’s happening, reaching a huge number of loyal almost worshipers, partly through their media system, in other ways.
When the United States is the most powerful, important country in world history, when it races to the precipice, has an impact on others. Other things that are happening are bad enough, but with the United States in the lead and marching to destruction, the future is very dim. And it’s our responsibility here to control it, to terminate it, to turn the country back to sanity — don’t even like to say “back” — turn it to sanity on these issues, before it’s too late.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Professor Chomsky, you’ve warned of a severe threat from a resurgent proto-fascist right here in the U.S. and spoken out — you’ve spoken out against the general right-wing shift across the political spectrum in the U.S. If you could explain what you think is behind that, and if you see any prospects in the near future for its reversal?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, we have been through a 40-year, 45-year assault on the general population within the framework of what’s called neoliberalism. And it’s had a very serious impact. There are even some measures of it. So, the RAND Corporation, super respectable, did a study recently of the, what they politely call, transfer of wealth from the lower 90% of the population — that’s working-class and middle-class — the transfer of wealth from them to the very rich during the last 40 years. Their estimate is on the order of $50 trillion. They call it transfer of wealth. We should call it robbery. There’s plenty more like it, keeps being exposed. The Pandora Papers that came out revealed another aspect of it. That’s not small change. CEO salaries, management salaries have skyrocketed. A large part, probably a majority, of the population by now is basically surviving paycheck to paycheck, very little in reserve. If they have a health problem or something else, they’re in deep trouble, especially with the lack of social support in the country.
Even trivial measures that exist everywhere are very hard to implement in this country. We’re seeing it in Congress right now, measures like maternity leave, which is everywhere. I think there are a couple of Pacific islands that join the United States in not having paid maternity leave. Go to the second-largest country in the hemisphere, hardly a site of enormous progress, Brazil, women have four months guaranteed paid maternity leave, which can be extended a couple of months, paid for by the Social Security system. In the United States, you can’t get a day. And it’s being — it’s right at Congress right now. The Republican Party is 100% rock-solid opposition to this and other measures, including some weak but at least existing measures to mitigate the climate crisis, 100% Republican opposition, joined by a couple of Democrats, the coal baron from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, the leading recipient in Congress of fossil fuel funding, dragging his feet on everything, joining the 100% Republican opposition, Kyrsten Sinema from my state, huge recipient of Big Pharma, other corporate funding, also dragging her feet. Even the simplest things, like what I mentioned, are very hard to get through in a country that’s been poisoned by right-wing propaganda, by corporate power. It goes way back, but it’s expanded enormously in the past 40 years.
You look up “neoliberalism,” the word “neoliberalism,” in the dictionary, you find bromides about belief in the market, trust in the market, fair — everyone’s got a fair shake, and so on. You look at the reality, neoliberalism translates as bitter class war. That’s the meaning of it, everywhere you look, every component of it. The RAND, the $50 trillion robbery is just one sign of it.
When Reagan and his associate Margaret Thatcher on the other side of the Atlantic, when they came in to power, their first acts were to attack and undermine, severely undermine, the labor movement. If you’re going to have a sensible project, if you’re going to carry out a major class war attacking workers in the middle class, you better destroy their means of self-protection. And the great — the major means are labor unions. That’s the way poor people, working people can organize to develop ideas, to develop programs, to act with mutual aid and solidarity to achieve their goals. So that has to be destroyed. And that was the major target of attack from the beginning, many others. What we’re left with is a society of atomized people, angry, resentful, lacking organization, faced with concentrated private power, which is working very hard to pursue the bitter class war that has led to the current disastrous situation.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you how January 6th, how you see it playing out. Do you see it as really not so much the birth but continuation of a proto-fascist movement? You’re in Arizona, the recounts over and over again of the votes, questioning Democratic votes all over the country. Where do you see the U.S. going? And do you see President Trump becoming president again?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s very possible. The Republican strategy, which I described, has been successful: Do as much damage as you can to the country, blame it on the Democrats, develop all sorts of fanciful tales about the hideous things that the communists, the Democrats, are doing to your children, to the society, in a country which is subjected to social collapse, to atomization, to lack of organized ability to respond in ideas and actions that can be successful. And we’re seeing it right now. So, yes, it’s very possible that the denialist party will come back into power, that Trump will be back, or someone like him, and then we’ll be simply racing to the precipice.
As far as fascism is concerned, there are some analysts, very astute and knowledgeable ones, who say we’re actually moving towards actual fascism. My own feeling is, I would prefer to call it a kind of proto-fascism, where many of the symptoms of fascism are quite apparent — resort to violence, the belief that violence is necessary. A large part of the Republican Party, I think maybe 30 or 40%, say that violence may be necessary to save our country from the people who are trying to destroy it, the Democrat villains who are doing all these hideous things that are fed into their ears. And we see it in armed militias.
January 6th was an example of — these are people from basically petit bourgeois, moderately affluent Middle America circles, not — there were some militia types among them who really feel that it’s necessary to carry out a coup to save the country. They were trying to carry out a coup to undermine an elected government — it’s called a coup — and came unfortunately close. Luckily, the — and they’re now taking — the Republican Party is now taking sophisticated measures to try to ensure that the next time around, it will succeed.
Notice they are treating the January 6th coup activists as heroes: “They were trying to save America.” These are signs of massive social collapse, which show up concretely in the fact that people literally do not have enough financial reserves to put themselves through a crisis. And, of course, it’s much worse when you go to really deprived communities. Like, household wealth among Blacks is almost nothing. They’re in severe problems. All of this in the richest, most powerful country in the world, in world history, with enormous advantages, unparalleled, could easily lead the way to a much better future.
And it’s not a utopian dream. Let’s go back to the Depression. Happens to be my childhood, can remember it well. Severe crisis, poverty, suffering much worse than today, but a hopeful period. My own family, unemployed, at first immigrant, working-class, were living with hope. They had the unions. My aunts, unemployed seamstresses, had the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, cultural activities, mutual aid. You could go on a week’s vacation. A hope for the future, militant labor actions, other political actions, sympathetic administration led the way to social democracy, inspired what happened in Europe after the war. Meanwhile, Europe moved to fascism, literal, hideous fascism. The United States, under these pressures, moved to social democracy. Now, with supreme and bitter irony, we’re seeing something like the reverse: The United States is moving towards a form of fascism; Europe is barely holding on to functioning social democracy, got plenty of their own problems, but at least they’re holding onto it — almost the reverse of what happened in the past. And we can certainly go back not only to the ’30s, but something much better than that.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Chomsky, could you — you’ve spoken, of course, now about the Republican Party. Could you give an assessment also of the Biden administration so far? You spoke earlier of the climate crisis. Earlier this year, the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued its report, after a decade, which the U.N. secretary-general called “code red for humanity.” And just days after, as you’ve mentioned, Biden called on OPEC to start increasing production of oil. So, if you could comment on that, Biden’s policies on climate, but also on other issues?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s a mixed story. His domestic programs are, frankly, considerably better than I anticipated. But they’re being — they’ve already been sharply cut back. The Build Back Better bill, that’s now being debated and, without enormous public pressures, not likely to be passed, is a sharply pared-down version of what first Bernie Sanders produced, Biden more or less accepted and cut it back somewhat, now cut back much more sharply, may not even get through in its pared-back form.
As I said, the Republicans are 100% opposed to allowing what their own constituents very much approve of, and managing the propaganda system so that their constituents don’t even know about it. Remarkable results showing up in polls about the Build Back Better bill. If you ask people about their particular provisions, strong support. You ask about the bill, mixed feelings, often opposition, feeling the bill, which contains the provisions they want, are likely to hurt them. Furthermore, turns out they don’t know what’s in the bill. They don’t know that it contains the provisions that they approve of. All of this is a massive successful indoctrination campaign of the kind that Goebbels would have been impressed with. And the only way to overcome it, again, is by constant, dedicated activism.
Take the climate program. Biden’s climate program was not what was needed, but it was better than anything that preceded it. And it didn’t come from above. It was the result of significant activist work. Young activists [inaudible] got to the point of occupying senatorial congressional offices, Nancy Pelosi’s office. Ordinarily, they’d be kicked out by Capitol Police. This time they got support from Ocasio-Cortez, joined them, made it impossible for the police to throw them out, got further support from, as I mentioned, Ed Markey. Soon they were able to press Biden to develop, to agree to a climate program that was a big improvement on anything from before it — in fact, even by world standards, one of the best. Well, the management of the Democratic Party didn’t like that, wasn’t having it. They actually cut it out of their webpage before the election and tried to block it. And it’s been reduced by them and by the solid Republican opposition demanding that we move as quickly as possible towards disaster. Well, it’s now cut sharply back.
You go to Glasgow. Lots of nice words, including from President Biden. Take a look at what’s happening in the world outside of the halls in Glasgow. Different picture. Biden came home from Glasgow and opened for lease the largest giveaway in U.S. history of petroleum fields for exploitation by the energy corporations. Well, his defense is that his effort to stop it was blocked by a temporary court decision, so he had no choice. Actually, there were choices. There were other options. But the message that it sends, stark and clear, is that the institutions of the society, the federal institution, the executive branch, the legislative branch, the judiciary, those institutions are incapable of recognizing the severity of the crises that we face, and are committed to a course which leads to something like species suicide.
The only force that can counter that was actually present at Glasgow. There were two events at Glasgow. There was the pleasant talk but meaningless verbiage inside the halls. There were the tens of thousands of demonstrators outside the buildings, young people mostly, calling for measures, real measures, to allow a decent, viable society to develop, not be destroyed. Those are the two events in Glasgow. The question of which one prevails will determine our future. Will it be heading towards disaster, or will it be moving towards a better, more livable world? Both are possible. The choice is in our hands.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, the 93-year-old world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. When we come back, we’ll talk about Julian Assange, Joe Biden’s foreign policy and U.S.-China relations. Stay with us.

The legacy of Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1931-2021), an anti-apartheid icon

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African anti-apartheid icon, has died at the age of 90. In 1984 Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work fighting to end white minority rule in South Africa. After the fall of apartheid, Archbishop Tutu chaired the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where he pushed for restorative justice. He was a leading voice for human rights and peace around the world. He opposed the Iraq War and condemned the Israeli occupation in Palestine, comparing it to apartheid South Africa. We reair two interviews Archbishop Tutu did on Democracy Now!, as well as two speeches on the Iraq War and the climate crisis.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour remembering Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The South African anti-apartheid icon died Sunday at the age of 90. In 1984, Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work fighting to end white minority rule in South Africa. That same year, 1984, he traveled to Washington, where he denounced the Reagan administration’s support for South Africa’s apartheid government.

DESMOND TUTU: Apartheid is as evil, as immoral, as un-Christian, in my view, as Nazism. And in my view, the Reagan administration’s support and collaboration with it is equally immoral, evil and totally un-Christian, without remainder.

AMY GOODMAN: In 1988, Archbishop Tutu risked jail by organizing a boycott of regional elections in South Africa.

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: I urge Black people in this diocese not to vote in the October elections. And I hope that white Anglicans will join their Black fellow Anglicans in that action. I am aware of the penalties attaching to this call. I am not defying the government. I am obeying God.

AMY GOODMAN: After the fall of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first Black president, Archbishop Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where he pushed for restorative justice. He would later become a vocal critic of the ANC, the African National Congress, under the leadership of Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. This is Bishop Tutu speaking in 2011.

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: Hey, Mr. Zuma, you and your government don’t represent me. You represent your own interests. And I’m warning you. I really am warning you, out of love. I am warning you like I warned the nationalists. I am warning you: One day we will start praying for the defeat of the ANC government.

AMY GOODMAN: Archbishop Desmond Tutu also slammed the ANC in 2011 for not granting a visa to the Dalai Lama, who was invited to attend his 80th birthday.

Archbishop Tutu was a leading voice for human rights and peace around the world. He opposed the Iraq War. He condemned the Israeli occupation of Palestine, comparing it to apartheid South Africa. In 2014, he backed the Palestinian-led BDS, or boycott, sanctions and divestment movement. He also spoke against torture and the death penalty. In 2011, he recorded a video calling for the release of imprisoned African American journalist and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal.

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: Mumia’s guilty verdict must be considered more than flawed. It is unacceptable. He has been denied the right to a new trial based on racial bias in jury selection, has faced years of prosecutorial and police misconduct and judicial bias.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, today we spend the rest of the hour hearing Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his own words. We begin by going back to February 15, 2003, when Tutu spoke before a massive rally in New York to oppose the imminent U.S. invasion of Iraq.

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: People marched and demonstrated, and the Berlin Wall fell, and communism was ended. People marched and demonstrated, and apartheid ended. And democracy and freedom were born. And now people are marching, and people are demonstrating, because people are saying no to war!
CROWD: No!
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: We say no to war!
CROWD: No!
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: The just war theory says you need a legitimate authority to declare and to wage war. Only the United Nations is that legitimate authority. Any other war is immoral. The just war says, “Have you exhausted all possible peaceful means?” And the world says, “No, we haven’t yet!” And any war before you have exhausted all possible peaceful means is immoral. And those who want to wage war against Iraq must know it would be an immoral war.
You know, those who are going to be killed in Iraq are not collateral damage. They are human beings of flesh and blood. They are children. They are mothers. They are brothers. They are grandfathers. You know what? They are our sisters and brothers, for we belong in one family. We are members of one family, God’s family, the human family. And how can we say we want to drop bombs on our sisters and brothers, on our children?
We said no to communism. We said no to apartheid. We said no to injustice. We said no to oppression. And we said yes to freedom, yes to democracy. Now I ask you: What do we say to war?
CROWD: No!
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: I can’t hear you. What do you say to war?
CROWD: No!
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: What do you say to death and destruction?
CROWD: No!
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: What do you say to peace?
CROWD: Yes!
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: I can’t hear you. What do you say to peace?
CROWD: Yes!
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: What do you say to life?
CROWD: Yes!
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: What do you say to freedom?
CROWD: Yes!
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: What do you say to compassion?
CROWD: Yes!
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: Well, we want to say, President Bush, listen to the voice of the people, for many times the voice of the people is the voice of God. Vox populi, vox dei. Listen to the voice of the people saying give peace a chance. Give peace a chance. And let’s say once more so that they can hear in the Pentagon, they can hear in White House: What do we say to war?
CROWD: No!
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: What do we say to peace?
CROWD: Yes!
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: Yeah!

AMY GOODMAN: The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressing the massive antiwar rally in New York on February 15, 2003, the day millions rocked the globe for peace. When we come back, we’ll hear the Nobel Peace Prize laureate talk about Guantánamo, torture and more. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “A Song for Bra Des Tutu” by Winston Mankunku Ngozi. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re continuing to remember the life and legacy of former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died Sunday at the age of 90. I interviewed him over the years. In 2004, I spoke to him at The Culture Project after a play about Guantánamo. I began by asking Archbishop Desmond Tutu what his response was to what was happening at Guantánamo.

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: I thought I knew what was taking place there, and I was quite shocked when I sat through the play yesterday, just how devastated I was. I was particularly so because I had such an awful sense of déjà vu. For someone coming from South Africa, you say, “But, I mean, that’s exactly what they were doing for exactly the same reasons that they gave.” I mean, you said, “Why do you detain people without trial? Why do you ban people as you are doing?” And the response from the South African government was, “Security of the state.” And anyone who questioned it would then be regarded, especially if you’re white, as being unpatriotic.
And I just want to say to you: Is this something that you want done in your name? Isn’t it time there was the same sense of outrage that people had about apartheid, which people should have had about the Holocaust? And what would happen if it was Americans held by some other country under these conditions? The point is, God has actually got no one. The god we worship is strange. They say this god is omnipotent, but God is also very weak. There’s not a great deal that God seems to be able to do without you.
AMY GOODMAN: During your years in South Africa before the end of apartheid, you were a deep advocate of nonviolence, yet you saw so many detained, so many killed. What do you feel, and what did you feel then? How did you make it through those days? What did you advocate? How did you stick to your principles of nonviolence?
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: One of the wonderful things actually is — well, I’ve got to speak as a Christian — is belonging to the church and knowing that you belong to this extraordinary body. When things were really rough, it’s wonderful to recall for me now that I sometimes got — when the South African government had taken away my passport, I got passports of love from Sunday school kids here in New York, and I plastered them on the walls of my office. But although I couldn’t travel, hey, here were all of these wonderful people all over the world. And I had a — I met a nun in New York at a particular time, and I asked her, “Can you just tell me a little bit about your life? How do you” — and she said, “Well, I am a solitary. I live in the woods in California. I pray for you. My day starts at 2:00 in the morning.” And I said, “Hey, man! I’ve been prayed for at 2:00 in the morning in the woods in California. What chance does the apartheid government stand?” So, one was being upheld.
And, you know, when frequently you say to people, the victory that we won against apartheid — a spectacular victory — that would not have happened without the support of the international community, without the support of people like yourselves, without the support of those who were students at the time, who might have been crazies, but they were fantastic in their commitment. And in this country, actually, they showed that you could in fact change the moral climate, because, at the time, the Reagan administration was totally opposed to sanctions, and students, but not just students, the many, many people who were prepared to be arrested on our behalf, who demonstrated on our behalf, who boycotted on our behalf, well, they changed the moral climate to such an extent that Congress passed the anti-apartheid legislation, and they even managed a veto override, which was fantastic.
And so, I just happened. I always say I was a leader by default because our real leaders were either in jail or in exile. And sometimes when people say, “And he got the Nobel Peace Prize,” I say, “Well, actually, you know, it was that they thought maybe it was time it was given to a Black,” and, ah, he has an easy surname: Tutu. Tutu. Imagine. Imagine if I had had a surname like Wukaokaule.
AMY GOODMAN: Archbishop Tutu, how do you feel — how do you feel about —
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: You can pronounce that!
AMY GOODMAN: How do you feel about the invasion and occupation of Iraq?
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: It was fantastic seeing the many, many people who came out in opposition. It was fantastic. You know, sometimes when you say, “Ah, Americans,” or, “Oh, people nowadays don’t care,” it’s not true. Millions turned out. Millions. Millions said, “No. Give peace a chance.”
And I said, as so many others — I mean, I wasn’t the only one. The pope said so, too. The archbishop of Canterbury said so. The Dalai Lama said so. But this war, if it was to be a justifiable war in terms of the just war theory, would have to be one that was declared by a legitimate authority. And the administration here was aware of that. That’s why they went to the U.N. There’s no point in going to the U.N. if you had already decided — they probably, of course, had decided, but, I mean, there was no point unless they believed or they realized, I mean, that in order for it to be legitimate, and therefore justifiable, the only authority would have to be the U.N. And when they didn’t get what they wanted from the U.N., they did what they did. We said then, and we keep saying so, not just that it was illegal, it was immoral.
And the consequences of it just now — I mean, you have to be — you’ve really got to be blind to say, “Well, yeah, it’s OK. We removed Saddam Hussein.” Why didn’t you say that was the reason for going? Because the world would have said, “No, no, no, no. That isn’t a reason that will be allowable for you to declare war.”
And I’m sad. I’m sad that we seem so inured now. They tell you a hundred people have been killed, and the United States and its allies are doing that, and they say, “No, no. We targeted that house because our intelligence said so.” Intelligence. The same intelligence that said there were weapons of mass destruction? Please. That’s been done in your name, that mothers and children have been killed. And when you say, “What about the civilian casualties?” they say, “Sorry, our intention was to target insurgents.” And most of us, I think, just shrug our shoulders.
But, you see, you experienced a little bit on September the 11th the kind of thing that is meted out on a regular basis. And they are not — they’re not casualties. Collateral damage. Collateral damage, I tell you. How do you feel if someone says the people who died in the World Trade Center and in Washington, D.C., collateral damage? Say that to someone who lost a wife. Say it to someone who lost a child, someone who lost a friend. Collateral damage. It’s an obscenity. It’s an obscenity.

AMY GOODMAN: The South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died Sunday at the age of 90. I interviewed him at The Culture Project after a play about Guantánamo in 2004. Seventeen years later, Guantánamo remains open, and U.S. troops remain in Iraq. When we come back, we’ll hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Palestine, war, the climate crisis and more. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Woza Moya” by South African jazz musician Herbie Tsoaeli. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue to remember the life and legacy of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He died Sunday. His funeral will be held on New Year’s Day. We turn now to an interview I did with him in November 2008. We spoke at the South African vice consul’s apartment in New York.

AMY GOODMAN: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, it’s a pleasure to have you on Democracy Now!
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the election of the first African American president, a son of an African man from Kenya?
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: Yippee! No, “yippee” actually — it captures something that is almost ineffable. It’s very close to the kind of feelings we had on April the 27th, 1994. And some, maybe a few people in this country, have said it was, as it were, the Mandela — Mandela moment. It’s a moment when especially people of color have a new spring in their step — they can walk a great deal taller than they used to — and that even though this country, the United States, experiences very considerable racism — I mean, people being dragged to their deaths behind trucks — yet it’s a country that, in fact, has had this extraordinary experience. And it’s something that has filled people with hope that the world can be a better place.
AMY GOODMAN: How did it feel for you? There were so many millions of people who voted for the first time in this election for Barack Obama. How did it feel for you? How old were you when you first voted in South Africa?
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: Sixty-three.
AMY GOODMAN: Sixty-three years old?
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: Yes, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: When was it? What year?
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: 1994.
AMY GOODMAN: For the election.
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: 1994, that was first time, and the first time for Nelson Mandela, and he, too, this extraordinary human being, and the many, many, many, many others.
Actually, in a way, you would say white people who had always voted in racially discriminated elections were voting for the first time, voting for the first time in a democratic — truly democratic — election. So, we were all, as it were, on the same page.
But it was — I said then, when I was asked, “What is your — how do you describe how you feel?” I said, “Well, how do you describe falling in love? How do you describe red to someone who is totally blind? How do you speak about the glories of a Beethoven symphony to somebody who is deaf? Well, it’s like that. I mean, I’m over the moon. I’m on cloud nine,” as were most of my, if not all of my, compatriots on that day.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is Barack Obama’s greatest challenge as president of the most powerful country on Earth, following eight years of George W. Bush?
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: Yes. Very clearly, it has been the fact that for those eight years you’ve had an America that followed a unilateralist line, an America that would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Most of the world had, and America just said, “Go jump in the lake.” Most of the world had ratified the Rome Statute that set up the International Criminal Court, which is where the people who were responsible for September the 11th should have been appearing.
That you are going to have — most people believe that he is going to be welcomed as the leader of the free world who will be more collaborative, who will be more consultative, who will not seem to want to throw the considerable weight of America around and seem to want to be the bully boy.
I have said — I did a piece for The Washington Post, and I said one of the things that would demonstrate a clean break from the previous administration would be closing the abomination Guantánamo Bay. And one would then hope that there would be a much more conciliatory approach to Iran, not, let’s say, the belligerence that has largely characterized the Bush administration. And I would hope, too — and that’s a major challenge — that there will be something to be done to bring a viable peace proposal for the Middle East, to end what I reckon is an unconscionable suffering of the Palestinian people. We should end the firing of Qassam rockets on Israeli citizens.
AMY GOODMAN: You were blocked from going into Gaza in 2006, leading a U.N. delegation there after the killing of a number of Palestinians.
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think has to be done now with the Middle East specifically, with Israel and the occupation?
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: There’s been some very interesting moves with the outgoing prime minister suggesting that Israel has to consider very seriously the proposal of going back to the boundaries of 1967. That’s a very important initiative, if that was taken.
I think that we would have to move very quickly to lifting the embargo. The suffering is unacceptable. It’s totally unacceptable. It doesn’t promote the security of Israel or any other part of that very volatile region. And it is quite contrary to the best teachings of the Jewish faith, you know. And I know, I mean, that there are very, very many in Israel who are opposed to what is happening.
And I pray fervently that there will be a boldness, you know, in saying we’ve got to resolve this, because I think if that — well, no, let’s not say “if,” because a lot hinges on what happens in the Middle East. Let’s say, when that is resolved, what we will find, I mean, that the tensions between, say, the West and the Muslim world, and large part of the Muslim world, I believe, myself, what we will find that that evaporates and that this — this is a saw, chafing, and it’s mucking up too many things. And I pray that this new president will have the capacity to see we’ve got to do something here, for the sake of our own humanity, you know, for the sake of our children.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you compare the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank to apartheid South Africa?
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: I have to speak about what I know. I mean, most people — a Jew will usually speak about their experiences and maybe compare whatever it is that is happening with what happened in the days of the Holocaust. For me, coming from South Africa and going — I mean, and looking at the checkpoints and the arrogance of those young soldiers, probably scared, maybe covering up their apprehension, there’s no way in which I couldn’t say — of course, that is a truth. It reminds me — it reminds me of the kind of experiences that we underwent. I mean, I was bishop of Johannesburg and would be driving from town to Soweto, where we lived, and I would be driving with my wife, and we’d have a roadblock, and the fact of our having to have passes allowing us to move freely in the land of our birth. And now you have that extraordinary structure that — the wall.
And I do not, myself, believe that it has improved security, breaking up families, breaking up — I mean, people who used to be able to walk from their homes to school, children, now have to take a detour that lasts several — I mean, it’s — when you humiliate a people to the extent that they are being — and, yes, one remembers the kind of experience we had when we were being humiliated — when you do that, you are not contributing to your own security. And all you are doing is you are saying to those people, in all of their desperation, “We are still human, and there are things we will not be able to accept — I mean, just sit down. We’ll have to — we have to do something.”
And so you get the suicide bomber. And one does not condone them, but one understands perfectly how people can be driven into a corner, and out of that desperation — and so you have that cycle, the response of Israel to the suicide bomber, which you know is going to provoke another cycle. And one says, “No way, that’s not how God intended to us live,” that it is possible — it’s been shown: It happened in South Africa — it is possible for people who have been enemies to begin to think that they can be friends, at least to coexist.
AMY GOODMAN: The International Criminal Court — should Barack Obama as president sign on to the ICC, sign the treaty for the International Criminal Court?
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: Yes. If you believe in the rule of law, then you are going to say yes. This is one particularly important instrument, because it is an instrument that is saying we will no longer tolerate impunity. The many who are guilty, as is happening just now in the DRC or in Darfur, that people who are guilty of egregious violations have to be brought to book, and it’s got to be done in a way that satisfies those standards that we have. I mean, you don’t hold people in detention without trial. That’s what the world used to say against the South African government. And if it was true that that was wrong, it has to be wrong consistently everywhere.
AMY GOODMAN: President-elect Obama supports an end to the War in Iraq but a surge of soldiers in Afghanistan. What are your words of wisdom to him?
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: Well, I say that obviously it’s to end the war — yeah? — to end the occupation, to — but I’ve also said it would wonderful if, on behalf of the American people, he were to apologize to the Iraqis and to the rest of the world for an invasion that was based on lies.

AMY GOODMAN: The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. I interviewed him at the South African vice consul’s apartment in New York in November 2008, just after the election of Barack Obama. Desmond Tutu died Sunday at the age of 90. We end today’s show with the archbishop speaking to a group of youth climate activists outside the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009.

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: I want to say a big thank you to all of you, especially you beautiful young ones. We oldies have made something of a mess of the world. And we want to say to the leaders who are meeting, look in the eyes of your grandchildren.
Climate change is already a serious crisis today. But we can do something about it. If we don’t — if we don’t — hoohoo!, hoho! — there’s no world which we will leave to you, this generation. You won’t have a world. You will be drowning. You will be burning in drought. There will be no food. There will be floods.
We have only one world. We have only one world. If we mess it up, there’s no other world. And for those who think that the rich are going to escape — hahaha! — we either swim or sink together. We have one world. And we want to leave a beautiful world for all of this beautiful, wonderful young generation. We, the oldies, want to leave you a beautiful world. And it is a matter of morality. It is a question of justice.

AMY GOODMAN: The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, speaking to youth climate activists outside the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009. He died Sunday at the age of 90. His funeral will be held on Sunday — on New Year’s Day. So, to see all of our interviews, the speeches of Archbishop Tutu, you can go to democracynow.org.

Special thanks to Brendan Allen and Mike Burke. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Mary Conlon. Our general manager is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude and Dennis McCormick. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe. Wear a mask.

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Sarah Weddington, attorney who argued Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court, dies at 76

Texas lawyer Sarah Weddington, who successfully argued the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade, died Sunday at the age of 76. Weddington was just 26 years old when she brought a class-action lawsuit challenging Texas’s ban on abortions all the way to the Supreme Court. The court’s 1973 ruling set a precedent legalizing abortion nationwide that stands to this day. In 2012, Sarah Weddington spoke with KPBS Public Television about her long legal career.

Sarah Weddington: “You look back as I was growing up, and there were so many limits on what women could do. Women couldn’t even run full court in basketball. We got half court and two dribbles. We didn’t get credit unless our fathers or our husbands signed for us. Now most people get a credit card offer every week. We didn’t get to make decisions about our own reproductive. We didn’t get to go to law school. I was in the first group of women who went to law school. We didn’t get equal pay. And so, what we’ve been doing all these years is trying to push back barriers so that women could make more decisions.”

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court’s conservative justices appeared ready to dramatically roll back Roe v. Wade as they heard oral arguments on a challenge to Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban.

'She should be found guilty': Family attorney Ben Crump slams ex-cop Kim Potter for killing Daunte Wright

The former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter, who faces manslaughter charges for fatally shooting 20-year-old Black man Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, is expected to take the stand in her own defense Friday. Potter claims she reached for her Taser and drew a pistol by mistake. “Black people should not be killed in America over misdemeanor, pretextual traffic stops,” says Benjamin Crump, attorney for Wright’s family.



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

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go on to another case and then another one. I want to ask you about the Minnesota manslaughter trial of former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter. Local media reports Potter is expected to take the stand in her own defense today, on the eighth day of testimony. The white woman is charged with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of 20-year-old Black motorist Daunte Wright during a minor traffic stop in April. Bodycam video showed Potter pointing her 9-millimeter pistol at Wright, repeatedly shouting “Taser!” before firing a single bullet into Wright’s chest. Potter claims she drew the pistol by mistake. She’s a [26-year] police veteran who was training other officers when she shot Wright.

Just before Daunte was killed, he called his mother to say he was being pulled over, allegedly because an air freshener was obscuring his rearview mirror and for an expired registration tag. Katie Bryant, Wright’s mom, testified about this phone call in Kim Potter’s trial last week. She was the prosecution’s first witness.

KATIE BRYANT: He just sounded really nervous. But I reassured him that it would be OK.

AMY GOODMAN: The call ended. Katie Bryant later made a video call. A woman, likely Daunte Wright’s partner, Alayna Albrecht-Payton, who was in the car at the time of his killing, answered the phone.

KATIE BRYANT: She said that they shot him. And she faced the phone towards the driver’s seat, and my son was laying there. He was unresponsive, and he looked dead.

AMY GOODMAN: In the end, they ended up handcuffing Daunte Wright’s partner. The prosecution rested its case Thursday. One of its witnesses, Minnesota state investigator Sam McGinnis, testified this week that Potter failed to test her Taser as required on the day she fatally shot Wright. He also laid out the differences between a Glock pistol and a Taser.

SAM McGINNIS: The Taser is yellow; the firearm is black. The Taser has a stocky body to it compared to the Glock handgun. The grip of the Taser is shorter and wider than the Glock.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Wednesday, use-of-force expert Seth Stoughton testified for the prosecution that Potter acted unreasonably in shooting Wright. He said, quote, “The use of deadly force was not appropriate. The evidence suggests a reasonable officer in Officer Potter’s position could not have believed it was proportional to the threat at the time,” he said. Stoughton is a professor at University of South Carolina School of Law who also testified for the prosecution at Chauvin’s trial. Ben Crump, your response to Kim Potter’s trial so far? What do you expect the outcome to be? You’re Daunte Wright’s family’s attorney.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: We expect that there will be accountability for another unjustified death of another young Black man. When you think about this excuse that it was an innocent mistake, it wasn’t innocent at all for her and the police officers to yet again have a pretextual stop of a minority in Minneapolis. We know that these pretextual stops, whether you say it’s an air freshener obscuring the view of the driver, whether you say it’s an expired registration — during the pandemic, where they have been given memos that they should not be stopping motorists for expired license plates because they were closed — which leads to them engaging in the most use of force.

She should be found guilty for two reasons, because they were violations of policy irrespective of her plea that it was an innocent mistake. Number one, you never should have violated your policy and used a Taser for a traffic stop. And they tried to offer this justification that, oh, she feared it was a life-or-death situation. But when we look at the video, we must remember, never was anybody in a life-or-death situation based on what we can see with our eyes. And everything that Daunte Wright was accused of was a misdemeanor. So, Black people should not be killed in America over misdemeanor pretextual traffic stops. Secondly, when she employed the Taser, she aimed it at his chest. That again was a violation of the policies of the Brooklyn Center Police Department. So she should be convicted on manslaughter, because she was reckless, she was flagrant, and she was reckless in following the policies that she had been trained on for 26 years. She was the training officer teaching rookie cops on how to interact with citizens. And there cannot be a different standard for when they interact with white citizens versus Black citizens.

We just had the guilty verdict and the plea in Derek Chauvin’s case, and I expect we should get a guilty verdict in Kim Potter’s case. But I will say this: These are great victories in the interest of justice, but at what cost? George Floyd and Daunte Wright should be living today, enjoying the holidays with their families. These young Black fathers have been taken from their children unjustly and unconstitutionally and unnecessarily.

AMY GOODMAN: And I just wanted to clarify, as you said, Kim Potter is a 26-year veteran, not 26-year-old police veteran, and she was training two other officers on the scene. It so much reminds me of the Philando Castile case, because you have a man who is stopped — I mean, remember, in this case, when we talk about air freshener hanging from the mirror, it’s those little Christmas tree-like air fresheners. That’s the kind of thing that we’re talking about, that so many people have. But Philando Castile, who’s shot, and his girlfriend, his partner, films him dying, and she ultimately is arrested, just as the partner of Daunte Wright is arrested. They spend more time arresting her than helping him.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Yeah. And that’s the tragic circumstance. It seems to be that Black lives don’t matter in the moments when they are trying to justify killing another Black person. And you just see them start to conspire to try to cover up something they know is wrong. We have to continue to shine a light on this, because it’s happening far too often. Even in the aftermath of George Floyd, we continue to see these unjust killings all over America of unarmed Black people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMY GOODMAN: Let me clarify something, Meena.

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

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

MEENA RAMAN: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will note also, and I think this is —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 15 seconds.

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

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

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


'The long-term hope is to bankrupt the groups': The KKK Act case against the 'Unite the Right' organizers

Four years after the deadly white supremacist "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a federal civil trial charges the organizers with an unlawful conspiracy to commit violent acts. Defendants include Jason Kessler, the main organizer, and Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who spoke at the event. Neo-Nazi James Alex Fields, who slammed his car into a crowd of antiracist counterprotesters during the rally and killed activist Heather Heyer, has already been sentenced to life in prison. Plaintiffs in the case cite the careful advance planning done in online chatrooms to wreak irreparable harm. We look at the details of the case with Slate legal correspondent Dahlia Lithwick, who lived in Charlottesville during the 2017 rally, and also its relation to the murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse now starting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where the judge has ruled the three protesters shot by the white teenager during racial justice protests last year cannot be labeled "victims."

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

AMY GOODMAN: Four years after the deadly white supremacist "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, jury selection has begun in a federal civil trial that charges the organizers with an unlawful conspiracy to commit violent acts.

On August 11, 2017, in what's been billed as a climax to a summer of hate, several hundred white supremacists marched with tiki torches across the University of Virginia, surrounding a statue of Thomas Jefferson, chanting, "You will not replace us," "Jews will not replace us," and "White lives matter."

At the next day's Unite the Right rally in downtown Charlottesville, more than a thousand white supremacists marched to a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Thousands of counterprotesters also descended on the city, including clergy, students, Black Lives Matter activists and protesters with the anti-fascist movement known as antifa. Even as fights broke out, witnesses report police did little to intervene.

Around 1:45 in the afternoon that day, self-described neo-Nazi James Alex Fields slammed his car into a crowd of antiracist counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring at least 35 others. Fields was later sentenced to life in prison.

Those now charged in the civil trial for the violence in Charlottesville include Jason Kessler, the main organizer, and white supremacist Richard Spencer, who spoke at the event. The civil lawsuit cites an 1871 law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, which allows private citizens to sue other citizens for civil rights violations. This is Elizabeth Sines, one of the plaintiffs in the case, speaking about what she witnessed.

ELIZABETH SINES: The memories from those two days will undeniably haunt me for the rest of my life. I will never forget what it was like to watch Nazis march on a campus that I called home. I will never forget watching them attack my fellow students, or the feeling of running for my life through streets I had walked with friends and family countless times before. I don't think anything can ever really prepare you to witness something so horrific, watching your home be overrun by people who wish to cause as much harm and wreak as much havoc as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: The lawsuit was filed by the civil rights group Integrity First for America. Much of the case is based on an extensive paper trail left behind by organizers of the Unite the Right rally in online chatrooms. One of the plaintiffs' lawyers, Karen Dunn, told CNN what most stood out to her in the documents.

KAREN DUNN: The image that has stuck with me ever since the beginning of the case was one of the Discord post pictures. It shows a tractor running people over, and it's called the "protester digester." Look, there's many, many posts in this case about running over people with cars, prior to the car attack on August 12th, but that one, to me, was — like, I can't get it out of my head.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we're joined by Dahlia Lithwick, Slate.com's senior editor and senior legal correspondent, longtime resident of Charlottesville for 18 years. She was living there at the time of the Unite the Right riot in 2017.

Dahlia, welcome back to Democracy Now! This is a highly unusual court case, as the jury selection continues. Can you explain more about what it is all about?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Essentially, I think the way to think about it, Amy, is, if the Trump Justice Department had been doing their job at the time, they would have brought some kind of civil rights action in the wake of Charlottesville to hold to account the organizers of this rally, who, as you've just said, were clearly planning, thinking about, anticipating violence and harm and mayhem and terrorizing the local community. Nobody did that at the Justice Department. As you recall, President Trump at the time said there were very fine people on both sides of that protest.

And so, this is a lawsuit that, as you said, Karen Dunn, Robbie Kaplan and their associates brought into the vacuum, and essentially said, "Fine, we are going to dust off the KKK Act of 1871." It has not been used recently at all, but it does give a sort of a template for what you can do if your civil rights were violated, how you can bring a civil suit, and essentially hold to account the people who came to your town to terrorize you on the basis of race.

And so, in a sense, it's a novel, it's a very sweeping lawsuit. We've seen lawsuits, criminal lawsuits, against some of the folks who have been involved, but this is really an effort to bring a big, expansive, sprawling suit against all 24 of the organizations and organizers and to say, "If the government is not going to do this, we're going to do it." And all nine of the plaintiffs who were harmed are saying, "We want money damages. We want to know who your funding sources are. We want to understand how these networks of hate groups work together." And it is kind of an attempt to shake up the entire day and display to the public what happened and how do we hold people accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain who exactly is on trial. And to be clear, if found guilty, they don't go to prison.

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Right, and there's not even a finding of guilt, because it's a civil trial. So, there is a dollar amount, that has not been named yet. Judge Norman Moon, at some point, can set the damages amount.

But the groups that are involved are some of the who's-who of the "alt-right" movement — as you already said, Richard Spencer, who famously said, you know, "Heil Trump," right after the election and says he coined the term "alt-right"; Jason Kessler, who was the local point person in the trial; Chris Cantwell, the so-called Crying Nazi; a bunch of different Klan groups who showed up that day. And some of these defendants have already had judgment against them for refusing to participate in the trial. Some of them haven't shown up. Both Spencer and Chris Cantwell are defending themselves; they don't have attorneys. So you have this kind of motley crew of defendants who were involved at various levels.

And then, as you said, there is this 5.3 terabytes of digital evidence that shows that, for weeks in advance, they were planning what to wear, what kinds of things to bring that they could use as weapons. They were chatting, as you said, about what it involves to hit someone with a car and what the law says to protect you.

And so, I think this is an effort to get all of them lined up to tell the entire pixelated story of what was done, and then the judge will find money damages. I think the long-term hope is to bankrupt the groups, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And how do you answer what these white supremacists, like Richard Spencer, who, what, is representing himself, are saying, that this is an attack on freedom of speech?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: That's always been their defense. They essentially have two claims. One is that this was just a peaceful march. They came to protest. This is core First Amendment right to assemble and the core First Amendment right to protest.

The answer is, it stopped being a protest when it became clear that they were coming in full body armor with flaming torches and other weapons of war and that they never intended to have a peaceful rally. In some sense, I think the argument is, as soon as people were bringing guns into the mix, as soon as they were bringing spears into the mix, they lost the right to say this was simply a peaceful march.

Now, Richard Spencer and his colleagues are saying that's the police's fault. You know, they are citing to a report that came out, an extensive report that came out after August 12th, saying that the police presence was, in fact, lackluster, that both the state of Virginia and the city of Charlottesville were not well organized. And so, they are going to say it was free speech, it's the police's fault, and also they're going to blame antifa, as you said in the introduction. They're saying that all of the violence was instigated by antifa, the peaceful clergy who were protesting that day and the other counterprotesters who showed up to try to claim the space in town.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about who is bringing this case — for example, Roberta Kaplan, who you've called the attorney general for the resistance, and Integrity First for America?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Integrity First for America is a group that was created to help fund the trial. And I should note that Karen Dunn and Robbie Kaplan — I think you had Karen in the intro — are the two lead lawyers, and then there's a team around them. And I think that, again, they felt that they had to stand up and do this when nothing else was being done.

And what they are doing, essentially, is saying, "If this can be done here, we can see this done" — for instance, we're seeing the KKK Act now has been invoked against some of the January 6th rioters from 2021. So, they really feel as though this is an old statute that is still really on point in this moment of rising white supremacy, anti-Black hate, antisemitism. And so, I think that what they're trying to do, Robbie and Karen would say, is to create a roadmap through how we hold very violent, racist, quote-unquote, "protesters," who intend to bring mayhem — how we hold them to account.

AMY GOODMAN: You have this going on in Charlottesville, and in Washington, D.C., you have the congressional select committee that is investigating whether it's a conspiracy of high-level Trump people, including President Trump, congressmembers, lawyers like Giuliani and Eastman — a gathering of Giuliani and others at the Willard Hotel nearby — to coordinate what ultimately became this white supremacist violent attack on the Capitol. Can you talk about that and how these two relate?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Yeah, it's interesting. You know, all of the folks who are on the hook for these conspiracies keep invoking that they were just speaking, they were just floating ideas. But any conspiracy, at some level, involves speaking, right? If there's a conspiracy to rob a bank, you can't say, "Oh, I was just exercising my free speech right to ask someone to bring a getaway car." And so, in a sense, I think the lie is anything is protected, any speech is protected. John Eastman's memo explaining to then-Vice President Pence how to do a coup is just a sort of free-floating, you know, playing around with constitutional ideas. No. If you are in agreement with a bunch of people to break the law, that's a conspiracy. And that's not protected speech. It's not protest.

And so, I think what you're going to see in all of these cases is attempts to say that each of the players, in both situations, both in Charlottesville and on January 6th, were not intending to have people come and kill people, hurt people, dress in Kevlar vests, carry weapons of war; they were just trying to have a protest, and it got out of hand, and maybe we should blame the police, or maybe we should blame the counterprotesters. But in both cases, I think, really, it puts the lie to the notion that any and all speech that is done in order to further a conspiracy to hurt people is protected speech.

And so, I think, in some sense, the conspiracy claim helps get you over the argument that this is just sort of idle chatter, and puts you squarely into the realm of, once you are plotting to do violence, to have a coup, in one case, to have a violent, antisemitic, anti-Black mob riot and hurt people, you're out of the world of "this is a peaceful protest" and into the world of conspiracy to do harm.

AMY GOODMAN: It is amazing to see all of these issues now in various levels of court or in Congress. I want to also go to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where the judge overseeing the murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse has ruled that the three protesters that this white teenager shot, two of them killing them, during racial justice protests last year cannot be called "victims" during the trial, only "rioters," "looters" or "arsonists," if the defense can provide evidence to justify such terms — again, two of the protesters, Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, were killed by Rittenhouse. this trial beginning next week. Can you explain?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: To be fair, the judge in that case, this is an ongoing policy. He has a long-standing policy. He says that you can't call someone a victim until the crime has been proven. But you're quite right, Amy, in that it goes exactly to the language of what is neutrality. The judge in that case said the word "victim" is too inflammatory. We don't want to inflame the jury. Apparently, the words "arsonist" and "looter" and "rioter" are not.

And we're seeing exactly the same dynamic playing out in jury selection — we're on day three now of jury selection in Charlottesville — where the language of neutrality, the language of "we want to just have an even playing field," "we want people to have open minds," means that potential jurors who say things like "I thought they were evil," "I think Nazis are evil," those kinds of people are bounced because that's not neutral language.

And in some sense, what it tells me, in both of these instances, is that the framing of being sort of open-minded and neutral — in one case, about somebody who armed himself with a gun and went to kill antiracist protesters; in another case, people who came to a town with the intention up saying "Sieg Heil," "blood and soil," "burn the synagogue down" — that the appropriate way to judge them is with this neutral language of "both sides." And it's chilling that that's what the legal system requires, that that's viewed as a sort of neutral, objective setting.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahlia Lithwick, I want to thank you for being with us, Slate.com senior editor and senior legal correspondent, longtime resident of Charlottesville, for 18 years, lived there at the time of the Unite the Right rally, riot in August 2017.

Coming up, we look at a pair of hunger strikes being held by taxi drivers in New York and climate activists in Washington, D.C. And then we speak to Steve Donziger, the environmental attorney who is headed to jail today. Stay with us.

'Devastation and anger' in Sudan as a military coup halts country’s democratic transition

We look at the attempted coup in Sudan, where the military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan overthrew the transitional government Monday, detaining Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and other political leaders. As protesters flooded the streets of Khartoum demanding the government be handed back to the civilians, Sudanese soldiers opened fire on them, killing at least 10 and wounding scores more. The United Nations has condemned the coup, and the United States has suspended a $700 million emergency aid package for Sudan. "No one is in support of this coup," says Walaa Salah, human rights lawyer and activist who attended the ongoing protests and spoke with Democracy Now! by phone from Khartoum on Tuesday. "Military rule is a regression." We also speak with Isma'il Kushkush, a Sudanese American journalist who lived in and reported from Khartoum for years, who says, for most Sudanese citizens, "the important thing is to see the transfer into a full civilian government, to see elections."

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

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

A warning to our audience: This segment contains graphic video of state violence, as we turn to Sudan, where protesters are back in the streets again today following Monday's military coup. News outlets are reporting at least 10 protesters have been shot dead since the military placed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok under house arrest and detained most of his Cabinet. A number of protest leaders have also been arrested. Sudan's military ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan declared a state of emergency and dissolved a joint military-civilian governing council meant to transition Sudan to civilian rule. The coup comes two years after mass protests toppled Sudan's longtime leader Omar al-Bashir. Protesters in Khartoum demanded an end to military rule.

AL-MIKDAD MERGHANY: [translated] This is a full-fledged coup, and we reject it completely. We have to go back to the constitutional document. The government should be handed to civilians, and you should free all those you detained and bring them back to their positions. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan should submit his resignation. His resignation is the streets' main demand.

AMY GOODMAN: Protesters accused the military of firing live ammunition at the demonstrators on Monday.

AL-TAYEB MOHAMED AHMED: [translated] They fired stun grenades. Then they fired live ammunition. Two people died. I saw them with my own eyes. Then they came back twice and killed one more. This is the third one I saw.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the military coup in Sudan and called for the immediate release of Sudan's prime minister and the other detainees. The United States has suspended $700 million in emergency aid package for Sudan. The coup occurred just a day after the U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, was in Khartoum, where he met with both the head of Sudan's military, who's fomenting the coup, and the now-detained Sudanese prime minister.

We're joined by two guests. Isma'il Kushkush is a Sudanese American journalist in Washington, D.C., former New York Times reporter who was based in East Africa, lived in Sudan for eight years. But we're going first to Sudan to Walaa Salah, a human rights lawyer who is based in Khartoum.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you tell us what's happening on the ground, Walaa? Can you tell us what's happening on the ground in Khartoum right now? We understand at least 10 people have been killed by the military. Walaa, can you hear me? OK, instead, we're —

WALAA SALAH: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: Walaa, can you hear me? It sounds like Walaa is speaking to someone else right now. Walaa, can you hear me? Why don't we go to her describing what is happening? We weren't sure if we could reach her in Khartoum, so just before the broadcast, we asked Walaa Salah to describe what is happening over the last day.

WALAA SALAH: By 6:30 a.m., I think I was on the street, and I was trying to see what's going on. There were just people coming out of their houses, chanting, general devastation and anger in the faces of almost everyone I saw on the street and a total rejection of the coup. The protests grew bigger by around 12:00, just before the statement by General al-Burhan. By the afternoon, once the numbers grew and it became clear to everyone that this is a rejected move — no one wants it. I still wonder who the Transitional Military Council — who are they going to rule, because, as far as I know, walking around Khartoum city and seeing videos from other cities in the country, no one — no one is support of this coup. No one is in support of this move.
Almost everyone had an issue with the government, you know? But it's never been, you know, the alternative to have the military rule. People wanted a different government with different policies. But these are not military, because military rule is a regression. And I think the past two years — the past three years, actually, of a very dynamic political environment in the country, where people took the streets more than they went to schools and universities, it became very clear that there are ways to connect from within the grassroots in the country. People, just citizens, are communicating with each other. The internet is out. Phone connection is very poor. I think one network is working. But still, people are going door to door, talking to each other, you know, encouraging each other to take the streets.
What's going on in the city now, that almost every road and alley is blocked by a barricade that was put in by protesters. Very few cars are able to navigate. But mostly the movement is limited to same neighborhood. Bridges are closed. The borders between different cities are closed, so one cannot travel from Khartoum to other city, even if they don't need to cross a bridge. So, every city is totally isolated. And this is clearly a move to isolate citizens. But the experience that people have developed in the past years — you know, remember that we didn't have social media between December and April, December 2018 to April 2019, and we didn't have internet totally for over three weeks after the massacre in June 2019. So, people have developed not only the resilience, but also the skills of communication beyond technology.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Walaa Salah, a human rights lawyer in Khartoum, describing to us what's taking place there. Isma'il Kushkush is a Sudanese American journalist who was based in Khartoum for years, now in Washington, D.C. Can you take it from there, from what Walaa described, and explain to a global audience exactly what has happened here?

ISMA'IL KUSHKUSH: So, in 2018, 2019, protests in Sudan brought down the government of Omar al-Bashir, the dictatorship of 30 years. That was followed by an agreement between civilian forces and the military through a power-sharing agreement that would last until 2023, that would see the transfer of power to a full civilian government and elections.

The partnership between civilian forces and the military has been rocky. With new policies, with the pandemic, there is legitimate criticism of the performance of the transitional government, including the civilian side. But one question that has been on the minds of Sudanese since day one, since the fall of Bashir, is: Will Sudan be able to transfer into a truly full democracy? Given the experience of similar uprisings and revolutions in the region, that has been a great concern for many Sudanese.

And we saw in the past weeks attempts for — coup attempts, declared coup attempts. We saw a protest in support of a military takeover, a sit-in in front of the Republican Palace in Khartoum. But we saw also massive, much larger protests in support of full civilian rule. Despite the legitimate criticism of the transitional government, of civilians included, most Sudanese would reject — are rejecting a return of the military. And that's what we're seeing right now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about the role of the other regional powers in terms of their relationship with the Sudanese military? I'm thinking specifically of Egypt or the UAE or Saudi Arabia, because, obviously, the United States openly has so far condemned this coup. But what's the role of these more local regional powers?

ISMA'IL KUSHKUSH: So, up to now, we haven't seen any concrete evidence of a direct involvement of any of these regional powers. But given, A, the relationship that we know that the military has with the military in Egypt, with the Rapid Support Forces, which is a militia that turned into — was officialized and became a part of the military council, its relationship with governments in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, its involvement in the war in Yemen — given those relations, there's suspicion, legitimate suspicion, and legitimate questions: Are they directly involved in supporting this military takeover?

You know, the military takeover comes a day after the U.S. special envoy met with members of the transitional government, both civilian and military. For the military to discount its meeting with the U.S. special envoy and whatever assistance, whatever promises, suggests — again, this is speculation — that it perhaps sees that it has other means for diplomatic and financial support. And these are the questions that people are raising.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk more about that? Can you talk about its relationship with the UAE, with Saudi Arabia, with Russia?

ISMA'IL KUSHKUSH: So, we do know that the Rapid Support Forces has been involved in the war in Yemen, and it has a strong relationship with the United Arab Emirates. The Rapid Support Forces is basically a militia that made — that comes out of the Janjaweed militia that fought in Darfur, that is responsible for crimes. And it became officialized, a part of the Sudanese military apparatus, and was basically lended to fight in Yemen. The Sudanese military, the official army, historically, has had strong relationships with Egypt. Again, given the counterrevolutions that occurred in the region, these are questions that people are raising. Are these governments involved in supporting this military takeover? There is no — again, we haven't seen any direct links or official statements on this, but I think these are legitimate questions people can ask.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Can you talk about the civilian prime minister, Hamdok, who was removed and arrested because he refused to support the coup? Does he have any popular backing at all, or is it just the population wants to maintain a civilian government, even though they may have criticisms of the existing officials of that government?

ISMA'IL KUSHKUSH: Well, Abdalla Hamdok, a former U.N. civil servant, has some support. Again, there are critiques of his performance during this transitional period of his government. But I think, at heart, for most Sudanese, particularly the youth, after the 2019 revolution, is — the important thing is to see the transfer into a full civilian government, to see elections. Keep in mind, this is after 30 years of authoritarian rule by the government of Omar al-Bashir. Hamdok was seen as a glimpse of hope, his expertise. Again, this is not to discount the critiques that people have had of the performance of his government. But the idea that we are setting back the clock, after months of protests that brought down 30 years of authoritarian rule, that is something I think most Sudanese will just simply not accept.

AMY GOODMAN: Isma'il, we just see that army General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan spoke and said the ousted prime minister is being held, quote, "at my residence for his own safety." If you can tell us who Burhan is, is he significant as an individual, and what his ties personally might be?

ISMA'IL KUSHKUSH: Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has been part of the military apparatus for some time. He has actually — had been involved in the war in Darfur. He was part of the military that came to face with the bringing down of al-Bashir in 2019.

I think it's important to understand the delicate situation of the military apparatus in Sudan itself. So, you have the army, the official army, and then you also have the Rapid Support Forces. The Rapid Support Forces, as I mentioned, is a — was a militia, basically the Janjaweed militia, that was made official. These are two components of the military apparatus in Sudan, who do not necessarily like each other but are in partnership and come together to be a part of the ruling Sovereignty Council. So, there is this delicate dance, you can say, between the army, led by al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces, led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, "Hemetti." Hemetti is the deputy of the Sovereignty Council. Now, how — with the changing of this government and the declaration that a new government will be established, I think that it will be interesting to see how this relationship plays out.

AMY GOODMAN: [inaudible] very much for being with us —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And —

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, Juan, last question?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: No, just in terms of the U.S. role, what do you see? The State Department has suspended $700 million in aid to Sudan. What do you see or you recommend that the U.S. government do in this situation?

ISMA'IL KUSHKUSH: Well, I think the most important thing is to keep eyes on Sudan. You know, with the news cycles, attention might be moved to somewhere else. But I think Sudan's revolution of 2019 really brought not only hope to the country but to the region. Whether in the Middle East, North Africa, to the Horn of Africa, it was celebrated as one of the greatest examples of people power in recent times. It's important to pay attention to what is happening in Sudan. I do think that the Biden administration is paying more attention to the democratization process in Sudan. I think that if this was in the Trump administration, that we would have seen something completely different. But I think keeping eyes on Sudan, I think, is the key.

AMY GOODMAN: Isma'il Kushkush, thanks so much for being with us, Sudanese American journalist who lived in Khartoum for years, now based in Washington, D.C.

Coming up, we're going to look at the tragic shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a film shoot in New Mexico, how it's drawing attention to cost-cutting decisions, overall safety in the film industry, that almost brought IATSE to a strike. We'll talk with a former head of an IATSE local. Stay with us.

Lawyer who sued Chevron is ordered to prison — even after Amnesty International sounded alarm

The environmental and human rights lawyer Steven Donziger joins us just before he is ordered to report to jail today, after a years-long legal battle with the oil company Chevron and 813 days of house arrest. In 2011, Donziger won an $18 billion settlement against Chevron on behalf of 30,000 Indigenous people in Ecuador for dumping 16 billion gallons of oil into their ancestral land in the Amazon. Since the landmark case, Donziger has faced a series of legal attacks from Chevron and a New York federal judge, who has employed a private law firm linked to the oil company to prosecute him. Earlier this month, he was sentenced to six months in prison for contempt of court, and his request for bail pending his appeal was denied. Amnesty International and United Nations human rights advocates, along with several U.S. lawmakers, are calling for Donziger's immediate release. "Chevron and these two judges, really allies of the fossil fuel industry, are trying to use me as a weapon to intimidate activists and lawyers who do this work," says Donziger. "I need to be prosecuted by a neutral prosecutor, not by Chevron."

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

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

The environmental human rights lawyer Steven Donziger is reporting to jail today, after a federal appellate court rejected his request for bail pending his appeal. Earlier this month, Steve Donziger was sentenced to six months in prison for contempt of court — a misdemeanor. Donziger has already spent over two years under house arrest after being targeted by the oil giant Chevron.

The case stems from Steve's role in suing Chevron on behalf of 30,000 Amazonian Indigenous people for dumping 16 billion gallons of oil into their ancestral land in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Ten years ago, Ecuador's Supreme Court ordered Chevron to pay $18 billion. The landmark ruling was seen as a major victory for the environment and corporate accountability. But Chevron refused to pay or clean up the land. Instead, it launched a legal attack targeting Donziger.

In July, a federal judge found him guilty of six counts of criminal contempt of court, after he refused to turn over his computer and cellphone. In an unusual legal twist, the judge appointed a private law firm with ties to Chevron to prosecute Donziger after federal prosecutors declined to bring charges.

Amnesty International recently called for his immediate release, saying he was being arbitrarily detained. The U.N.'s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has also called for his release.

Well, as he prepares to report to prison later today, Steve Donziger is joining us from his home in New York where he's been under house arrest for 813 days. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., there will be a major news conference held today outside the Capitol.

Steve Donziger, welcome back to Democracy Now! Where are you heading to prison today? We're talking about a misdemeanor. You've already been under house arrest for nearly a thousand days.

STEVEN DONZIGER: It's just extraordinary, Amy. Thank you for the introduction. I mean, it pretty much captured it. What I'll say is I have to report to prison by 4:48 p.m. today, which is in itself highly unusual. I don't believe I'm guilty. No lawyer has ever spent more than 90 days in home confinement — maximum sentence ever given to a lawyer convicted of my charge, which is misdemeanor contempt. I've already spent over eight times that at home. And on top of that, Judge Preska is trying to put me in prison for six months. And, you know, another unusual feature is she's making me report within 24 hours after this latest court ruling that came down yesterday, rather than allowing me time to report, you know, in a normal course to a prison. So, there's so much about this that doesn't —

AMY GOODMAN: And which prison are you going to be held at?

STEVEN DONZIGER: I don't know yet. You know, by forcing me in so quickly, Judge Preska, I believe, is trying to force me into a local federal jail, that I think is very unsafe. I mean, I have no security risk at all. I've never been convicted. It's the lowest-level offense. So, normally, I would go to federal prison camp. And, you know, we need time for the Bureau of Prisons to designate me to an appropriate facility. Instead, she's trying to force me very quickly, I think, into a local jail, which concerns me greatly, frankly. And I think that's one reason why Amnesty International put out an urgent action bulletin two days ago for people to write to the attorney general, Garland, to just stop this case.

I mean, the other crazy thing about this that is so disturbing, Amy, is that I was not prosecuted by the U.S. government. I was prosecuted by a private law firm, Seward & Kissel, appointed by a federal judge after the U.S. government declined to prosecute me. And the judge never disclosed that the law firm had Chevron as a client. So, essentially, I'm being prosecuted by a Chevron law firm, a partner in a Chevron law firm, a private law firm, who deprived me of my liberty. I'm the only person ever charged with this offense held pretrial, at home or in prison — never happened before for even a day. It's over 800 days. So, you know, this is the first corporate prosecution in U.S. history. I have never seen a case like this, nor have other legal experts that work with me. And, you know, we just think, you know, to restore the rule of law as regards Steve Donziger and the people of Ecuador, this case has to be stopped and taken over by the Department of Justice. I mean, they could do what they want with it. I mean, if they went to prosecute me, prosecute me, but I need to be prosecuted by a neutral prosecutor, not by Chevron.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to just talk about some of the people who are supposed to be at your news conference in Washington. We just interviewed a climate striker on a hunger strike in Washington, D.C., and we heard from Congressmember Rashida Tlaib. She'll be there at your news conference. Also you have Chuy García, Congressmember Jesús "Chuy" García from Chicago, Congressmember Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, as well as a number of people from Amnesty International, Law Students for Climate Accountability. Talk about the significance — I mean, you have so many supporters at this point at high levels, yet talk about what's at stake, what it is you exposed in Ecuador.

STEVEN DONZIGER: Well, I think the stakes are high, and it goes way beyond me personally. I mean, on a personal level, it hurts. I have a wife and a 15-year-old son, and, you now, we're hurting, OK?

But let's just get real here. What's really happening here is Chevron and these two judges and, really, allies of the fossil fuel industry are trying to use me as a weapon to intimidate activists and lawyers who do this work, who do the frontline work of defending the planet. What's at stake, really, I mean, not only my freedom — what's at stake is the ability to advocate for human rights in our society. I mean, the things I was charged with were — I was a lawyer litigating various court orders, you know, for years, ethically. You know, I'm proud of my work. And this judge just went after me. I'm the only lawyer ever in U.S. history to be charged with criminal contempt of court for challenging a civil discovery order on appeal. That's essentially what happened.

So, you know, I'm calling on judges and people in Congress, like Representative Tlaib and Jim McGovern and Cori Bush and others who stepped up for me, to continue speaking out, to enlist more people. We need people in the Senate. And ultimately, we need the Biden administration. I mean, I heard your previous guest. I mean, the Biden administration is essentially letting a climate change lawyer, me, an environmental justice lawyer, an Indigenous rights lawyer, an Earth defender, a water protector, be locked up on American soil.

And it's getting really embarrassing for our country. You know, it's not every day that Amnesty International issues an urgent action for an American citizen. It's probably the second time in 20 years that this has happened, OK? It's not every day that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issues an order that someone in the United States's case is a violation of multiple provisions of international law and shows an appalling degree of lack of impartiality by judges.

You know, so our country needs to deal with this. It really goes to what kind of society we want to live in. And it really relates to the climate issue, because, again, I believe this whole thing is being orchestrated by Chevron, not just for Chevron, but for the entire fossil fuel industry. They don't want people speaking out. They don't want successful litigation to hold them to account for their pollution in ways that will help save the planet. And I think, ultimately, that's what this is about. And people need to pay serious attention to what's happening to me —

AMY GOODMAN: Steven Donziger, you have called the devastation in Ecuador the "Amazon Chernobyl." Explain why. Explain the original lawsuit that resulted in an $18 billion judgment against Chevron.

STEVEN DONZIGER: Basically, Chevron, in the form of Texaco, its predecessor company, went into the Amazon of Ecuador and decided to create an operational system, with literally hundreds of wells, where they deliberately dumped toxic waste into waters — into rivers and streams that Indigenous groups relied on for their drinking water, bathing and fishing, creating a mass industrial poisoning of a 1,500 square mile area. And literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people have died. I've been there over 250 times.

The affected communities went to court, in the court Chevron wanted it, the trial, to happen, in Ecuador. They won the case. Chevron has attacked me, attacked them, for 10 years, with the help of these federal judges.

In the meantime, people are suffering. And, you know, the degree of contamination is appalling. I mean, it is the Amazon Chernobyl. It's the very definition of ecocide, in my opinion. I mean, it's just a deliberate decision, in order to save money, to dump 16 billion gallons of cancer-causing waste onto Indigenous ancestral lands.

And the problem is still there. The case has been going on 28 years. And no matter what happens to me — and I hope I'll be OK, I hope I'll get through this, I expect to get through this — the communities in Ecuador are suffering tremendously, and they need help. And Chevron needs to step up and comply with the rule of law and pay the judgment that it owes to the people of Ecuador.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us. Clearly, the fight against oil extraction in the Amazon continues. A lawsuit was filed just last week. Again, you tweeted yesterday — around breaking news, you tweeted, "After" — just to give people a sense — "After 100 pages of legal briefing, the appellate court today denied my release in 10 words. This is not due process of law. Nor is it justice." In these last 30 seconds, is it definite you will be jailed tonight?

STEVEN DONZIGER: Nothing is ever definite. We are going to make one final attempt to go back to my trial judge and ask for more time so I can get properly designated to an appropriate federal prison. I don't know if she'll grant it. We're going to do that shortly. I am prepared and fully expect to, around 2:00 today, leave my home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and report to prison, where I will spend the next six months.

AMY GOODMAN: After serving over two years under house arrest for a misdemeanor. Steven Donziger, the environmental lawyer targeted by Chevron after he successfully sued the oil giant for ecological devastation in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! currently accepting applications for two positions: director of finance and administration and human resources manager. Apply at democracynow.org. I'm Amy Goodman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Close to quid pro quo corruption': Journalist calls out 'corporate Democrats' threatening Biden's agenda

Progressives in the House of Representatives say they will oppose the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would seek a vote on the measure separately from the Build Back Better Act, the $3.5 trillion bill that expands the social safety net and combats the climate crisis. Conservative Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, who receive major donations from financial institutions, fossil fuel companies and other industries, continue to oppose the $3.5 trillion package. While the $1 trillion infrastructure bill is "kind of a half-measure," the Build Back Better Act "really could be best described as the Democratic platform," says David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect.

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

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden canceled a trip to Chicago today so he can stay in Washington, D.C., as crucial negotiations continue on the bipartisan infrastructure deal and the Build Back Better Act. House progressives are saying they will "hold the line" and oppose the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would seek a vote Thursday on the measure without a commitment to also pass the Build Back Better Act. That's the $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill that expands the social safety net and combats climate change.

The chair of the Progressive Caucus, Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, issued a statement that, quote, "This agenda is not some fringe wish list. It is the President's agenda, the Democratic agenda, and what we all promised voters when they delivered us the House, Senate and White House," she said.

Activists from People's Watch and Sunrise Movement are demonstrating in D.C. this week to pressure House Speaker Pelosi and Democrats to pass the measure through reconciliation. A flotilla of activists took to kayaks and electric boats to demonstrate near Senator Joe Manchin's houseboat in D.C., demanding, "Don't sink our bill." Others confronted Pelosi Tuesday night as she headed into a fundraiser.

ACTIVIST: Nancy Pelosi, will you hold the line on the reconciliation bill, for climate justice, for California? Will you hold the line?

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, President Biden met Tuesday with conservative Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, who receive major donations from financial institutions, fossil fuel companies and other industries that oppose the spending package.

For more, we begin with David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect. He's working with The Intercept and The Daily Poster to keep a running count of where progressive votes stand. He's written a piece headlined "Pelosi Tries to Bulldoze Progressives on the Infrastructure Bill: But she claims it must pass to avoid an expiration of highway funding. That's just not true." He also wrote about the "Interlocking Crises in Congress Have Simple Solutions." His latest book, Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power.

David Dayen, welcome back to Democracy Now! So, tell us what you believe is true. And for people who are not following closely what's happening in Washington, lay out the two bills, and then talk about what's being proposed to vote on tomorrow and what isn't.

DAVID DAYEN: Sure. So, the bill that's going to get a vote tomorrow — or at least that's the theory — is the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was negotiated by centrist Democrats and Republicans. It has $550 billion of new spending on infrastructure over eight years, and that includes things like highways and bridges and broadband and the electric grid and resiliency from the ravages of climate change, and a few other things. It's at about half the level of what Joe Biden proposed when he put out the American Jobs Plan back in March. So, it's kind of a half-measure. It was negotiated by Democrats and Republicans, and it's seen as a must-have for the conservative end of the Democratic Caucus.

The Build Back Better Act, which is, again, as you said, $3.5 trillion over 10 years, really could be best described as the Democratic platform. I mean, this is a massive, expansive bill. Because there are so many elements to it, it's kind of hard to explain, but it includes ways to reduce the cost of living, which — the biggest drivers of the cost of living: housing, education and healthcare. It has a massive investment in the care economy. So you have subsidies for child care such that nobody in America would pay more than 7% of their income. You have massive subsidies for elder care, for allowing people to age in place and stay at home. There's a paid family and medical leave program for the first time in American history. And it's the biggest climate bill that Congress will have ever passed. And I'm leaving stuff out, too. The child tax credit expansion that we saw this year in the American Rescue Plan would be extended for another four years, for example. Progressives —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: It also includes, doesn't it, David Dayen — it also includes assistance for college education?

DAVID DAYEN: Yes, tuition-free community college. There's also universal pre-kindergarten in the bill, expansions of Pell Grants, money for historically Black colleges and universities. It's a major education bill. It's a major climate bill. It's a major healthcare bill that would expand Medicare and Medicaid. It's a major care economy bill. Like I said, it's kind of the Democratic platform. That's why progressives are so interested in getting that passed.

And what Pelosi has done — I mean, the whole idea, for months, was that those bills would be linked, so that the moderates in the caucus would get something they want, which is the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and the progressives in the caucus would get something they want, which is this Build Back Better Act. And Pelosi, over the last few days, has delinked those bills. Because they can't get agreement, or even the semblance of an agreement, from Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, Pelosi has said, "OK, let's pass this now, and then we'll work on the Build Back Better Act, which only needs Democratic votes because it's being done by reconciliation. We'll pass that later."

And this is what progressives are rebelling against. They don't want to lose their leverage. They figure if they pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, then the centrists, the moderates in the caucus, will want nothing to do with the Build Back Better Act, and will only get this bill that was partially directed by Republicans. So that's the issue.

As you mentioned the whip count, we have listed 24 Democratic members of Congress in the House who will not vote for the infrastructure bill without a reconciliation bill. There was also a private conference call with the Congressional Progressive Caucus yesterday. We're told that two dozen people spoke up on that call. All of them were opposed, and 10 of those people were not on our whip count list. So, you could have as much as 34 members voting no at this point, and even that might be an undercount.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But isn't part of the problem that Manchin and Sinema, while they are opposing the supporting a $3.5 trillion bill in the Senate, refused to say what they would support? So there's almost like there's a — the Democrats are negotiating with themselves but don't actually have the position of one side.

DAVID DAYEN: That's exactly right, Juan. I mean, they're negotiating with a phantom. Manchin and Sinema have been asked for a week, including on multiple occasions by the president himself, "What will you accept? Give me a top line number. Give me a spending number that you'll accept." And they're refusing to engage. They're refusing to say what they would be for in this bill. And you cannot proceed to negotiations without getting at least some framework of a top line number. So, progressives say, "We're not going to pass the infrastructure bill without specifics from Manchin and Sinema." And Manchin and Sinema are saying, "We're not going to give you specifics until you pass the infrastructure bill." So there's just a complete impasse here.

AMY GOODMAN: We'll go to break, then come back —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And at the same time —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I was going to ask: At the same time that they're juggling these two potatoes, there are two other potatoes, aren't there, that the Congress is dealing with: the need to pass legislation extending government funding by Thursday and also the debt ceiling? Could you talk about how that plays into these other issues?

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah. Well, it's just more on Congress's plate. Now, it does look like there will be a continuing resolution to fund the government that is going to get action in the House and Senate today. So I fully expect that continuing resolution will pass, and we will have government funding extended, I believe, to December 3rd.

The debt limit is the problem. Republicans in the Senate have said that they are not going to give votes to pass the debt limit, that Democrats should do it themselves. They could do it through reconciliation, which is this process that only requires 50 votes. Democrats feel like the spending was built up through the Trump administration and Republicans should be involved in it.

This is a ridiculous law to begin with, the idea that money that's already spent, that you have to make a law to raise the debt ceiling so that you can borrow to pay the bills that you've already rung up. There are a lot of ways that we could just get rid of this thing. The 14th Amendment says that the public debt shall not be questioned. There's reason to believe the debt limit law is unconstitutional. They could also — there's a very strange law that says that the Treasury could mint a trillion-dollar coin and use that to offset borrowing authority for a short-term period. Whatever needs to be done to end this hostage taking of the full faith and credit of the U.S. government needs to be done. And if Democrats are going to do this on their own, they need to find a way to do it permanently, so that we're not in this position ever again.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to break and then come back to this discussion. David Dayen is the executive editor of The American Prospect. He has written the piece "Pelosi Tries to Bulldoze Progressives on the Infrastructure Bill: But she claims it must pass to avoid an expiration of highway funding. That's just not true," he writes. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Carnival of Souls" by Combustible Edison. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we continue to look at these high-stakes negotiations unfolding on Capitol Hill, as House progressives say they'll "hold the line" and oppose the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she's seeking a vote on the measure Thursday — that's tomorrow — without a commitment to also pass the Build Back Better Act, the $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill that expands the social safety net and combats climate change.

On Monday, Congressmember Ilhan Omar responded to the recent delay of the infrastructure vote on Twitter. She said, "The whip count was right, we aren't bluffing. When the bills are up in tandem and we will put our votes on the board, that's the deal."

David Dayen is our guest, executive editor of The American Prospect, who is following this, to say the least, extremely closely.

I wanted to ask you both about the power of the Progressive Caucus right now, what this means — do you think Nancy Pelosi will put off this vote? — but also, even how Manchin and Sinema are talked about, talked about as centrist or moderate Democrats as opposed to conservative or corporate Democrats.

You have, for example, Joe Manchin, chair of the energy panel, the largest Senate recipient of campaign donations from the oil, coal and gas industries.

And then you have the headline yesterday on Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema holding a fundraiser with five business lobbying groups that oppose the massive spending bill containing some of the Biden administration's top legislation priorities, according to The New York Times, which reported that the attendees were being asked to pay up to $5,800 to Senator Sinema's campaign, saying she opposed the spending bill's price tag of $3.5 trillion, the legislation also increasing taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations in order to expand the social safety net, improve worker rights and combat the climate crisis. So she goes back and forth from the White House to the fundraiser, David Dayen?

DAVID DAYEN: Right. Yeah, I mean, this is about as close to quid pro quo corruption as you can possibly get, sitting there with business groups who are opposed to this bill. Yeah, I mean, I think "corporate Democrats" is probably the way to do it.

I mean, one thing that's very interesting is that frontline members — these are the House members that are in swing seats, which are most at risk in the next elections — they support this bill. They support the Build Back Better Act, because it gives tangible results to their communities. It has not been these swing-seat Democrats who have been the problem here. It's more Democrats who receive a lot of corporate funding who oppose elements of the bill or, in the case of Manchin and Sinema, seem to oppose all of the bill — or, actually, we don't know what they oppose, because they won't say. And they've frozen the process.

This is a very interesting moment with respect to the Progressive Caucus, though, Amy, because, traditionally, Pelosi has been able to find votes on her left. She has forced the Democrats in the Progressive Caucus to take whatever they can get. And this is a rare moment of activism for the Progressive Caucus. They have really — they have held the line. They have put a lot of credibility into this idea that we're only going to go in tandem to pass the entire Biden agenda. This was a deal that was cooked up by Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden. They said, "We're going to do a two-track process." And progressives are holding them to it. And this really is a major moment, I think, for the Progressive Caucus, for their credibility, for their viability, and to show that they are a force in Congress.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, David, how could the results of what happens in the next week shape the outcome of elections in 2022 and 2024? And also, how do you judge President Biden's direct involvement here, in terms of him being able to show that he's a president who, after so many years in Congress, in the Senate, can be able to get the legislative body to act according to his wishes?

DAVID DAYEN: Well, like I said, if you talk to frontline members, they'll tell you they need this Build Back Better Act in order to have a shot in 2022. I mean, Democrats have to show that they can govern. And the way that they can do that is by getting things on the books that are tangible, that deliver immediate results, things like the child tax credit, $3,600 for children under 6 for all families and $3,000 for kids between the ages of 6 and 17; expanding Medicare to cover dental and hearing and vision benefits; expanding the subsidies in the Affordable Care Act and, for states that have not expanded Medicaid, giving those individuals that fall into that Medicaid gap the ability to access healthcare. These are things that these frontline members think are absolutely crucial.

As far as Biden is concerned, you know, he's been sort of tangentially engaged. He obviously had that meeting with Manchin and Sinema. He has been frustrated by not being able to get any kind of results out of them. And this really is a moment where presidents do have to lead. And, you know, it's unclear exactly what leverage he might have over Manchin and Sinema, who really see themselves as these sort of corporate free agents. But whatever stops he needs to pull out, he needs to do it now, because not only does it threaten his majorities in Congress in 2022, but it threatens the ability for Democrats to win the White House in 2024.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, I wanted to put this question to you. We're looking at the Biden agenda today, and I wanted to ask you about something The Washington Post reported on this week in a story headlined "The curious case of Puerto Rico's Medicaid funding": quote, "Puerto Rico was barreling toward a Medicaid funding cliff that it'd go over on Sept. 30. Congress was racing to prevent the fragile safety net program from losing hundreds of millions of dollars. But suddenly — and unexpectedly — part of the crisis was averted. Quietly, the Biden administration interpreted language from recent laws providing dollars for the territories' Medicaid programs." This is the governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi, speaking in June to CBS about meeting with members of Congress, as well as White House officials, to discuss the island's Medicaid program.

GOV. PEDRO PIERLUISI: Yes, I am right now in Washington, D.C., meeting with members of Congress, meeting with White House officials. And yeah, that's the first topic of conversation. We have a Medicaid program in Puerto Rico, but it doesn't — we don't have the same treatment that the states get across the nation. Right now the funding we're getting, most of it, ends September 30th. So, what's happened, we call it a Medicaid cliff. Congress will have to address this, because our health program would collapse if it doesn't. That's unfortunate. We should have either a permanent participation in this program on an equal basis as the states or at least long-term funding, a 10-year deal, so that we can budget for this and we can provide the basic health services that a lot of our population needs.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I think the problem — yeah, the —

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Governor Pierluisi. If you can explain what's going on right now?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I think that the problem has been — this is a long-running problem; it's been in existence now for decades — is that the territories of the United States, of which Puerto Rico is by far the largest and the most important, are always funded when it comes to things — entitlement programs like Medicaid, and even, additionally, with Social Security Disability or SSI, at levels far less than the 50 states. And this is only made possible by Supreme Court decisions that go way back to the early 1900s, the Insular Cases, that basically say the U.S. citizens on these territories are not really part of the United States, and so Congress can thereby legislate differently for them.

And I'd like to ask David, because this is part of, I guess, the continuing resolution that you say will hopefully be passed today. The Biden administration is trying to equalize at least the Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico. And do you have any sense whether there's going to be a success in that, in the continuing resolution?

DAVID DAYEN: Well, I mean, what the Biden administration did was through their administrative authority, and they actually took action on this to increase the amount available for the food stamp program on a per person basis. They've done some things administratively to lighten the burden and to increase this help.

But one big problem is that all of this tied to pandemic relief. And what we've seen is the willingness, on the part of the administration and on the part of Congress, to allow pandemic relief to roll off. We saw this with the eviction moratorium, which was then reinstated, but the Supreme Court overturned it. We saw this with unemployment benefits, the extension of those which expired on September 6. There are more programs, like paid leave, which was in on a temporary basis, that is going to expire on the 30th, in addition to this additional funding for the territories, like Puerto Rico. So, this is a larger problem of the pandemic relief slowly fading away, despite the fact that we're still 5 million jobs down from where we were before the pandemic, despite the fact that there's still a lot of need out there, and despite the fact that, in the case of the territories, this is a historical inequity that does require some congressional action. So I'm not sure exactly whether that gets fixed in the continuing resolution. I know that the Biden administration is looking to see if there are steps they can take on their own authority to remedy this.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, David Dayen, if you can just talk about what people should be watching out for today? And how can people weigh in?

DAVID DAYEN: Well, I mean, obviously, the first answer is to call your member of Congress. We're looking like we're going to have a vote. As you know, there's a three-vote margin for Democrats in Congress. There are a handful of Republicans that are likely to vote for this bipartisan infrastructure bill, but probably not more than 10. So, if there are at least 13 or 15 or even 20 members who — among Democrats and progressives, who are going to vote against this bill, it's not likely to pass. And so, this idea that they stand with the deal that was made is — that would threaten the bill.

And, by the way, it wouldn't kill the bill forever; it would just say, "Look, we're not going to vote for this until there's a deal on everything." And, you know, if the progressives do have enough votes to stop it on Thursday, I suspect negotiations will continue, and eventually, if they get to a deal, then both bills will pass.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect. His latest piece, "Pelosi Tries to Bulldoze Progressives on the Infrastructure Bill: But she claims it must pass to avoid an expiration of highway funding. That's just not true," he writes. Well, he also wrote about how the "Interlocking Crises in Congress Have Simple Solutions." His latest book, Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power.

Next up, we'll be talking about the German elections, where the center-left Social Democratic Party declared victory in Sunday's election, putting an end to the 16-year reign of Angela Merkel's conservative leadership. We'll speak with Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister of Greece, who negotiated with Merkel and international creditors years ago, when they demanded harsh new austerity measures for the European bailout of Greece. We'll also talk about the new military deal between the United States, Australia and Britain, and what Greece has to do with that. And we'll talk about the climate crisis and more. Stay with us.

'I need you to wear a mask': Mother sues Texas governor over mandate ban in schools

As students and teachers in the United States return to the classroom amid surging cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant, the debate over mask mandates has turned to the schools. The Biden administration's Department of Education said Tuesday it will investigate whether the Texas Education Agency is violating federal law by barring mask mandates and preventing students with disabilities from safely returning to in-person classes. The DOE has launched similar investigations in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. Disability rights concerns are also the focus of lawsuits by parents and civil rights groups around the country, including in Texas. We go to San Antonio to speak with Julia Longoria, whose 8-year-old daughter Juliana has asthma. She has joined other parents in a new federal lawsuit against Texas and Republican Governor Greg Abbott over his executive order banning face mask mandates, which the Texas Education Agency started following Friday.

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

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

As students and teachers in the United States return to the classroom amidst surging cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant, the debate over mask mandates has turned to the schools.

In Fargo, North Dakota, anti-maskers are petitioning to unseat a pediatrician school board member for supporting masks, after she was elected just last year by parents concerned about their kids' safety during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration's Department of Education said Tuesday it'll investigate whether the Texas Education Agency is violating federal law by barring mask mandates and preventing students with disabilities from safely returning to in-person classes. The Department of Education has launched similar investigations in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. Disability rights concerns are also the focus of lawsuits by parents and civil rights groups around the country, including in Texas.

And for more, we go to San Antonio to speak with Julia Longoria. Her 8-year-old daughter Juliana has asthma. She's joined other parents in a new federal lawsuit against Texas and Republican Governor Greg Abbott over his executive order banning face mask mandates, which the Texas Education Agency started following on Friday.

Julia, welcome to Democracy Now! It's great to have you with us. Is your daughter Juliana in school today?

JULIA LONGORIA: She is in school today.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what's happening.

JULIA LONGORIA: Well, it's tumultuous. Things are so up in the air. Currently, as of today, her school is requiring masks. Her school district is requiring masks, and they are offering weekly COVID testing. All of that to say that, thankfully, the numbers of positive COVID results have been really low at Juliana's school. And for that, we're really, really thankful. But that can change at any minute. The governor has been really aggressive in suing her school district for multiple things, including vaccine mandates and mask mandates. So, at this point, it's really only — this is why we are involved in this lawsuit, because we need something a lot more concrete to protect our child.

AMY GOODMAN: So, who is helping you, Julia, in filing this lawsuit along with other parents? And what makes yours different from other lawsuits?

JULIA LONGORIA: So, our group of parents is represented by a nonprofit organization called Disability Rights Texas, and they are co-counseled with a law firm, Winston & Strawn. And what makes our lawsuit different is that the lawsuit is filed by individual students with disabilities in federal court. The rest of the lawsuits that have been filed have been on behalf of school districts and on behalf of municipalities in state court.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us about Juliana, your 8-year-old. Tell us about the struggle she has, your concerns.

JULIA LONGORIA: So, Juliana is a mighty child. She was born a little bit early and a little bit underweight, and so immediately was — she went into the NICU and has been a fighter ever since. She was diagnosed with asthma at 3 years old and was diagnosed with ADHD in first grade — or, kindergarten, sorry. And she has been receiving services under IDEA through her school — through the school district.

When the pandemic hit, we — I mean, nobody really knew how it was going to affect children. And SAISD went remote and — initially, that first — at the end of that first school year. In the following school year, that was her second grade year, there was a remote option. And because of her asthma, my husband and I decided that we would keep her home. The school modified her IEP to the best of their ability, and we attempted to supplement as best that we could her IEP and to provide her —

AMY GOODMAN: And again, IEP stands for?

JULIA LONGORIA: An Individual Education Plan — Individualized Education Plan. These are the services that are provided for her ADHD under federal law.

Now, she was receiving a lot of these services remotely. But what she has never received services for has been her generalized anxiety disorder, because, for the most part, that's been pretty well regulated without services in school. But as the pandemic progressed, as she became more and more isolated, as the screen time became prolonged, as she just had less interaction with children, her anxiety just became much greater.

She has a generalized anxiety disorder with OCD features, obsessive compulsive disorder features that are sort of obsessive around germs, which, during a pandemic, you can imagine, are particularly difficult for a 7-year-old. And so she really struggled with her anxiety disorder and sort of developed panic features, and she started to have panic attacks. She started having panic attacks about once a week. She just could not be on the screen for that long. She would tell us, "I just cannot sit through classes remotely anymore."

AMY GOODMAN: Julia, what do you say to parents who say they should get to decide whether their kids wear masks or not, and that these masks are uncomfortable for the children?

JULIA LONGORIA: Because that's not how masks work. Masks work by: If I wear a mask, it protects you. If you wear a mask, it protects me. We wear masks to protect each other. So, if you decide not to wear a mask, you're not deciding not to protect your child; you're deciding not to protect my child.

AMY GOODMAN: And have you had these kind of conversations? And what happens?

JULIA LONGORIA: I think it's how we end up at this stage of the pandemic. If we are thinking about only our interests instead of our responsibility to the community, we are not — we're not making any progress in controlling this pandemic. When we are not thinking about the most vulnerable individuals in our community, we are never going to get this pandemic under control.

AMY GOODMAN: So, finally, as the federal judge prepares to hear your case, what do you expect the outcome will be?

JULIA LONGORIA: I honestly go back and forth daily on this. I'm hopeful that because the Department of Justice is investigating, that that is a positive sign for our case. I am hopeful that justice will prevail for our children

AMY GOODMAN: Julia Longoria, I want to thank you for being with us, parent of 8-year-old Juliana, part of a new federal mask lawsuit against the state of Texas, and specifically against Texas Governor Greg Abbott, arguing Abbott's executive order banning face masks mandates prevents children with vulnerable health conditions from attending school safely. Thank you so much, Julia. All the best. This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMY GOODMAN: So, what can you do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'The level of human loss was really extraordinary': Reporter believes we undercounted Afghan civilian deaths

Violence in Afghanistan's countryside has reportedly dropped after the Taliban takeover and the withdrawal of U.S. troops, but the country continues to face an ongoing humanitarian and economic crisis, with millions of children at risk of starvation. Joining us from Kabul, New Yorker reporter Anand Gopal says he was shocked by the "sheer level of violence" Afghan women outside the cities have experienced in the last two decades of war. "The level of human loss was really extraordinary," Gopal says. "I think we've grossly undercounted the number of civilians who died in this war."

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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show looking at Afghanistan a month after the Taliban seized power. The New York Times is reporting there's been a dramatic drop in violence in the Afghan countryside following the Taliban takeover and the U.S. withdrawal of troops. One doctor in Wardak province reports his hospital has no patients with conflict-related injuries for the first time in over two decades. But the hospital is in a crisis as it is unable to pay salaries or buy new medical equipment.

On Wednesday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned Afghanistan is facing a "dramatic humanitarian crisis," and urged foreign governments and institutions to keep supporting the people of Afghanistan. UNICEF has warned a million Afghan children are at risk of starvation.

We go now to the capital, to Kabul, where we're joined by Anand Gopal. His latest article, "The Other Afghan Women," appears in The New Yorker. It's based on his deep reporting in the rural villages of Afghanistan that have been devastated by decades of war. Anand Gopal is also the author of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes.

Anand, thanks so much for joining us. Can you talk about who the "other Afghan women" are?

ANAND GOPAL: Thanks, Amy.

You know, when we were watching the images streaming from Kabul of people desperately trying to get to the airport, including many of my friends, you know, it was easy to come to the conclusion that perhaps what was happening right now was the worst thing that had happened in the last two decades. And, of course, there were many Afghans who wanted to get out because they desperately want a better life, and I don't blame them for that.

There was another reality, actually, at the same time that wasn't really covered as much, and that was happening outside of Kabul in rural areas, where, for the bulk of the last 20 years, the war was actually being fought. So, we think of the War in Afghanistan as just happening in Afghanistan, but, actually, it wasn't fought in most of the country. There was only particular provinces where the fighting was happening.

So, I visited Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, which is really the epicenter of the violence for the last two decades. And I wanted to see how women there, who had been facing roadside bombs and night raids and airstrikes — what they thought about the U.S. withdrawal. So, that's the "other Afghan women" in the title. And so, the piece is actually about trying to get their views of how they looked at the American withdrawal after two decades.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Anand Gopal, just to make clear, 70% — over 70% of Afghanistan's population is rural, so we have, in a sense, a highly distorted view, because we hear about urban areas — and, in fact, not just urban areas, only Kabul, or principally Kabul. Now, among the people that you spoke to in one village, Pan Killay, a woman told you that a large number of her family, all civilians, had been killed in the last years. And you went and spoke to many other families in the village and found that, on average, every family had lost 10 to 12 family members during the war, the war that they refer to as the American War. Could you elaborate on what they told you?

ANAND GOPAL: Sure. So, the woman in question, her name is Shakira, and she's a housewife who lives in a very small village in the valley of Sangin, which was one of the areas of the most intense violence over the years. And so, I had the opportunity to meet her and interview her a number of times. And, you know, I'm somebody who's been covering this conflict for many years, and even I was taken aback by the sheer level of violence that people like her had gone through and had witnessed.

So, she lost, as you said, 16 members of her family. But what was remarkable or astonishing about this was that this wasn't in one airstrike or in one mass casualty incident. This was in 14 or 15 different incidents over 20 years. So, there was one cousin who was carrying a hot plate for cooking, and that hot plate was mistaken for an IED, a roadside bomb, and he was killed. There was another cousin who was a farmer, who was in the field and had encountered a coalition patrol, and he was shot dead. Shakira told me his body was just left there like an animal. So, there were so many different instances.

So people were living — reliving tragedy again and again. And it wasn't just Shakira, because I was interested, after interviewing her, to see how representative this was. So, I managed to talk to over a dozen families. I got the names of the people who were killed. I tried to triangulate that information with death certificates and other eyewitnesses. And so, the level of human loss is really extraordinary.

And most of these deaths were never recorded. It's usually the big airstrikes that make the media, because in these areas there's not a lot of internet penetration, there's not — there's no media there. And so, a lot of the smaller deaths of ones and twos don't get recorded. And so, I think we've grossly undercounted the number of civilians who died in this war.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Anand, one of the other women that you spoke to, Pazaro, said to you, "They are giving rights to Kabul women, and they are killing women here. Is this justice?" she said. I mean, in a sense, as you show in this piece, "The Other Afghan Women," there are two different realities in Afghanistan — there are probably more, but with respect to the attitude towards the Taliban taking over the country. Could you talk about that? You've covered, of course, as you said, the war extensively over many, many years, from Kabul as well as elsewhere across the country.

ANAND GOPAL: Yeah, I mean, when we think about women's rights in Afghanistan, we tend to think about the ability to go to school, to work, to have representation in Parliament. And these are real gains that were made in the last 20 years. But there are other women's rights that aren't talked about.

So, when I asked Pazaro or other women, you know, "What do you think about the claim that the U.S. was bringing women's rights to Afghanistan?" they told me, you know, "We can't walk outside without worrying if we're going to get blown up. So, what right do — you know, how is that protecting our rights?" It's also a part of women's rights to be able to walk without fear, to be able to live. To live is a woman's right, right? So, they had a very different conception of women's rights, which was not that they rejected the aspiration for wanting to get educated or to wanting to have a public role, but they also didn't want to be shot at or have their loved ones killed. And so, they had a very different conception.

And so, when I asked them about the claim that the U.S. was bringing women's rights, they were very skeptical, and many of them were cursing the United States, saying, "They brought us nothing." So, for example, like, one person said, "They were bringing rights to Kabul, and they were just bombing us here," essentially. So, it's a country that has different realities, and I think we need to be able to hold both of those realities in our head at the same time.

AMY GOODMAN: Anand Gopal, if you can talk about the empowering of warlords by the U.S. occupation? If you can tell us the story of Amir Dado and take that right through to a person who ended up at Guantánamo?

ANAND GOPAL: So, Amir Dado was a member of the mujahideen, which was the holy warriors or the rebels, the rural rebels, that were fighting against the Soviet occupation. The Soviet occupation was a brutal occupation that killed millions of people in Afghanistan, and so, naturally, people were rising up against it. But at the same time, some of these rebels were being supported by Pakistan, by Saudi Arabia, and especially by the CIA. And so, there was the creation of warlords or strongmen. There was never warlords in Afghan history until the start of the wars in 1979.

So, Amir Dado is one of these warlords. And he came to prominence in the Sangin Valley in the mid-'80s. He was a major drug trafficker. He was also somebody who held a religious court, and he basically acted the way we think the Taliban would act now. You know, he would make sure women stayed in the home. When people tried to marry for love, he would have them arrested. He kidnapped people. I mean, he was really considered a real brutal strongman.

When the Taliban emerged in the mid-'90s, the main reason they emerged was to fight against people like Amir Dado. So they came to the Sangin Valley and Helmand in early 1995, and they demobilized him, and he fled the country. And then, for the next few years, the Sangin Valley and places in southern Afghanistan were at peace. And so, that was the kind of perspective that a lot of the women there had, which is that they don't like the Taliban, but they hated the warlords. And so, at least the warlords were gone, and they would accept that.

Then, when the U.S. invaded in 2001, they did something astonishing, which is that they brought those very same warlords back into the country. You know, they had a choice there. They could have tried to support local Afghans. They could have tried to help build a democracy, with the incredible yearning there is in Afghanistan for a better world. I mean, people like Shakira, the woman I profile in the piece, she wanted the U.S. to invade. She hated the Taliban, and she wanted the support. Instead, what the U.S. did is they brought people like Amir Dado back into the country. The reason they did that is because the U.S. never really cared about building a democracy in Afghanistan. The mission was always about counterterrorism. It was always about trying to find the, quote-unquote, "bad guys." And so they brought these warlords back in who could be their partners.

And so, for the next two or three years, from 2001 until 2004, Amir Dado basically terrorized the Helmand countryside. Hundreds of people, maybe thousands of people, innocent people, were arrested. People were killed. There's the multiple cases of people who were wrongfully accused of being Taliban members and sent to Guantánamo. There was essentially a one-sided war that was waged by the U.S. and its allied warlords, like Amir Dado, against the Afghan population in Helmand. And that, ultimately, is what led to the reconstitution of the Taliban by 2004.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you talk about Amir Dado suspected of being responsible for the killing of U.S. Staff Sergeant Jacob Frazier and Sergeant Orlando Morales in March of 2003, but he managed to point the finger at a Taliban member who ended up being sent to Guantánamo.

ANAND GOPAL: Yeah. I mean, this is just an example of the extraordinary chaos that was happening there and the ways in which these strongmen were using their access to the Americans to eliminate their enemies. So, what happened in this case was that the U.S. Special Forces went to meet some members of the Afghan government in Sangin, and Amir Dado, who was a U.S. ally, engineered an attack, an ambush, on U.S. troops. It killed two U.S. soldiers, Special Forces personnel. They were the first two U.S. soldiers who died in Helmand as a result of violent activity. And the U.S. themselves, internally, among the Special Forces, began to suspect that their own ally, Amir Dado, was the one who was behind the attack.

Nonetheless, Amir Dado took some — basically, some random guy who had nothing to do with the attack, who was an ex-Taliban who had surrendered and was sitting at home, took him, tortured him and then delivered him to the U.S. and said, "This guy here is the person who was the real culprit." The U.S. sent him to Guantánamo. He spent three or four years in Guantánamo. And when I looked at the classified documents from Guantánamo, which were eventually released by WikiLeaks, you know, what was extraordinary in those documents was that the investigating judges and others knew that this person was innocent. They wrote in the documents that Amir Dado, the U.S. ally, was the one who actually sent — who was the one who actually conducted this ambush. But, nonetheless, this person languished in Guantánamo for three or four years. His case is not unique. This has happened hundreds of times across the country in those years.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Anand, as you've pointed out in a recent interview with Reveal News, one of the effects of the way in which the U.S. supported these warlords and made them extremely wealthy is that they had an incentive to continue the war and an incentive to continue producing terrorists. Now, you mentioned earlier that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — Pakistan, in particular — played a critical role in supporting the mujahideen during the Soviet occupation. Could you say more about the role of Pakistan in supporting the Taliban all of these years and what role you think the country will play, Pakistan will play, in the interim government, its relations to the people who have been appointed in the interim government by the Taliban?

ANAND GOPAL: Well, Pakistan supports the Taliban very closely. A number of the senior leaders of the Taliban were living in Pakistan, so the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency, was basically sheltering the senior Taliban leadership. There's a very close working relationship there.

But it's very important to understand the history here, which is that in 2001, when the U.S. invaded, the Taliban was defeated. You know, to a man, they basically either surrendered or, you know, escaped and ran away. So, there was, in 2002, no Taliban in Afghanistan. There was no resistance whatsoever. Al-Qaeda, as well, fled the country. They went mostly to Pakistan, and some of them to Iran. So you had thousands of U.S. troops on the ground in 2002 with a mandate to fight a war against terror, but with no enemy actually to fight.

And so, this was the context in which they began to incentivize the allied warlords to basically produce bad guys and enemies for them. They started to arrest these people and kill them. This created the insurgency. Once the insurgency was created — and this is now 2004 — then Pakistan got involved and tried to influence the insurgency for its own interests. Its own interest is, it basically views Afghanistan as its own backyard and doesn't want Indian influence. And so, Pakistan's role in Afghanistan has been a very malign role. But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the ultimate cause of the War in Afghanistan was by the U.S., its actions in the early years.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about a part of the article that hasn't gotten very much attention. Anand, you tweeted, "CIA-created Afghan death squads were evacuated before many American citizens." Can you explain?

ANAND GOPAL: So, from the very beginning, the U.S. created these militias. As I mentioned earlier, warlordism and militias, that's not something that's natural to Afghanistan. It really emerged in the late 1970s, early '80s, as a result of the war. In 2001, the U.S. really invented some of these, created some of these groups. So, there is a group called the Khost Protection Force, which was a CIA-created militia in the southeast of the country. There's many groups like this around the country. And they were seen as the CIA's closest allies in trying to fight the Taliban. And many, many innocent people, many, many civilians suffered as a result of this. And so, their methods were seen as extraordinarily brutal.

What happened with the evacuation last month was that these CIA death squads were essentially the ones that were one of the guards of the airport itself. And the reason they were there is, ultimately, they were going to be evacuated, as well. And it was a horrific scene. As I was talking to colleagues and friends who were on the ground, sometimes these death squads are shooting at crowds. Also, the Taliban wasn't always letting people through. It was chaotic. But, ultimately, all of these death squads got evacuated. There are still American citizens here in Afghanistan today trying to get out, but the CIA militias are all out. They're now living in the United States. And it's not the first time this has happened. There have been other CIA-backed strongmen who have been living comfortably in the U.S. for the last decade or two decades. And so, this is kind of, I think, an indictment on what the CIA's priorities are in terms of Afghan lives.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Anand, before we conclude, if you could comment on the people the Taliban has appointed to serve in the interim government? You've said that what's striking in the list is that the most powerful members of the Taliban, those who were running the insurgency in the last 20 years, have been excluded. What are the implications of this? You've said that this might create a shadow government.

ANAND GOPAL: Yeah, I think that, you know, when we see the Taliban Cabinet that was announced a few days ago, I mean, all of those figures in the Cabinet held similar positions in the '90s. But, really, the powerful people in the movement, some of them were military commanders, others do have Cabinet positions, but they all kind of exist in what's called a shura, a leadership shura, which is in Kandahar. That's really who's controlling the country. There's a prime minister. He's a longtime member of the Taliban. But I'm not sure how much power he actually has. The real power is behind behind the scenes.

And I think that's tragic for Afghans, because that means even less accountability. The previous regime, that was here for 20 years, had very little accountability. There was elections, but those elections were mostly rigged. And a lot of the real decision-making was done behind the scenes. And I think there were some Afghans who were hoping that this would be a change. I think this is not going to be a change. It's going to be further down the line of zero accountability and power being wielded behind the scenes.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I wanted to ask you — a main issue that you write about is the countryside versus Kabul. We know a lot more about what's happening in Kabul. You write, "The Taliban takeover has restored order to the conservative countryside while plunging the comparatively liberal streets of Kabul into fear and hopelessness." Can you end with that?

ANAND GOPAL: Well, you know, there was a lot of — there's activists, women's rights activists, you know, people who are part of civil society, etc., all of which only appeared in the last two decades, and only appeared because of the American occupation. And for people like that, this obviously is a lot of — they're facing despair, and it's very understandable. Many of them have been able to leave the country. Many are still stuck here in Kabul. And Kabul is a relatively liberal area compared to the countryside. And there are more freedoms for women here than there are in places like Helmand, where I visited. And the idea that the Taliban are going to impose the mores of Helmand onto Kabul, I think, is a tragedy, because it means that people who have enjoyed some freedoms for the last two decades are going to see them rolled back.

All of this, I think, didn't have to be this way. The U.S. had the opportunity in the early years to negotiate with the Taliban, when they were much weaker. They had the opportunity to try to create an inclusive government. But instead they chose the path of war, and here's where we are now. Nobody has really won from this. The people in the countryside are breathing a sigh of relief because there's no war, but the people in the cities are terrified. Nobody is actually happy with the outcome. And that's a tragedy.

AMY GOODMAN: Anand Gopal, I want to thank you so much for being with us, journalist and professor at Arizona State University. His article, "The Other Afghan Women," is in The New Yorker magazine. We'll link to it at democracynow.org. He is also author of the book No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes.

Coming up, as the debate over a booster vaccine shot, a third shot, heats up in the U.S., calls are growing for global vaccine equity. Stay with us.

Nobel economist explains how corporate greed could prolong the pandemic

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds.

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

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

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

'9/11’s unsettled dust': Bush’s EPA hid health risks from toxic dust at ground zero — and  thousands died

As this week marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, we look at an enraging new documentary, "9/11's Unsettled Dust," on the impact of the toxic, cancer-causing smoke and dust that hung over ground zero and how the Environmental Protection Agency put Wall Street's interests before public health and told people the air was safe to breathe. One of the key figures in the film is Democracy Now! co-host Juan González, who was among the first to expose the public health and environmental crisis at ground zero in a series of reports for the New York Daily News. He says the intense backlash from the mayor's office and federal officials "cowed" the newspaper, but he has no regrets.

"My only mistake was believing that it would take 20 years for people to get sick," González says. "It took about five years for the deaths and the severe illnesses to really become apparent." Director Lisa Katzman says she made the film because she was a resident of Lower Manhattan who saw the attack and its aftermath up close and wanted "to address the lack of accountability" from city and federal officials. "The same people that were always touting 'Never forget! Never forget!' and constantly reminding us of the heroism of these responders were unwilling to do anything to actually help them," notes Katzman.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to start with a warning to our listeners and viewers: Today's show includes graphic images and descriptions, some that you may certainly have heard and seen before.

Yes, this week marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., that killed nearly 3,000 people. We'll never know exactly how many people, because those who go uncounted in life go uncounted in death, perhaps the undocumented workers around the area.

But we begin our coverage looking at the impact of the toxic, cancer-causing smoke and dust that hung over ground zero in Manhattan as the fire burned for 100 more days. At the time, the Environmental Protection Agency told people who worked at the site and lived and went to school near it that the air was safe to breathe. In the years that followed, more than 13,200 first responders and survivors have been diagnosed with a variety of cancers and chronic respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses. At least — well, close to 1,900 first responders, survivors and workers who recovered bodies and cleaned up the wreckage have since died from illnesses, many of them linked to their time at ground zero.

For the whole hour, we're looking at an enraging new documentary that exposes the massive environmental and public health crisis caused by the 9/11 attack and how politicians and the EPA head, Christine Todd Whitman, the former governor of New Jersey, put Wall Street's interests before public health in the aftermath. It also shows how 9/11 responders and survivors had to fight for healthcare justice while they were sick and dying, going to Washington scores of times, in wheelchairs, on crutches, with oxygen. Yes, tons of toxic dust fell on New York City 9/11. While concentrated in the 16-acre disaster site, wind carried the chemical contaminants throughout the city, in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens. This is the trailer for the new documentary, 9/11's Unsettled Dust.

ONLOOKER 1: Yeah, it seemed like it just sort of —
ONLOOKER 2: Oh my god! Oh my god!
DISPATCHER: Yo, the North Tower is coming down. All units, be advised that the North Tower is coming down.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Once we saw the actual initial reports, we started realizing there was benzene. There was lead in the air. I was already getting warnings that there were many more potential toxic exposures.
UNIDENTIFIED: When we heard Christine Todd Whitman get on TV and say the air quality is safe, we were horrified.
CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: The concentrations are such that they don't pose a health hazard. We're going to make sure everybody is safe.
JOHN FEAL: You know, not only did we inhale and breathe in the air, we were drinking it and eating it. And I bitched and moaned to anybody who would listen to me.
REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: My husband and I and other people who were engineers went down to the site. And there was no question that it was an unhealthy site.
UNIDENTIFIED: They didn't have a mask in the beginning, because some people were using Home Depot masks, even the guys at ground zero.
JOHN McNAMARA: On 9/11, responded, the World Trade Center, breathing in all the toxic air, and they said it was safe to breathe.
JOHN FEAL: We're talking about human life. We're talking about men that couldn't be here, that had traveled with me, the 80 trips that I made to D.C., that are laying in ICU or at home with IVs in them.
JON STEWART: The first responders were told the Zadroga Act would be included — they were told this last week — it would be included in the transportation bill passed last week.
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Not one of the first responders standing with me here today should have to be here today. Not one of them should have to take another trip to Washington.
JOHN FEAL: This is about Washington, D.C., helping out people from 431 congressional districts that went to ground zero. New York wasn't attacked; this country was attacked.

AMY GOODMAN: That's the trailer for the new documentary, 9/11's Unsettled Dust, which premieres later this week on PBS stations in New York, New Jersey and Long Island.

For more, we're joined by Lisa Katzman, the film's director and producer. One of the key figures in the film is Democracy Now!'s Juan González, who is not only co-host today, but his critical work at the beginning of the time after 9/11 just changed the landscape of how people understood what was happening near and around the pile. He and Joel Kupferman of the Environmental Law & Justice Project were among the first to expose the public health and environmental crisis at ground zero in a series of reports for the New York Daily News. Juan González is also the author of the 2002 book, Fallout: The Environmental Consequences of the World Trade Center Collapse.

So, Juan, we're beginning with you. I mean, that New York Daily News cover that caused so much outrage and response and attack on you, it was in October. It said "exclusive." And we're going to show it right here. "Toxic Zone" was the headline, "Levels of benzene, dioxin, PCBs and other dangerous chemicals at Ground Zero exceed federal standards." That may not surprise people now, Juan, but you're the one who had it on the cover at a time when the EPA head was telling the country all was well in Lower Manhattan in terms of safety for people returning to work. Talk about how you came to understand how toxic ground zero was.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Amy, I actually had started — I did an article about less than three weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center, on September 28th, which began to talk about the high levels of asbestos that Joel Kupferman had discovered in his own independent testing that he had done around ground zero, even as far down as Battery Park, and very high levels of asbestos and of fiberglass, which ended up being actually responsible for much of the scarring of lungs that many of the first responders and other people downtown had. And so, I had actually done two articles before, before that big front-page story. But then, of course, as Joel was able to get even more public records requests on health testing that had been hidden from the public, that big October 26 article, as I recall, was the one that laid out those findings.

And the response was unbelievable, the backlash against it from the mayor's office, from the EPA to the Daily News, to the point that, actually, my editors pulled back. They began, after that, beginning to hold my columns. And at one point, I actually had to go to the editor-in-chief at the time, a guy by the name of Ed Kosner, and I said, "Ed, why are you holding up my follow-ups on this?" And he says, "Well, you know, City Hall says this, and EPA says you're overstating the problem, you're sensationalizing. And The New York Times is not following our stories, and none of the other press are agreeing with us." And I said to him, "Well, since when do we depend on other media to tell us how to report what we find?" So, it became clear that the paper had been cowed by the federal and the city government.

So I said to Kosner at the time — I said, "Ed, you don't really know me. You just got here about a year ago. And I don't know you. So this is what I'm going to do. You run the paper. You're in charge of the paper. And I'm in charge of my column. So, I'm going to keep writing about this issue, because I don't want it on my conscience that 20 years later people are going to start getting sick and dying because we didn't warn them of the potential health effects here. And so, I'm not going to stop writing about this." And the paper did end up killing some of my columns, but they ran most of them at the back of the page — at the back of the paper.

My only mistake was believing that it would take 20 years for people to get sick. It actually took far less, took about five years for the deaths and the severe illnesses to really become apparent. And by then, the paper had a new management, a new editor. And then the paper embarked — the editorial board embarked on a campaign to reveal the deaths and the illnesses that were occurring. And eventually it won the Pulitzer Prize. The Daily News won the Pulitzer Prize, the editorial board, for its coverage of the health effects, the very health effects that five years earlier it had tried to squash. You know, so, history has a strange way of evolving on issues like this. And I think that it's a lesson that most media are very good at exposing problems far away. The closer the problems get to home, the more difficult it becomes to expose them.

AMY GOODMAN: You should have won the Pulitzer Prize for your series of prophetic reports. I wanted to go to David Newman with NYCOSH. That's the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. He's speaking in the documentary, 9/11's Unsettled Dust.

DAVID NEWMAN: There was substantial data available prior to the event that would indicate issues of concern with the collapse of the Twin Towers. One of those was the widely known and widely documented and widely advertised heavy use of asbestos during the construction of the World Trade Center project. So, the figure that is in widespread circulation and uncontested is that there were 400 tons of asbestos used in sprayed-on fireproofing material in the Trade Center construction. That figure excludes probable additional asbestos used in pipe insulation and other applications. So there's a huge amount. I think it's safe to say that whatever was in the World Trade Center was released into the general environment. Nothing disappeared.

AMY GOODMAN: "Nothing disappeared." Whatever was inside the World Trade Towers became what we breathed. That's David Newman with the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. And, Juan, you talked about the New York Daily News winning the Pulitzer, but you didn't, and you should have. You were the one who led the way in exposing this.

I wanted to bring in the director, Lisa Katzman, director and producer of this utterly devastating documentary, 9/11's Unsettled Deaths [sic], 9/11's Unsettled Dust. It could be "unsettled deaths." And we're going to be talking about that in a minute.

But talk about why you chose to make this film, and the significance of a crusading reporter, like Juan González, and others who were putting out this information going against the financial establishment. Let's remember who the "country's mayor" was at the time: Rudy Giuliani. The Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who now says, OK, maybe she made a mistake — she dreads the 9/11 anniversary because of this — Christine Todd Whitman, saying, "Everyone, back to work."

LISA KATZMAN: Well, it's an honor to be on the show. And hello to both of you. Hi, Juan. It was good to hear you report on those first stories that you did, again.

Yes, the reason that I was drawn to make the film is I'm a member of — I live downtown. I live four blocks from the World Trade Centers, and then what became ground zero. And I witnessed the recovery, the rescue and recovery effort, through looking through my living room windows at it over a number of months. And it was very evident — fortunately, at the time, I had a teaching job upstate, so I was not in my apartment on a full-time basis. But to anybody that lived here, who spent any time here or near downtown Manhattan, it defied one's senses and common sense to imagine that this wasn't a horrendously, I mean, off-the-charts environmental disaster. And so, the statement that the air is safe, the denials that were made were utterly absurd. I mean, the level of disconnect from reality is almost legendary, I would say at this point. It's really hard to fathom that those things were said.

And the reason that I felt that I needed to make the film was to address that and to address the lack of accountability at the time. And then, what ensued, you know, in the years afterward, is that that lack of accountability traveled through the courts. It traveled through the way that Republicans in Congress thought about what should be done to help first responders. And the same people that were always touting "Never forget! Never forget!" and constantly reminding us of the heroism of these responders were unwilling to do anything to actually help them. And so, the hypocrisy of that, the rage that I felt over that as time went on, led me to want to make this film, which I began doing in 2010, when the first responders were making very — they had been making trips to D.C. to pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act for some time, but there was an intensification of those efforts in 2010, and that's when I began filming.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to another part of the film. I mean, every three minutes, your jaw drops. This is the EPA's Hugh Kaufman and Kimberly Flynn, founder of 9/11 Environmental Action, speaking about the EPA's failure to warn people of the dangerous conditions at ground zero, and perhaps why.

HUGH KAUFMAN: People told us, "I'm not allowed to wear a respirator, because there are cameras around, and they don't the optics of me wearing a respirator down here cleaning up."
KIMBERLY FLYNN: Everyone came. Everyone who was affected came. There were responders. There were area workers. There were many, many residents and tenants' association leaders. And there were scientists also who were bringing their information.
HUGH KAUFMAN: Christine Todd Whitman, the head of EPA, who was telling the people the air is safe to breathe, owned a quarter of a million dollars in stock from Citigroup, and her husband worked for Citigroup. Travelers insurance company had insurance policies such that if the air wasn't safe to breathe, it could cost Travelers insurance half a billion, a billion dollars in claims. Well, guess who owns Travelers insurance: Citigroup. And that's how the insurance companies saved billions of dollars by Christine Todd Whitman's lie.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, talk about the significance of this, the personal financial connections, what this meant for so many people, and continues to mean for the sick and the dying today.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Amy, I think people should remember that Christine Todd Whitman did not act alone. She basically was acting under orders. And it was later revealed, I think by the treasury secretary under the Bush administration, that George Bush had — the president at the time had directly ordered that Wall Street be reopened within a week of the attacks, because there was a fear in the administration that the continued closing of the financial markets was going to have a disastrous effect on world capitalism.

So, basically, once Bush ordered that Wall Street be reopened — and that meant thousands and thousands of financial industry workers had to come back to downtown Manhattan — then the health officials, including Christine Todd Whitman, had to justify, had to justify the orders. And rather than do the science first and then figure out what the policy, the policy was established, and the science was made to fit the facts.

It was later revealed by the EPA's inspector general report that the White House — the head of the environmental policy at the White House, a guy by the name James Connaughton, had actually rewritten the press releases that the EPA was putting out, to downplay the health impacts. So this was a direct order from the White House to get Wall Street back up and running, and the rest of the population of Lower Manhattan basically, in essence, were collateral damage to that policy.

AMY GOODMAN: This is President George W. Bush's EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman testifying at a 2007 congressional hearing on whether the federal government's actions at the 9/11 attack sites, at the pile, violated the rights of first responders and local residents.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: I got a call from the White House a day after, from the Office of the Economic Adviser, which is not surprising — they're concerned about the economy of the country — saying — reminding me of the importance of Wall Street, of opening the stock market. I indicated that until that building was cleaned, until it was safe, it would be inappropriate. And that's the last I heard of that. It was cleaned. It was safe, as you have heard from Mr. Henshaw, for them to go back in. And they were allowed back in. Was it wrong to try to get the city back on its feet as quickly as possible, in the safest way possible? Absolutely not. Safety was first and foremost, but we weren't going to let the terrorists win.

AMY GOODMAN: "We weren't going to let the terrorists win." During the hearing, Whitman was questioned by Florida Democratic Congressmember Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: The EPA does have the — did have the ability to take over the site at the point that they felt that — and that is under Presidential Decision Directive 62, Emergency Support Function 10, and the National Contingency Plan under CERCLA. The EPA could have taken over control of the site from the city as the lead agency, if they felt that the city was not properly protecting their workers. So they certainly had the ability to do it, and you chose not to. So, if you are saying that the law wasn't structured in New York to allow you to do that, then why didn't EPA step in and take over?
CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: Congresswoman, under — as you know, EPA would have, under certain circumstances, had the authority to take over the site. What had to be proven in order to invoke the CERCLA, or the Superfund Act, substantive, substantial and imminent danger. And the readings that we were getting, relative — and this was relative to the overall air; I'm talking more about outside of the pile — were not indicating that. And we were working in a collegial fashion with the city of New York. Again, as far as the workers on the pile, what our — we were tasked by OSHA to do the — I mean, excuse me, by FEMA to do the health and safety monitoring, to monitor the air. And we did that, and then we provided as many respirators —
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: But, you know, when it comes to —
CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: We were not tasked with —
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: — to imminent — substantial and imminent danger, are you talking about immediate death, horrible sickness within weeks? Because mesothelioma, the cancer that is —
CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: Right.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: — that is the result of exposure to asbestos, does not manifest itself substantially or immediately. It could be years. But it's almost certain. So, how is it that you didn't step in and exercise your authority, given that knowledge, which has been known for years?
REP. JERROLD NADLER: The gentleman — the gentlelady's time is expired. The witness may answer the question.
CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: Congresswoman, that was based on what the interpretation of what our legal ability was to act by — in consultation with counsel at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was Jerry Nadler, New York congressmember, who represented the ground zero area, chairing the meeting, Christine Todd Whitman being questioned by Florida Democratic Congressmember Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Before we go to break and then hear the story of Joe Zadroga — you may think you know it, because his name is on the law, but I don't think you know the details. Juan, your comment on what Christine Todd Whitman was saying and the information that was being suppressed from the highest levels? Nadler would go on to say that she and "America's mayor," Mayor Giuliani, should be tried for criminally negligent — for criminal negligence.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I think it's important to recall the role of Rudy Giuliani, as well, because, you see, the EPA was a monitoring agency. The federal agency that should have assured the protection of all the people at ground zero was OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And OSHA deliberately did not enforce its standards for working on a dangerous site like that, because Giuliani insisted that he was in charge. He was the incident commander on the pile, and he kept — he maintained his control of all information and all activity at the pile long after what should have been just a rescue operation. So, therefore, OSHA was not allowed by Mayor Giuliani to actually conduct its legally required business. And as a result, many, many people ended up being exposed and getting sick and not having proper protection. And we should never forget the role of Rudy Giuliani in allowing that situation to go on for so long.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was very different at the Pentagon, which was also attacked, where they had the proper attire. We're going to talk with Joe Zadroga in a minute. The bill is the James Zadroga Act, his son, who has since died. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "A Hunting We Will Go," performed by The O'Neill Brothers. It was sung by Michael Williams in The Wire, well known for that, Michael Williams who has died at the age of 54 in Brooklyn.

Prominent economist sends urgent warning about expiring unemployment benefits

As unemployment benefits for millions of U.S. workers expired on Labor Day, with many states suffering the worst surge of the pandemic, economist Joseph Stiglitz says it's "disturbing" federal aid was allowed to lapse. "This is going to feed into the problems posed by the Delta variant." Stiglitz also talks about whether Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell should stay in the job, saying he has done a "reasonable job" during the pandemic but has a tendency "to side with Wall Street and engage in deregulation."

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

AMY GOODMAN: Unemployment benefits for millions of U.S. workers expired on Labor Day, after President Biden declined to press the Democratic-led Congress to extend assistance, even as many states suffer their worst surge of the pandemic. An estimated 9.3 million jobless workers lost benefits, along with 26 million members of their households who relied on the income. The cutoff of aid came after the Labor Department reported the U.S. economy added just 235,000 jobs in August, a significant slowdown due largely to the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant. The unemployment rate for African Americans rose six-tenths of a percentage point in August to 8.8%.

For more, we're joined by Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist, Columbia University professor, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.

We want to discuss a number of issues, from vaccine equity to the Federal Reserve Board, but first let's begin with these unemployment benefits ending. Joe Stiglitz, the significance of this?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, this is extraordinarily disturbing. You know, we should have passed a law that said so long as the unemployment rate remained elevated, in particular places it's very, very serious, and — we should have continued those unemployment benefits. The numbers, three-fourths of those on unemployment are going to see their benefits cut or, most of those, eliminated. And we aren't back to, really, normal. So, this is going to feed into the problems posed by the Delta variant, because that itself has slowed the economy down. As you mentioned, the unemployment — the employment numbers were not that good the last month. And now on top of that, we're going to have the problem of insufficiency of aggregate demand, because these people who are going to lose their benefits won't be able to spend.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Joe Stiglitz, what do you say to those — there have been lots of media reports in recent weeks and many Republicans, like Senator Ted Cruz, saying that employers are not able to find employees because people are preferring to stay on unemployment rather than get jobs. What's your response to this point of view?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Yeah. Well, actually, this is an area where we've been able to get real data in real time, because we've done, you might say, an experiment, because different states have reduced their benefits, cut off their benefits — a large number of conservative states have already done that — so we've been able to see what happens to employment when you cut off benefits. Do people rush back to get jobs? And were those states that cut off those benefits — did that solve their problem of a labor shortage? Answer: unambiguously, no.

It's clear the reason that people aren't going back to work is, one, they don't want to get the disease, and our workplace is often a place where people do get the disease. Secondly, we don't have adequate child care. And that means, with schools being shut down, opened up, shut down, they don't want to leave their children alone. And one of the important provisions of President Biden's program that's in the reconciliation bill is actually to address that issue. You might say it's a real supply-side issue that will help the labor supply. But cutting off unemployment benefits has a minuscule effect, estimating something like 7% of those who get cut off from benefits actually wound up with jobs.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Joseph Stiglitz, I'd like to turn to another topic: the Federal Reserve Board. President Biden will soon have to decide on the new chair for the Federal Reserve Board. There have been some congressmembers, progressive members of Congress, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, who are calling for Biden to replace the current chair, Jerome Powell, for neglecting to take on the climate crisis and weakening financial regulations. Would like to get your perspective on this, and especially not just on the issue of Powell's track record on climate change, but also the fact that he's continuing to pursue this cheap money policy that allows corporations and Wall Street to get money at low interest rates and then, of course, invest it in the stock market and continue to drive the stock market up, rather than real production or capital expenditures. Your sense of whether Jerome Powell deserves to stay?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, this is one of the really difficult decisions, because no one wants to disturb the economy as we're in the process of healing the economy. And it was a kind of decision that I was involved in more than 20 years ago when Alan Greenspan came up for reappointment under President Clinton.

Now, Powell has done a — you might say, a reasonable job in responding to the pandemic. He's not gone the way, you might say, a hard money person would, worried about inflation. But that's a low bar. Almost anybody reasonable would have taken the kinds of measures that the Federal Reserve took.

The hard questions on the macroeconomic side are: What happens when we get starting to recover? How soon do you increase interest rates? [inaudible] are you about inflation? How do you see that trade-off? And one of the things that we know is that the only time that we bring into the labor market minorities, disadvantaged people, and the only time we get wage compression is when we have a really tight labor market. And to me, it's worth risking a little inflation in order to address some of the grave inequalities in our society. And I wonder whether he will be the right person in that critical moment.

Moreover, one of the critical issues, going forward, is: Are we going to have another financial crisis like we had back in 2008? Memories are short, and a lot of people think that's ancient history, but it's not. It can come back again. And that's where his proclivity to side with Wall Street and engage in deregulation is very troublesome. The Dodd-Frank bill did not adequately deal with reregulating the financial system and, since then, the [inaudible] regulations we've had.

What we really need is strengthening regulations to deal with encouraging capital to move, as you said, into productive activities and dealing with the real risk not only of the financial excessive risk-taking that we saw in 2008, but a new set of risks that are on the horizon, and those are the climate risks. He says those are issues that Congress ought to deal with. But they are issues of financial stability. We have a repricing of fossil fuel assets, other assets that are going to be affected by climate change. It will make what happened with the subprime mortgage market look like a picnic. And what that did to our financial system is an important lesson why we have to include climate risk in any stress testing.

Dirty work: Essential jobs and the hidden toll of inequality in America

Ahead of Labor Day, we speak with journalist and sociologist Eyal Press about his new book, "Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America." Press profiles workers like prison guards and oil workers — people who make their livelihoods by doing "unethical activity that society depends on and tacitly condones but doesn't want to hear too much" about, he says. "This work is largely hidden, and we rarely hear from the people on the frontlines who are delegated to do it," Press tells Democracy Now! "The powerful and the privileged really don't do the dirty work in America — they not only don't do it, they don't see it."

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

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

This Monday is Labor Day. Today, we spend the rest of the hour looking at Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America. It's the title of a new book by New Yorker writer Eyal Press. He profiles workers like prison guards and oil workers, and two people we'll speak to in a minute: a drone operator and the daughter of poultry plant workers.

We begin with Eyal Press, who also has a new opinion piece in The New York Times headlined "America Runs on 'Dirty Work' and Moral Inequality." Eyal is joining us from Buffalo, New York.

Eyal, welcome back to Democracy Now! You begin your book, Eyal, with a quote from the great writer James Baldwin, who said, "The powerless must do their own dirty work. The powerful have it done for them." Talk about what that means and what you mean by "dirty work."

EYAL PRESS: So, I don't mean the common colloquial expression, which I think leads people to just think of, say, garbage truck workers, who do something that's physically dirty. Dirty work, in my book, means unethical activity that society depends on and tacitly condones but doesn't want to hear too much. So, it is work that's sort of in the shadows, if we think of the work of conducting targeted assassinations in the drone program or the work of running the mental health wards in America's jails and prisons, which, by the way, are the largest mental health institutions in this country, or the work of manning the kill floors in industrial slaughterhouses. All of those things, I argue in the book, are pretty essential to our existing social order, to the American way of life. You really can't imagine fast food, the American industrial food system, without the slaughterhouses I write about. You can't imagine the never-ending wars without the drone program.

But we very rarely hear from — this work is largely hidden, and we rarely hear from the people on the frontlines who are delegated to do it. And to go back to the Baldwin quote, the book is about inequality, because the powerful and the privileged really don't do the dirty work in America — they not only don't do it, they don't see it. And so I'm particularly honored to be on this show, because you've invited some of the people I've written about to tell their stories. We don't hear those stories enough, and also the family members of people who do this work.

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

A CIA drone analyst apologizes to the people of Afghanistan

As the United States ends a 20-year occupation of Afghanistan, a former intelligence analyst for the CIA's drone program offers an apology to the people of Afghanistan "from not only myself, but from the rest of our society as Americans." During deployments to Afghanistan, Christopher Aaron says he was able to see "the human toll, the resource toll of these wars, as well as the fact that the policy of dropping 'guided missiles' at people from remote controlled airplanes was not allowing us to actually win the war." We also speak with Eyal Press, who profiles Aaron in his new book, "Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America." He says the U.S. has developed a military strategy of carrying out drone strikes and wars "in the shadows: doing it out of sight, out of mind."


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

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's go to one of the workers in your new book, Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America: Christopher Aaron, a former intelligence analyst for the CIA's drone program. A 2018 article that described his job opened like this: quote, "In the spring of 2006, Christopher Aaron started working 12-hour shifts in a windowless room at the Counterterrorism Airborne Analysis Center in Langley, Va. He sat before a wall of flat-screen monitors that beamed live, classified video feeds from drones hovering in distant war zones." Christopher Aaron joins us now from Tucson, Arizona.

Christopher, welcome to Democracy Now! Describe the work you were doing in this faraway, windowless room. Well, I mean by that, far away from your targets in Afghanistan.

CHRISTOPHER AARON: Yes. First of all, Amy, thank you so much for having me on the show today.

If I could just take one moment — I've done this personally in the past, but I would like to take a moment, now that the war is officially over, to offer an apology to the people of Afghanistan, from not only myself, but from the rest of our society as Americans. I think there needs to be, somewhere in this dialogue, a place for the human emotion of what we have all been through. And my words are wholly insufficient to do that, but if anyone is listening on the other side of the planet, we all apologize for what we have just done.

My work was as an intelligence analyst. We were — you know, as the article says, we were behind video screens. There's a lot that was classified that I can't get into. I began my career working for another intelligence agency and then transferred over to this fusion cell at the CIA headquarters. This was my career out of college, you know, as a product of the 9/11 generation. And I wanted to do something for my generation that I saw that mattered, where I could do some good to try to help the world. We were behind the screens for 12 hours, you know, three to four days a week, on rotating shifts, all hours of the night and day.

After a few months, I had the opportunity to go to Afghanistan, and I served two six-month deployments, one in 2006 and then one again in 2008 to 2009. And so I was able to see with my own eyes both the human toll, the resource toll of these wars, as well as the fact that the policy of dropping, quote-unquote, "guided missiles" at people from remote-controlled airplanes was not allowing us to actually win the war. So, all three of those sides of things were failing, in my view.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris, you know, as the U.S. was pulling out of Afghanistan, and they talk about over-the-horizon capability, precisely what you're talking about, that the troops may not be there on the ground, but drone strikes — well, in the last days of the U.S. presence in Kabul, that drone strike that killed a family of 10, seven of them children, some under 5. Your feelings as you watched that unfold?

CHRISTOPHER AARON: It's just horrific to see this happening as we are withdrawing. You know, I don't want to say this was commonplace throughout my time in the wars, but it certainly happened. You know, for every kill that we had of a, quote-unquote, "extremist" or "terrorist," it's impossible to say, but there were certainly innocent casualties the entire time. We would often see in the streets the next day — we would be going after one person with a targeted strike, and the next day we would see two or three coffins being carried through the streets.

And there was just this attitude at the time amongst the military or in the intelligence community, like, "Well, you know, this is the cost of war. This is what we have to do to get the terrorists, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, etc." But you really start to put the pieces together and look at the cause and effect. And, for example, with this drone strike just last week, it's not only the humans that were killed, but it's: What about all their brothers? What about their sisters? What about their classmates in school? So, whereas maybe you did successfully kill one extremist or one terrorist, you now have five, 10, 15, 30 new ones to take their place. It's a failing policy. It's as simple as that.

AMY GOODMAN: And as the war comes to — this chapter of this forever war comes to an end, how representative are you, in speaking to your colleagues, the other people who were in that room, if you still do, other soldiers? In the corporate media, they have vet after soldier saying, "If we're pulling out now, what did we do this for?" questioning the pullout, but not so much just the critical point of that question: What did we do this for?

CHRISTOPHER AARON: It's a wonderful question. I began to ask myself that in 2006, and certainly after coming back again in 2008 to 2009. I saw with my own eyes that — not only, of course, the wasted resources, the human toll, on both sides of the fence, including the soldiers who I worked with, who suffer tremendously from PTSD — which is something that I'm passionate about, as well — but the loss of areas of control of the country in 2008, 2009, the entire region in southern Afghanistan of Kandahar.

This might sound kind of silly, but I had Thanksgiving dinner there in 2006 as we were flying into some of the remote bases. And by 2009, we could not return there. So, I was like, "Wait a minute. You know, we're continuing this war." This was in 2009. "We can't go back to a base that we formerly controlled. Why were we there the entire time?"

You know, there are others. I'm not the only one who has spoken out about this. There is Brandon Bryant, Cian Westmoreland, Lisa Ling and, of course, Daniel Hale, who has just been imprisoned just a month or two ago. However, I would say that it's few and far between, the people —

AMY GOODMAN: For releasing information about the drone program.

CHRISTOPHER AARON: Correct, correct. And there were one or two pieces in there which were classified. It's something that I'm very careful about. However, you know, that's what they got him for, under the Espionage Act.

Ultimately, what were we there for? I am unable to accept that, you know, me, as a 29-year-old back in 2009, that something that was so obvious to me about the failing of the trajectory of the wars — I'm unable to believe that my military superiors and the politicians way above me were not able to see the same thing. And so, when faced with those sets of facts, a thinking person has to say, "Was there not perhaps a policy in play to keep us in a state of war for one reason or another?"

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, that the questioning of why you were doing this — I mean, the apology you made at the beginning of this conversation — contributes to the horror you experience afterwards?

CHRISTOPHER AARON: It does, I know, for me, and not only for me, for a lot of other people who I'm in touch with through veterans' retreats. And to be fully upfront, again, to state it for the record, I am not technically a veteran. I was a DOD civilian. So, it's a question of where your paycheck comes from. DOD civilian with a gun in a war zone, you know, working on the drone program. But anyway, I am in touch with a number of people who are also — who have suffered in this way. And it's a different kind of PTSD. There's no way that I can compare what I went through to some of the people who saw their brothers in the military blown up in front of them or who themselves lost limbs or senses. I'm not trying to compare what we experienced to that. But at the same time, there's something that we experienced.

And people who volunteered for this program because we love this country, we love things that this country stands for, as far as the freedoms that we have here, and then when you're faced with the reality on the ground, through the video screen, that what is actually happening on the ground is not what is being reported in the mainstream media and is not what the higher-ups in the military structure are telling us is going to win the war, you start to feel an immense sense of regret. And that's, you know, what I spoke with Eyal about extensively leading up to The New York Times article, is this, what they call, you know, moral injury or moral regret. And it's for real.

AMY GOODMAN: Eyal, if you could talk about why you decided to include Chris, a drone operator for the CIA, in your profiling of essential workers? In your book, you say, "The truth is, the drone program doesn't just serve the interests of military contractors." Talk about who it serves.

EYAL PRESS: Well, I think that it's so appropriate that Chris began with that moving apology, and he made it collective. He wasn't just saying he's sorry, but that he's part of a society that has chosen to fight wars this way. And that's why I focused on him and other people in the drone program.

You know, after Iraq and Afghanistan, the ground invasions, America was exhausted by those wars, disillusioned, and didn't like the cost, the price tag, both in terms of casualties and resources. And so, what happened? Well, under Obama first, and then again under Trump, drones, fighting from a distance without any physical risk, at least, to our side, and taking these war — keeping the same right to target and kill people, even in countries with which we're not formally at war, but doing it in the shadows, doing it out of sight, out of mind.

And the fundamental theme of my book is that those acts are not just the military's, and they are not just Chris Aaron's, and they are not just the current people in the drone program's. They're ours. We own what those — what the impact of that is, with the legal repercussions and the moral repercussions.

And I just am struck that, you know, in the beginning of the drone program, there was so much talk about this being antiseptic, and it would be like playing a video game. But then, as I researched it and also looked at what the military itself has found, you have huge rates of burnout in the program, and analysts and imagery analysts and drone operators who quit or who just are mentally and emotionally and psychically distressed. Why? Why? It's not because they evaded roadside bombs, in the kind of the sense of injuries and PTSD that soldiers on the ground have had. It's because they're seeing, intimately, day after day, shift after shift, violence unfolding on screens, from a distance, for which, in some cases, they feel responsible, for things that go wrong, for things that — for a strike that happens and they're not sure who was hit.

And so, this term "moral injury" kept coming up, not just in what I was reading, but when I actually visited some bases and talked to psychiatrists on those bases. And I think that that moral injury, again, doesn't belong just to the people who experience it, who are seeing what is done, but it belongs to all of us, to the society that has decided this is one of the ways we will continue fighting our wars.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, very quickly, Chris, were you what many called a "joystick warrior"? And were these so-called joystick warriors, drone operators, treated differently than soldiers in the battlefield?

CHRISTOPHER AARON: I was not a joystick operator. We communicated with them directly. There's a whole series of intelligence sources that come together to ultimately decide whether or not a strike will happen, a missile will be launched from the drone or soldiers will go in. So, where I fit in that chain was as an intelligence analyst. We essentially were providing the raw assessment as to what was happening on the ground. Are there people — so, let's say we have the target, who would be, let's say, the extremist inside a building that we're watching from the drone, and then the military commanders would come to us and say, "Are there women or children in that building, as well?" And based on the answers that we would give to them, sometimes a minute later, we would see a bright flash on the screen, and you're then counting how many dead bodies, in fact, do you see after that strike. So, I was not the joystick operator myself, but, you know, that information is basically driving what the joystick operator does.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Christopher Aaron, for joining us, former intelligence analyst for CIA's drone program. Eyal Press, please stay with us, author of Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America. And we're also going to link to that piece you wrote in The New York Times. And we're going to speak, after break, to another person profiled in Dirty Work, Dulce Castañeda, the Children of Smithfield, led by family members of meatpacking workers. Stay with us.

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

'On the kill floors': Essential workers in meatpacking plants still lack safety and COVID protections

Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, we look at the experiences of meatpacking workers during the pandemic and beyond. Dulce Castañeda, a founding member of Children of Smithfield, a Nebraska-based grassroots advocacy group led by the children and family members of meatpacking workers, says conditions in the meatpacking plants during the pandemic remained as usual. "It was a situation where they weren't receiving the protections that they needed," she tells Democracy Now!, adding that workers often don't have the time or resources to advocate for themselves. Castañeda and her family are profiled in a new book by journalist Eyal Press titled "Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America."

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

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

Monday is Labor Day. We're spending today's show with New Yorker writer Eyal Press and some of the people he profiles in his new book, Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America. This Labor Day comes amidst a new surge of coronavirus cases. The virus has been deadly for so many so-called essential workers, who are often low-wage workers, immigrants and people of color. Meatpacking plants have been deadly COVID-19 hot spots. These workers and their families are profiled in a section of the book called "On the Kill Floors."

For more, we go to Crete, Nebraska, to speak with Dulce Castañeda, founding member of Children of Smithfield, a Nebraska-based grassroots advocacy group led by the children and family members of meatpacking workers. Still with us, Eyal Press.

Dulce, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you update us on what has been the situation at meatpacking plants and how immigrant essential workers have been impacted by the pandemic? And talk about your own family.

DULCE CASTAÑEDA: Absolutely. Thank you, Amy, for having me this morning.

Yeah. So, to start out, I guess I'll say, in April of last year, of 2020, we were entering a crisis worldwide. And it was a situation in Crete, Nebraska, where we were beginning to see, you know, a lot of our public locations beginning to close down. Schools had shut down. Government buildings were beginning to close. And while all of this was happening, things at the Crete Smithfield plant sort of seemed to be remaining as usual. Nothing was really changing.

And so, my father, who's a meatpacking worker and works at the plant, I was hearing from him and from other community members sort of the working conditions that they were facing. They really weren't being provided any kind of COVID-19 protections. So, they were being given hairnets to wear on their faces instead of face masks. And instead of proper social distancing or sanitizing stations, what they were being given was, instead, chips or cookies at lunch to thank them for their work. And so, it was a situation where they weren't receiving the protections that they needed.

And so, you know, often these workers don't have the means to advocate or the time. And so, I, as my father's daughter, and many of my colleagues, who, like me, were worried about the health and safety of their parents, decided to form together and speak up and speak out about the conditions that they were facing. And so, that's how I got involved in this work.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about Nebraska. You're with Children of Smithfield, the meatpacking plant. In Nebraska, almost 7,000 COVID-19 cases were traced back to meatpacking plants, where, according to Migration Policy Institute, 11% of the workforce is made up of undocumented people. Can you talk about the conditions in the plant that your father, that so many people faced? I mean, during the Trump years, you had Republican governor after governor standing with Trump, saying they would not let the meatpacking plants close, even as we heard of the number of people sick and dying. Do you know what that number is?

DULCE CASTAÑEDA: Unfortunately, in Nebraska, our governor decided to stop allowing health departments to release that information, and so that information stopped being public in May of 2020, very early on. So, you know, at a time where we were seeing around — more than a hundred cases were already reported at the Crete Smithfield plant. And that number, after that, you know, there was a number that we can no longer trace back. And so, we had aggregate data at the state level from the Department of Health and Human Services, but there was nothing traceable back to certain locations or certain facilities. And so, you know, you would start to hear about people becoming sick or dying, from word of mouth. You know, all of a sudden this person was missing on the line, and you didn't know why. You could make assumptions. But people began to stop showing up for work for one reason or another.

AMY GOODMAN: How easily were you, were family members, were family, were the workers themselves able to get vaccines?

DULCE CASTAÑEDA: Yeah. So, they started vaccinating out at the plant this year, I believe in March or April. So my father was fortunate enough to be able to be vaccinated out at the plant. And I know that they recently restarted vaccinating or having those available out at the facility within this last month.

AMY GOODMAN: And just for people to understand, what's produced at Smithfield, where your dad works? And what message do you have for this country as we move into Labor Day?

DULCE CASTAÑEDA: Sure. It's a pork processing facility. My father has worked there for more than 25 years now. And he's proud of the work that he does. He has always enjoyed his work, and he's a very hard worker. But I would say, you know, these are the forgotten jobs, folks who — we forget that they are the backbone of our local economies and our national economy.

So, I would say, you know, if we really are thankful for the work that essential workers have done, especially in sustaining our society in such a moment of crisis, what better way to thank them than to start thinking critically about the access to different resources that they have or that they don't have, and how do we make sure that they can access them in the future?

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Eyal Press, who put together this wonderful, enlightening, painful book, Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America, what surprised you most in your research? You have 20 seconds.

EYAL PRESS: Well, I think that just the incredible dignity of the people I wrote about, including Dulce and Chris. It is a dark book, and it is a hard book to read. But I think it's so important, as we approach Labor Day, but also beyond it, to hear their voices, to know that this work is connected to all of us. We shape the conditions it takes place under. We shape the harm it causes. And so, we have to think about that and own it.

AMY GOODMAN: Eyal Press, author of Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America. And Dulce Castañeda with Children of Smithfield, speaking to us from Nebraska.

That does it for our broadcast. Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff. Special thanks to Julie Crosby. I'm Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Co-Pink's Medea Benjamin: Joe Biden must end 'delusional' China rivalry

We look at the situation in Afghanistan, and pressure on Biden to stay longer, with CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who for years has called for an end to the longest war in U.S. history. "We didn't want it to end like this, and there should have been better planning in terms of getting people out of the country, but we were very clear we never wanted the U.S. to go in to begin with," says Benjamin. She also warns the end of the War in Afghanistan will encourage the Biden administration to pour more money and resources into a rivalry with China. "It is a delusional idea that we should be focusing on China as an enemy," she says.



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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we continue to look at the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the ending of America's longest war with leading antiwar activist Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink. For decades, she has been dragged out of congressional hearings, presidential speeches, political conventions by security as she and others have called for peace. President Biden wants to end evacuations in Afghanistan by the August 31st deadline but faces pressure to stay longer.

Medea, if you can start there, to talk about your response to the focus of all the media on what is absolutely the chaos and catastrophe at this point in Kabul for so many Afghans? But you have always widened the lens. For decades, you have been protesting the U.S. War in Afghanistan. Is this how you think it should end?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Of course, we didn't want it to end like this, and there should have been better planning in terms of getting people out of the country, but we were very clear we never wanted the U.S. to go in to begin with. And every single year, we kept saying, "Get out."

It was fascinating listening to Bilal and him talking about all of the corruption inside Afghanistan. And I just kept thinking of this cash cow that has been the War in Afghanistan, that we have been fighting against all these years — we also got dragged out of meetings of shareholder, from Halliburton to General Dynamics — to think of all the companies that profited from this war and how they have been the ones who have kept the war going by putting their money into lobby groups. You just look at General Dynamics, Boeing, Raytheon, and their spending of $34 million in this year alone on lobbying our government.

We have to find a way, Amy, that we reflect on what happened over these 20 years and look at these contractors, that provide all of the logistics and have privatized the U.S. military. In fact, we have had more U.S. contractors in Afghanistan, at many times during these 20 years, than U.S. soldiers. So, I think there's a lot of reckoning to be done. And I hope that we will be able, once this phase is over, which is chaotic and horrific — we will be able to look at who actually profited, where did all this money go, why did it happen, and how are we going to stop it from happening again.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Afghanistan has something like a trillion dollars' worth of minerals, and there is a global fight now for countries to position themselves. You have been warning about the U.S. beefing up their anti-China rhetoric. Something that's not getting a lot of attention right now is Vice President Harris is on a South Asian trip. She was just in Singapore. Then she flew to Vietnam. She has warned about China in the South China Sea. Can you talk about the U.S.-China brinksmanship that's going on right now?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: The tragedy is that the U.S. leaving Afghanistan, for the Biden administration, is a chance to focus on what they call our main adversary, which is China. It justifies this continual, gargantuan Pentagon budget that eats up so much of our resources. And it is a delusional idea that we should be focusing on China as an enemy — it's a country of over a billion people, it's a nuclear country — especially at a time when we need to work with China to deal with issues like the climate, like the pandemic, like global poverty.

China is going into Afghanistan and will work with the new Afghan government to build up the infrastructure. Well, where is all that infrastructure that the U.S. didn't do for the last 20 years? Why have they left Afghanistan, having been occupied by one of the richest countries in the world — us, the United States — to be one of the most impoverished countries in the world? The U.S. should actually learn from China that instead of going into countries with bombs and bullets, it should go into countries to figure out how to help build the infrastructure and build the economy, that would be a win-win situation.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you feel the U.S. owes to the people of Afghanistan?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: We feel that the U.S. owes a tremendous responsibility, not only for getting the Afghans out, as we're trying to do now, but for the millions of Afghans who are left behind in terrible, dire situations from this 20 years of war. You had a great program on yesterday, Amy, about the humanitarian crisis. Well, we feel like the U.S. is now going to use its economic warfare against Afghanistan to increase that humanitarian crisis by withholding $9 billion that belongs to Afghanistan in U.S. banks, by working with other countries in Europe and the IMF to withhold funding. We don't have to be friends with the Taliban, but we can't be the enemies, either, because the victims will be the Afghan people. We need to let go of their funds. We need to provide generous humanitarian support. In fact, the U.S. should fund the entire $350 million urgent request made by the UNHCR, the refugee agency, because that's equivalent to just one-and-a-half days of war in Afghanistan. So, we owe a lot to the people whose lives that we have helped destroy over these last 20 years.

AMY GOODMAN: As the battles rage in Congress over spending, I mean, you've got the massive infrastructure bill that the House just passed, the framework of $3.5 trillion, but there's also the Pentagon budget. Can you end there by talking about what you think needs to happen and the lessons of Afghanistan?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: This is exactly where we need to go as a people in the United States, to say that this epic failure in Afghanistan shows us that militarism is not the right way to respond to problems, that we have to cut the Pentagon budget in half, like Barbara Lee has suggested, freeing up $350 billion to be used to confront the real crisis of climate, of poverty, the infrastructure that we need, and to help countries around the world and our own country to deal with the pandemic and to get us a decent healthcare system. And I encourage all of the supporters of Democracy Now! to join us in this call to say to all our members of Congress and to the White House, "Cut the military budget in half." That is the most responsible way to respond to this tragedy of 20 years of colossal failure in Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink, the author of a number of books, including Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

When we come back, we go to Haiti, where the death toll from the massive earthquake has passed 2,200, thousands of survivors growing increasingly desperate. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Dans Mon Village" by Joséphine Baker, "In My Village." Joséphine Baker, the U.S.-born, French performer, who will be given a memorial in Paris's Panthéon mausoleum, making Baker the first woman to receive that honor. Her induction into the Panthéon will take place in November. She left the United States for France protesting racism.

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

Right-wing radio host who once mentored xenophobe Stephen Miller could replace California's Gov. Newsom

The conservative talk radio host Larry Elder is now the Republican front-runner challenging Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom in a special election that could also shape national politics. California voters cast ballots on September 14 on whether to recall Newsom, after a right-wing campaign to unseat the governor garnered enough signatures to trigger the vote. If Newsom fails to get more than 50% support for staying in office, the candidate with the most votes replaces him as governor. "This whole thing started with anti-immigrant nativists in California who were upset about the pro-immigrant, pro-Latino policies that Gavin Newsom was putting in place," says Los Angeles Times columnist Jean Guerrero. "[Elder] basically wants to take California back to the 1990s, when we saw an incredibly anti-immigrant and anti-Black decade in California." Elder was a mentor to Stephen Miller, the xenophobic, anti-immigration former Trump adviser, which Guerrero writes about in her book, "Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda."



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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we turn to California, where an effort to recall Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is underway in a special election that could also shape national politics.

Conservative talk radio host Larry Elder is now the Republican front-runner challenging Newsom. Elder was a mentor to Stephen Miller, the xenophobic, anti-immigrant former Trump adviser.

As the race heats up, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were set to travel to California to support Newsom. Harris has canceled a campaign event planned for today, after the attacks in Afghanistan.

Ballots have already been mailed to all registered California voters, who have until September 14th to answer two questions: Should the governor be recalled? And, if they vote yes, who should replace him? If more than 50% say, yes, the governor should be recalled, the candidate with the most votes becomes the new governor.

Newsom's leading challenger, Larry Elder, gave Stephen Miller one of his first platforms, as our next guest, Jean Guerrero, writes about in her book, Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda, which is out in paperback this week. Jean is a Los Angeles Times columnist who's written several columns about the recall race. Last week, she wrote, "If Larry Elder is elected, life will get harder for Black and Latino Californians," her latest column headlined "Gavin Newsom has been one of the most pro-Latino governors in California history, and he's under attack for it." She joins us from San Diego, California.

Jean, welcome back to Democracy Now! First, explain this extremely unusual, arcane process in California, how Governor Newsom could be recalled if 51% of people vote against him, but the person who replaces him, which could be Larry Elder, could get something like 18% of the vote.

JEAN GUERRERO: Exactly. It is an incredibly anti-democratic election. Even if Larry Elder only gets, as you mentioned, like far, far fewer votes than Gavin Newsom gets to stay in office —

AMY GOODMAN: Just a plurality, he needs, against the other opponents.

JEAN GUERRERO: Yeah. I'm sorry?

AMY GOODMAN: Just he — he would just need a plurality against the other opponents.

JEAN GUERRERO: Exactly, a plurality. Exactly. And it's incredibly dangerous. I mean, this whole thing started with anti-immigrant nativists in California who were upset about the pro-immigrant, pro-Latino policies that Gavin Newsom was putting in place. It started with a former deputy sheriff named Orrin Heatlie, who, on Facebook, had called for planting microchips in immigrants and comparing them to animals. So, those are the people who started the recall.

It only gained traction after Gavin Newsom was spotted in a restaurant having dinner with some people that he knew and he wasn't wearing a mask. He admits that that was a mistake. And, you know, he owns that mistake. But Republicans have used that as propaganda to get support for this recall, and there's been a lot of misinformation around it, but also just general discontent about the pandemic that people are sort of putting on Governor Gavin Newsom.

The problem is that the alternative to Newsom is Larry Elder, who has received, so far, the most support. And he is a right-wing talk show host who, as I write in my book, mentored Stephen Miller, the anti-immigrant nativist who is the reason that people in Afghanistan who died could still be alive today if he hadn't spent four years blocking the admission of refugees, and bragging about it, you know, recently at a conservative conference, saying that he was very proud to have slashed refugee admissions to historic lows. Larry Elder introduced him to this idea that it's not racist to deny the fact of systemic racism. And he's put out this idea, to the delight of many white audiences, Larry Elder has, that he's this Black man, and because he's Black, he can deny the fact of systemic racism. And he uses false statistics from a white supremacist named Jared Taylor, who, as I write in my column, he repeatedly cited in early writings. As recently as 2016, he was pulling content from a white nationalist website called VDARE.

So, this is a person — he wants to attack all of the progress that California has made on immigrant rights. He wants to attack sanctuary laws. He wants to attack healthcare for undocumented immigrants. He wants to attack investments in public schools that Gavin Newsom has made, that have hugely benefited communities of color. So he basically wants to take California back to the 1990s, when we saw an incredibly anti-immigrant and anti-Black decade in California.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Larry Elder says if he is elected governor of California, he will repeal mask and vaccine mandates immediately. This is Elder.

LARRY ELDER: When I become governor, assuming the — I appreciate your help in this [inaudible]. When I become governor, assuming there are still mandates for vaccines and mandate for face masks, they will be repealed before I have my first cup of tea.

AMY GOODMAN: Jean Guerrero?

JEAN GUERRERO: You know, this idea of repealing all mask and COVID vaccine mandates is incredibly concerning to communities of color in California, who have already borne the brunt of this pandemic in terms of death toll, in terms of everything. And so, everything that he's planning to do, on a broad level, in relation to COVID, in relation to climate change — for example, he says that he doesn't want to do anything about climate change. He even believes in investing in more fracking. All of these things would disproportionately impact the most marginalized communities in California, who have made significant progress in recent years, thanks to governors like Gavin Newsom prioritizing their needs and really listening and sitting down and hearing them out.

But it's so important to understand that what's happening in California could have national repercussions. We're talking about a state that has led the charge against Trumpism, has led the charge in terms of immigrant rights and protecting immigrant communities, helping immigrant communities feel safe interacting with the police and reporting crimes without fear of deportation. We're talking about a state that has made significant advances on racial justice. A deep blue state. If the Republicans succeed in flipping that state with this anti-democratic election, it will have catastrophic implications nationally. In terms of immigration reform in Congress, it could stall that. It would embolden other anti-immigrant, xenophobic governors in other states to really go after the Latino community. And it's just a part of the Republican Party's effort to just overturn democracy and the will of the voters —

AMY GOODMAN: So, Jean —

JEAN GUERRERO: — through whatever means.

AMY GOODMAN: Jean Guerrero, you wrote, you know, the headline of your latest piece in the L.A. Times, "Gavin Newsom has been one of the most pro-Latino governors in California history, and he's under attack for it." You've also said that Democratic outreach to Latino voters on the California recall election is not working. So, I mean, do people even realize this is happening?

JEAN GUERRERO: No, they don't. I mean, that's the problem, is the communities who have the most to lose right now are kind of checked out because of the fact that we have suffered so much under the pandemic — I mean, just, you know, essential workers who have had to keep going to work, and they have fatigue from the pandemic. They have fatigue from Trumpism and the rise in hate crimes that occurred under the administration. So, a lot of young Latinos, in particular, who I've been speaking with are just kind of tuning this out. Like, it's just too much for them. But it's so important that they are the ones — I mean, they need to turn out in order for this election to not overturn the will of the voters. I mean, if the only people who turn out are the far-right, white supremacist minorities in California, then we have a serious problem for these communities.

And the problem is that even though Newsom has been doing incredible work for these communities, they haven't done a good job of messaging, messaging all of the advances that have been made, including unprecedented investment in our public education system, providing two years of free community college for first-time students, lowering the cost of textbooks — really great things that benefit not just undocumented Latinos, but Latinos, working-class Latinos, and communities of color overall.

So there needs to be a better job of messaging how horrible this could be, even just as far as like the rhetoric alone that Larry Elder would bring into our state. He told us, told the Los Angeles Times, as I wrote in my column, that he plans to use the, quote-unquote, "bully pulpit," that he doesn't believe in humanizing terms like "undocumented" or "immigrant." He wants to use harsh terms like "illegal aliens." And that would just send people back into the shadows and reverse the incredible progress that has been made in the state. And it would embolden the same in state after state after state. So, it is so important for people to vote. And if you're not in California, tell your friends who are in California to vote no, because this could have serious implications.

AMY GOODMAN: Jean, talk about the implications for the balance of the Senate, as well. Of course, it was Gavin Newsom who chose Kamala Harris's replacement when she became vice president. Now you're talking about Dianne Feinstein. And talk about the significance of if her seat is vulnerable and what would it mean in this period if there were a Republican governor.

JEAN GUERRERO: Exactly. So, the governor has the power to appoint a replacement for Dianne Feinstein if anything were to happen to her, you know, if she were to retire or if anything else happened to her. You know, she's elderly. And so, that is a real possibility, that he would appoint someone who does not represent the values of California or Californians, and would tip the balance of the Senate.

So, it would make it impossible for President Biden to push through the policy goals that he has put forth, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of helping communities across the United States in ways that the Republicans oppose. So, there are real, real implications. Like, even though it would just be a year and a half in office and they would probably be voted out in the next election, they could do significant harm by — you know, Larry Elder says that he plans to use his veto power to cut funding to all of these programs that he opposes, including healthcare for our undocumented seniors, which has allowed them to, you know, stay alive. And many of the Latinos here, we have mixed-status families, so this affects us all.

AMY GOODMAN: Jean, I want to thank you so much for being with us. Jean Guerrero is a Los Angeles Times columnist. Her latest column, "Gavin Newsom has been one of the most pro-Latino governors in California history, and he's under attack for it." She's author of Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda. It's out in paperback this week.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Adriano Contreras. Our general manager is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley. I'm Amy Goodman. Stay safe. Wear a mask.

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

Former Pence aide: Stephen Miller’s 'racist hysteria' made it harder for Afghan allies to get Visas

As thousands of people in Afghanistan attempt to flee the country before the United States' withdrawal on August 31, we look at how the Trump administration made it much harder for Afghans who worked with the U.S. to apply and receive what is known as a special immigrant visa, or SIV. Oliva Troye, a former top aide to Mike Pence who resigned in protest, has placed the blame on Trump's xenophobic adviser Stephen Miller, saying he peddled "racist hysteria" in White House meetings about bringing Afghan allies to the U.S. "Stephen Miller would say, 'Well, these are terrorist cells in the making if you bring them here,'" says Troye, director of the Republican Accountability Project and former homeland security adviser to Pence. "I know for a fact that the Trump administration was planning this withdrawal for several years," says Troye. "Why were they not actively prioritizing this population so that we wouldn't be in the situation we're in today?"



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

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

As thousands of Afghans attempt to flee Afghanistan before the U.S. withdrawal on August 31st, we turn now to look at how the Trump administration made it harder for Afghans who worked with the United States to apply and receive what is known as a SIV, a special immigrant visa. One former top aide to Mike Pence has placed the blame on Trump's xenophobic adviser Stephen Miller. Olivia Troye recently tweeted, quote, "There were cabinet mtgs about this during the Trump Admin where Stephen Miller would peddle his racist hysteria about Iraq & Afghanistan. He & his enablers across gov't would undermine anyone who worked on solving the SIV [Special Immigrant Visa] issue by devastating the system at DHS & State," she said. In recent weeks, Stephen Miller has repeatedly appeared on Fox News to criticize efforts to resettle Afghans in the United States.

STEPHEN MILLER: The Taliban has all of the control of the government now. So the notion that people could just show up at a checkpoint and demand resettlement into the United States, so we could have any idea about their background, their belief system, where they come from, now that the U.S.-backed government has fallen, it's just an impossibility. … Resettling in America is not about solving a humanitarian crisis; it's about accomplishing an ideological objective: to change America.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Stephen Miller on Fox.

We're joined now by Olivia Troye. She worked as a homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, until she resigned in August of last year. She's now the director of the Republican Accountability Project.

Olivia Troye, welcome to Democracy Now! It's great to have you with us. Can you talk more about — I mean, you were in the room. So, talk about what the Afghan visa process is. We're talking about now a law passed by Congress. They have to go through something like 14 steps, is that right?

OLIVIA TROYE: Yes, that's correct. And to hear Stephen Miller sort of just disregard the fact that these people are vetted so extensively — I mean, the process is cumbersome, and it is challenging, despite the Trump administration's attempts to really gut the entire thing. But, you know, they go — they have to be sponsored by either the military commander at the time or the person they were working for. They have to get a letter of recommendation from them. And then it's a series of steps. They go through health checks. They go through vetting. They go through background checks. I mean, this isn't something that just happens overnight. It is a cumbersome process that lasts at least several months. But in this situation, what we've had is that many of these people were in the pipeline for years just waiting to get through the process, and they never saw results.

AMY GOODMAN: So, describe a scene. Describe a meeting that Stephen Miller was in, talking about these Afghan allies. Now, he is continuing to talk about this to this day.

OLIVIA TROYE: Look, Stephen Miller does not hide the fact that he is anti-immigrant, anti-refugee. This is something that he has been consistent about from day one of the Trump administration, when they took office, and, you know, whether it was issuing the travel ban, as it's referred to, or — and that in that travel ban, it was actually — it called for a full stop of the refugee process, to do security reviews and review vetting.

Well, I sat in those meetings, when we discussed many of these scenarios. And in these meetings, it was brought to the attention, especially before Cabinet meetings and in senior staff meetings at the National Security Council, the importance of protecting these translators, these interpreters, these U.S. allies that have served on the ground with us and who needed to get through the process expeditiously. And Stephen Miller would say, "Well, these are terrorist cells in the making if you bring them here." He would say, "These are going to be — what is it that you want? You guys want a bunch of little Iraqs throughout the United States? You want a bunch of 'stans everywhere in the country?" And it was so offensive to many senior military commanders and generals, you know, brass, military brass, offensive to intelligence career people like myself.

AMY GOODMAN: So, who spoke up? Can you talk about General Mattis, for example, when he couldn't attend a meeting?

OLIVIA TROYE: Yeah, so — and he wrote a memo specifically about the P-2 program on Iraqis. And I think this is happening in 2018 when we were discussing the refugee ceiling cap. And Stephen Miller was a big advocate for lowering it.

AMY GOODMAN: P-2 program is similar to SIV, right?

OLIVIA TROYE: Yes, exactly. And this conversation, you know, we were talking about SIV processes. We were talking about the P-2s for Iraqi translators, many of these who had been in the pipeline for years already. And so, General Mattis is not able to attend this Cabinet meeting on the refugee ceiling discussion, and so he writes a memo. And he writes this memo because he wants it to go on record, and he wants it distributed at the meeting because he's concerned about what is going to happen when people come into the room. What is Pompeo going to do? Will he cave to the likes of Stephen Miller and his ilk?

And he was right to be concerned, because in this discussion Stephen Miller pontificates once again and pushes this narrative of fearmongering about what's going to happen if we bring these people here. And Mattis pushes back, through his memo, and makes sure that he's on record that if we do not protect this population, that if we don't get them through the process, this is a serious matter of national security, because what message are we sending to the world?

AMY GOODMAN: You were a special adviser to Vice President Trump — Vice President Pence. Did you feel you could stand up to Stephen Miller?

OLIVIA TROYE: Yes, but you always had to do it in a very calculated manner, because when you do take a stand, unfortunately, he did have the power to remove people from their positions. He pushed a number of many of my competent colleagues out, State Department, Foreign Service officers, who were serving across the National Security Council, some of them known to be pro-refugee and pro-SIVs and pro-P-2s. And many of these people get pushed out of the National Security Council, and they're replaced by Stephen Miller allies.

And so, what I did was I worked closely with my colleagues to figure out how we were going to navigate this careful situation. And I — look, I briefed Vice President — former Vice President Pence about the scenario. I told him that I was meeting with numerous organizations who were raising serious concerns about what was happening here, whether it was budget cuts for the refugee resettlement programs for Afghans and Iraqis and other refugees. And they were kind of — they were asking the right question. There were saying, "What is happening here? What's happening at the State Department?" Well, when I dug into this and I actually go and meet people at the State Department, I find myself faced with one of Stephen Miller's allies, one of the strongest supporters. And it all sort of comes together for me, and I come back and say, "Well, I don't know how we're going to counter what's happening here across the U.S. government, when we have a group of people that are actively working to undermine the entire system."

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement to The New York Times, Stephen Miller responded to your accusation, saying, "The sole reason that anyone is stranded in Afghanistan is because Joe Biden stranded them there in the single most imbecilic act of strategic incompetence in human history." And, of course, President Trump has weighed in, and he's attacking Biden, calling his responses imbecilic, as well. Your response, Olivia?

OLIVIA TROYE: Well, I think Trump had four years to do something about getting these people out of harm's way, who were in the system waiting to be processed. And so, I think what you see now is a scenario where President Biden takes office, he comes in, they realize that the program is gutted. They have spoken about this before, where they come in and they realize that the program is definitely in need of resourcing and staffing. And so, this is not something that you can just flip a switch and turn on overnight. It's a cumbersome process. And if it wasn't functioning the way it should have — which I know that it wasn't, because I know this firsthand — it's going to take some time. And so you end up in a crisis situation now where you are trying to figure out how you're going to protect thousands of people whose lives are going to be at risk once we withdraw. If that were the case — and, you know, I know for a fact that the Trump administration was planning this withdrawal for several years now — why were they not actively prioritizing this population so that we wouldn't be in the situation we're in today?

AMY GOODMAN: Olivia Troye, I want to thank you for spending this time with us, former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence, now director of the Republican Accountability Project.

When we come back, we look at how right-wing radio host Larry Elder, who once mentored a young Stephen Miller, could become the next governor of California, if voters back a recall of Gavin Newsom. Back in 30 seconds.

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

Why this Afghan academic has decided to stay in Kabul — despite the risks

As the United States has begun the final phase of evacuations of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from the Kabul airport, we speak with Obaidullah Baheer, an Afghan academic who has decided to stay in Kabul despite the risks. Baheer's grandfather, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is a former mujahideen fighter once nicknamed the "Butcher of Kabul," now among the senior political figures in the country attempting to shape a post-U.S. government with the Taliban. "This country needs more educated people," says Baheer. "They're not going to have enough technocrats for a functioning government to be in place. That's why some of us have to stay behind."

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

AMY GOODMAN: As the United States begins the final phase of evacuations of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from Kabul airport, we begin today's show with an Afghan college lecturer who's decided to stay in Kabul while he helps others leave. His name is Obaidullah Baheer. He just wrote a piece for the Australian [Financial] Review titled "My family fought alongside the Taliban. But I'm afraid for my friends."

He begins the piece by writing, "When Kabul fell on Sunday my father went on live TV to congratulate the Taliban on their glorious victory. As I watched him praise the jihadists, my phone buzzed with panicked messages from friends who were terrified that Taliban fighters would kill them in their homes."

Obaidullah's grandfather is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of Afghanistan's most notorious warlords — he was once nicknamed the "Butcher of Kabul." His father was jailed at a CIA torture site, as well as the Bagram Air Base.

Obaidullah Baheer is a lecturer at American University of Afghanistan, where he teaches a course on transitional justice. He's joining us now from Kabul.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! There's so much to talk about, but if you could start by saying why you have made the decision to stay in Kabul as you help so many of your friends try to race to Kabul airport to leave? And then talk about how that fits into your family's history.

OBAIDULLAH BAHEER: Thank you for having me, Amy and Nermeen. I was lucky enough to talk to Nermeen after the initial fall of Kabul, but we've sort of — with everything that was going on, it was difficult to stay in touch. Also, that piece that I wrote was on The Economist, so don't undersell me, Amy. Thank you for having me here.

So, again, just like you said, I do enjoy a certain safety net. That means that I have the privilege to be able to do things other people might not be. And that necessarily means that it incurs responsibility. That means that I have a lot more people who look up to me for hope. I had to go on BBC two hours after Kabul fell, because I was — my students were freaking out, and they needed someone to speak sense to them.

And I know it's bleak, but I am helping my friends who are under physical threat. I have students who are reaching out to me, who I have conversations with. And when I understand that they aren't under any immediate threat, I do encourage them to stay in the country, because this country needs more educated people. The ministries are ghost towns, and they're not going to have enough technocrats for a functioning government to be in place. That's why some of us have to stay behind. I guess it's my way of laying claim to my land, as well.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Obaidullah, could you explain how, you know, as you've talked about, your unique position, given your family's history and also your experience teaching and living in a post-Taliban Afghanistan — what position does that put you in regarding a possible role in the transition from a pre- to post-Taliban — sorry, a Taliban government?

OBAIDULLAH BAHEER: I grew up in a very conservative household. That meant that my education was very Salafist, as well, and I could really relate to those who were fighting the U.S. existence in Afghanistan. And that presence sort of meant quite a lot to us, more than just the politics of it. It was a matter of identity. It was a matter of moral obligation to thwart them, to get them to leave our lands and stop occupying them.

But then, as I grew up and my exposure increased, I learned to see this conflict differently. And I realized that if I could be two people at the same time, two people that were vastly different, and I could find a way to reconcile those two worlds within me, then maybe Afghanistan can reconcile the two very different visions or versions of Afghanistan that are face to face with each other right now.

There's a post-2001 generation of Taliban who are roaming the streets of Kabul now, and there's a post-2001 generation of educated Afghans who grew up under the republic, who have interacted with the West. And they have very conflicting images of each other, and it appears like they both cannot coexist. But I guess the difficult and arduous task is, in order to achieve peace or a sustainable Afghanistan, we'll have to find a place to start and then work up from there.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Obaidullah, you've said in a recent interview — you've described the scene, which, of course, has been covered extensively here, at the Kabul airport. You've described the scene as Armageddon. Could you talk about what you know of what's happening there as the August 31st deadline approaches?

OBAIDULLAH BAHEER: I've had friends who slept on the floors of an airplane for a week, eating packaged meals, sharing a bathroom amongst 50 other people. I've had other friends who went to the airport quite a few times and were not allowed in. I had a student reach out to me yesterday. She is pregnant with a baby. And when she reached the gate that she was supposed to enter the airport through, she realized that the crowd meant that the risk of being trampled was very high, and she chose the life of her unborn baby over her own safe exit from the country. And the stories go on.

And those who are inside and what they've gone through — imagine yourself, if you had to leave everything you've worked for your whole life. Some people get attached to T-shirts and clothes that they wear. Imagine everything in your household, and you leave all of that behind, pack it in a suitcase. Sometimes you're not even allowed a suitcase; you just wear a backpack. That means these people went into camps in countries they've never seen before with just the shirts on their back.

That, too, after going through hell, because, especially on the first day, when people went to the airport, there was a high-ranking government official who had to see people shattering glasses, going into the pilot's cabin, pulling him out, people pulling out guns, shooting in the air. And so, she had to suffer through trauma worth a lifetime to get out of this country alive. And those are not scenes you want to have in your head or in your life.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Obaidullah, what about recent reports of private chartered planes that are flying out of the airport, including, reportedly, one run by the defense contractor Erik Prince, who is charging — the company is charging as much as $6,500 per person to ensure safe passage? The Wall Street Journal reports that among the people who have flown on one such aircraft — not the one run by the defense contractor, Erik Prince, but another private chartered jet — includes the president of your university, the American University of Afghanistan.

OBAIDULLAH BAHEER: I'm no official spokesperson for the university. I'm not sure how Ian flew out of the country. It was a very difficult and complicated task getting the faculty out of the country, as well. And I think if they're charging $6,500, that's amazing, because I've actually had Afghan fixers who have reached out to me asking for $25,000 to move an old, senile woman who had to travel. And so, yeah, this is what you call shadow economies. And the saddest part is that even in such economies where people are making money, the minorities, the weaker people of the population, the disenfranchised end up making none of it. And yeah, it's thriving. And the closer the deadline approaches, the more people are getting desperate, the more they're willing to throw whatever they have at a chance of leaving the country.

And honestly, there's some blame to be taken by the Taliban, as well, because when they took over, they came into a city, to a country that didn't know them, and if they were truly concerned with a brain drain, they had to form a government as soon as possible. They had to roll out policies that really insured whatever they were saying on paper, because people really need a counterfactual to look at. If they are leaving for the West, it's because of the fear that the new regime that will take place, the social order would be the one that the Taliban had 25 years ago. So the Taliban really needed to show them that they're willing to do better. And for now, people don't see it, and they have apprehensions about what a post-U.S. or international troop withdrawal of Afghanistan is going to look like. And no side is really putting effort into alleviating those fears.

AMY GOODMAN: Obaidullah Baheer, if you can talk about what it's like to be in the streets? How many women do you see there? And what is it like for you to communicate with the Taliban, for example, at the checkpoints? What is their response to you?

OBAIDULLAH BAHEER: Yeah. First off, I'm not out there to look at the women. Looks aside —

AMY GOODMAN: No, no. But I mean: Are there women in the streets? And also, you know, this warning that the Taliban has just given, that the women should stay home because their men are not trained to respect them yet, the Taliban, they were saying.

OBAIDULLAH BAHEER: Yeah. Basically, what happens is, when you — I was joking, obviously. When you go out into the streets, you see women. Women are dressed very conservatively now, out of the fear that the Taliban might interact with them. Again, if you're flying under the radar as a common Afghan with Afghan clothing, traditional clothing, the Taliban don't really engage with you much. But I've heard from friends that they were stopped by Taliban fighters telling them not to wear jeans or pants. I've been stopped in a three-piece suit, and they didn't really comment on what I was wearing. They do ask to check for papers, especially the cars that are bigger and more expensive, because they have to make sure that those aren't stolen cars, because the first one-and-a-half day had a lot of looting involved. So, that's how much they interact with you.

If you go to the restaurants — the restaurants are open again. Banks are slowly opening up. There were a few sites open yesterday. And we're hoping to see more of that, because people really are out of cash. If you go to the restaurants, you don't see many-slash-any women sitting there unless with families. So, it's quite different. It's somber. And we are waiting to see what the actual policies look like.

The Taliban have asked women to not participate in their workforces, but that, too, has been — there has been a disparity in its implementation, because in, I think, Ghazni, they actually put up a separation cloth between the office to make sure that the men and women don't interact. And in Herat University, there was a conversation with the university administration with regard to segregating classes and having female faculty. Those are conversations that are taking place.

And that's why this transition phase is so important, because we need to at least negotiate a breathable space, even if it's a compromise, even if it is not ideal, but at least there's enough space for civil society to exist for some sort of access for work and education for women. And then we take it from there, again. We have case studies of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Those are very conservative societies that, either due to the need of economic diversification or due to the pressure of their own civil societies, had to modify themselves a bit. And the struggle goes on. And the hope is that even if we start marginally at a disadvantage, or majorly at a disadvantage, the hope is that with the advent of social media and mass communication and globalization, that the Afghan people can quickly find their voice, and the Taliban would have to adhere to reconcile these visions and create a third world that is sustainable, is livable for both sides.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me read from your article. "During the six years that my father was incarcerated, my anger brewed. I watched jihadi videos of Western forces maltreating enemy combatants, and imagined what my father was going through. He was released in 2008, just after I turned 18. Soon afterwards, I slid a letter under his bedroom door asking permission to join the insurgency in Afghanistan. … My father wouldn't let me go. If I went, he said, he'd be sent straight back to prison." If you can say what your conversation is with your father now? And what message do you have for President Biden?

OBAIDULLAH BAHEER: My conversations with my father now are very difficult, because it appears like we are — we come from two very different worlds. I, by virtue of being his son, don't really argue with him too much with regards to his belief, because the idea is he spent 50 years of his life standing by that, and no way can I argue him out of it or convince him that what he stood for was problematic. But that doesn't mean that I compromise on what I believe in. So, it's difficult, but we try to make it work. The next line from what you read was: If that hadn't happened, I would have been the one marching on Kabul on the day Kabul fell. And I'm glad I didn't.

And the question here is, with regards to President Biden, look, I still have friends — I actually know a person who has spent 15 years in Camp Gitmo. He doesn't have a case against him. He's been there for 15 years. He has a daughter he left while she was a few months old; now she is 15 and preparing for high school very soon. These people will be forgotten. Once the U.S. withdrawal is done, once the airport situation is handled, don't let these people be lost in the pages of history. These are real human beings. If the United States could release prisoners for the Taliban, then why not release these innocents, as well?

Beyond that, Biden should have done more. His excuse that even if he had more time, the evacuation would have been like this, I don't think finds footing in reality, because if they knew, if they had intelligence assessments saying Kabul would fall in 90 days, why didn't the extraction start then? Even now there is room to negotiate and engage with the Taliban.

And remember that vision of Afghanistan that I told you, where we start with whatever we can get and then go beyond it? That is highly contingent on support from the international community, from the U.S. and its allies, to leverage in their recognition or their legitimacy granted to the Taliban, and that sort of consistent, but not overly done pressure, so that the ties between them don't cut off completely, because we don't want Afghans to suffer another isolated Afghanistan through it. So, that, engaging with the Taliban, supporting civil societies, letting Afghanistan become a more sustainable society, even if it takes years, but we start now. This is where we take our stand. And people like you and voices like yours matter. So, really push your governments to take a stand. Even if you don't owe it to Afghanistan, you owe it to humanity for that to happen.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Obaidullah, very quickly, before we conclude, under what conditions do you think the U.S. and other countries around the world should recognize the Taliban government? In 1996, there were only three countries that did so, that recognized the Taliban government.

OBAIDULLAH BAHEER: I think the international community, the United States and its allies have been vocal with regards to what their conditions are, and that does make sense. There is just one thing that I want to highlight. It's just that legitimacy is not a one-time thing; it's a continuous process. So, that needs to be communicated to the Taliban, as well, because even if they, for now, promise to have an inclusive government or give access to women rights, not too much should be expected out of them, because they, too, have this reputational cost to their own fighters to create a world that they had promised them, right? So, there has to be some sort of compromise with regards to the world that it's created.

And yeah, then the international community just keeps pressuring that. Tying aid is very important with regards to conditions. And use the incentives and the leverage that you have, but also create a uniform stance. Like, it doesn't really matter if the United States chooses to not recognize the Taliban regime, if Russia and China do. So, unless all of them are on the same page, it's going to be very irrelevant as to whether a lot of countries recognize them or a few really important countries do. So, there has to be some sort of consensus in order for these leverages to work.

AMY GOODMAN: Obaidullah Baheer, I want to thank you for being with us, lecturer of transitional justice at American University of Afghanistan. He just wrote a piece headlined "My family fought alongside the Taliban. But I'm afraid for my friends." And again, he writes, "I was brought up to hate the West and everything it stood for. My grandfather, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was one of Afghanistan's most prominent mujahideen. I'm a lecturer in politics at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, specializing in conflict resolution."

This is Democracy Now! Next up, we speak with Sarah Chayes. She covered the fall of the Taliban for NPR. She went on to run a soap factory in Kandahar and later became a special adviser to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Mike Mullen. Stay with us.

How the deadly US air war in Afghanistan helped the Taliban gain new recruits

Investigative journalist Azmat Khan, who has reported extensively in Afghanistan, says President Joe Biden has not yet addressed the chaos unleashed by the collapse of the Afghan government. In remarks on Monday, Biden "really focused on the decision to end the war" and ignored criticism about chaos at the Kabul airport and the abandonment of thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. over the last 20 years. "None of that was really discussed in any detail," Khan says. She also discusses why the Afghan military fell so quickly to the Taliban, its overreliance on U.S. air power, how civilian casualties weakened support for the U.S.-backed government, and the massive profits the two-decade-long war generated for U.S. defense contractors.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Let's bring in Azmat Khan, the investigative reporter, who's covered Afghanistan for years. Your response to President Biden, to the complete chaos at the airport, the thousands of Afghans who are trying to leave, and the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, overall?

AZMAT KHAN: So, President Biden really focused on the decision to end the war, and not on that searing criticism of this withdrawal, the chaos we're seeing at the airport, the leaving behind of many people to whom the United States had made promises, people like translators, people like local journalists who were working with American journalists, as well as activists, who now face not just great uncertainty, like was earlier being talked about, but significant threats to their lives and safety. So, none of that was really discussed in any detail.

But I think another omission that really needs to be highlighted is the fact that President Biden took this negative view of Afghan security forces for, quote, "not fighting," and that's not accurate. You know, as the earlier speaker was describing, many Afghan soldiers have died fighting the Taliban over the last 20 years, countless, whereas American soldiers, since Operation Freedom's Sentinel began in 2015, you know, we've lost 64 American soldiers in hostile deaths in Afghanistan. So there is a real disparity about who was paying that human costs of that fight, at least from the side that's fighting the Taliban.

But at the same time, what he didn't acknowledge was the fact that the entire way that those soldiers were doing that fight was with the support of U.S. air power. So, the United States was bombing heavily parts of that country where there were fights against the Taliban raging. So, just to give some context, in 2019, the United States dropped more bombs in Afghanistan than in any previous year of the war. So, I think it was something close to — more than 6,200 bombs that year, as they were trying to negotiate. So, even with incredible bombs dropping, you know, this was the deal they were able to get. And even then, look at how many Afghan soldiers were dying. Now, once you take that level of air power out of the mix, who would expect any Afghan soldiers to continue to fight? If that many Afghan soldiers died with the support of air power, what happens when you take that out of the mix?

Now, on top of that, I just need to say that that air power may have helped keep this tenuous hold that the Afghan government had on the country, but it also killed scores of civilians in rural areas, areas that don't often get talked about. Nearly three-quarters of Afghanistan is rural countryside. The majority of the population comes from these kinds of areas, populations that have seen the brunt of the war and we rarely hear about. And they've suffered not just bombings, airstrikes and night raids, but also Taliban attacks. And many of them wanted this war to end. And you can't really talk about that air power and the tenuous grip that the government had without also acknowledging the ways in which that has created space for the Taliban, where even civilians who didn't like the Taliban just wanted the war to end.

So it kind of makes sense, once you take air power out of the mix, that sort of tenuous hold falls, but at the same time, at this point, the Taliban has resuscitated itself and grown. You know, many of its more recent recruits were people who did lose loved ones and really wanted revenge for those casualties. So, in many ways, as surprising the swiftness of it was, it also makes sense, what we see happening right now.

AMY GOODMAN: The Intercept reports that military stocks outperformed the stock market overall by 58% during the Afghanistan War, including Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics. Quote, "[F]rom the perspective of some of the most powerful people in the U.S., [the Afghanistan War] may have been an extraordinary success. Notably, the boards of directors of all five [military] contractors include retired top-level military officers." You have written extensively, Azmat, about these contracts and who financially profited from this war.

AZMAT KHAN: It's really stunning. It's incredibly stunning, because people don't often talk about the massive wealth, the people who maybe went to Afghanistan temporarily, got hazard pay and built themselves homes, wealthy businessmen, military — former military officials — who now, by the way, come on television talk shows to give their views, without concealing necessarily their own — the fact that they're on boards of many of these defense contractors. So, there has been incredible corruption on the part of many Americans, on the part of many contractors, as well as just on the ground, that has really helped to isolate local people from the Afghan government.

And so, just to give you some examples, you know, I spent a lot of time investigating U.S.-funded schools in Afghanistan, something that we might consider the kind of untouchable success of the war — right? — that in these 20 years, the United States has radically transformed education for Afghan children, and, in particular, girls. And I really dug into the schools the United States had funded, and picked 50 of them in seven battlefield provinces and went to go see, well, you know, what's happening at these schools now. And when I would dig into it, I think 10% of the schools either were never built or no longer exist. A vast majority of them were falling apart.

And then, when I would try to understand what happened — you know, for example, in one case, there was a school that was missing. Turns out it was built in the village of a notorious Afghan police chief who was allied with the United States, Abdul Raziq, known for many human rights abuses. And the local education chief said, "Yes, we built it here, and there were no children in this village for three years, so nobody really attended. The school never opened for a number of years."

In another instance, the school I arrived at was empty, incomplete, never finished, and all the kids were across the street at a mosque having a religious education, not the curriculum that they were on the books as recording having had. And when I tried to figure out what happened, it turned out the contract for the school went to the brother of the district governor, who then, you know, pilfered the money, and it was never finished as a result of that.

Down the block in another part of Kandahar, the contract for a school was given to a notorious local warlord, who's — actually, for the clinic that was going to be built next to the school — was given to this notorious warlord, who basically wound up being the source for the rise of the Taliban in many ways. His family was part of that sort of corruption in the early years that preceded the Taliban, that really riled up individuals to support the Taliban because of the massive corruption and the human rights abuses that were happening to Afghan people.

So, even something as noble and as worthy of effort as education has been mired in this kind of corruption, this kind of wheeling and dealing. And if we had to understand why, I think it's the fact that counterterrorism goals were baked into every single aspect of the American project in Afghanistan. So, even something great like schools, you know, had these metrics, had this desire to imbue a counterterrorism narrative of some kind, that left them willing to work with people who were abusive actors in the name of fighting terrorism, when in reality they often undercut Afghan people and a lot of the promises of the United States at on almost every level.

AMY GOODMAN: Azmat Khan, I want to thank you for being with us and give Lieutenant [sic] Colonel Ann Wright the final word. As you speak to us now from Honolulu,, from Hawaii, and you look at what's happening in Afghanistan, where you were almost two decades ago, what you think needs to happen, and what you think Americans should understand about the U.S. War in Afghanistan?

ANN WRIGHT: Well, I think that the U.S. public ought to be very wary of every administration that thinks that we should take a military option in trying to resolve any sort of conflict. We have seen that the United States in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan — the lies that are told to us about why we need to go into countries with our military versus having some nonmilitary resolution to these issues is really, really important, and particularly as we face our government right now that's saying that China and Russia are enemies that are threats to our national security. We, the U.S. people, have to push back against our government, against any more military invasions, occupations, attacks on any country.

And my heart goes out, it bleeds for the people of Afghanistan, who have suffered through these decades long of war, of violence. And I certainly hope that the next years somehow calm down and that the Taliban takes a very different tact than what it had when it was in power from 1996 to 2001, because the people of Afghanistan deserve much better than what they have had. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, and of course we'll continue to cover this. I demoted you, Ann. Ann Wright is a retired U.S. Army colonel and former U.S. State Department official who was part of the team that reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2001. And Azmat Khan, investigative reporter, contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine, we'll link to your articles, including the one you described, "Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, Ghost Schools."

When we come back, we go to Haiti, where the tropical storm has slammed the same parts of the country shattered by the earthquake on Saturday that's killed more than 1,400 people. Stay with us.

'We can’t trust the unvaccinated': Dr. Leana Wen on vaccine mandates and how to stop Delta

The highly contagious Delta variant is causing a rise in cases around the world, from the Olympics in Tokyo to Russia, Indonesia and the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new guidelines suggesting that people resume wearing masks indoors, but state and local officials are not legally required to implement CDC guidelines. Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and former Baltimore health commissioner, says she supports the new CDC guidelines because an "honor system" of trusting people to wear masks unless they were vaccinated clearly did not work. "We know that we can't trust the unvaccinated," she says. She also discusses global vaccine inequity, how to overcome vaccine hesitancy, and her new memoir, "Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health."

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

AMY GOODMAN: Experts are warning vaccine inequality could lead to a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, even as the World Trade Organization has failed again to agree on a proposal to temporarily waive intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines. This comes as a new study by the People's Vaccine Alliance finds the cost of vaccinating the world would be five times cheaper if vaccine manufacturers were not making billions in profit.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, where the Olympics are underway, Japanese officials have reported record-breaking coronavirus cases that set an all-time high [in Tokyo and the country as a whole] since the pandemic began. In Indonesia, the new epicenter of the pandemic in Asia, officials have extended COVID-19 restrictions to August 2nd and stepped up vaccination drives.

Here in the United States, President Biden is formally announcing today that civilian federal employees must be vaccinated or face regular testing and follow social distancing guidelines. Google and Facebook have also announced vaccine mandates for workers, and more than 600 universities have announced mandates for students and employees. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday all state hospital employees must be vaccinated, with no testing options for the unvaccinated.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: The court has upheld and Department of Justice just did a memo that says an employer can mandate an employee get vaccinated. We're taking the first major step down this road. We're saying, in state hospitals, where the state is the employer, the frontline workers must be vaccinated, period — not vaccinated or you have to have a test once a week. We're taking that position like other state governments. The federal government is supposed to take that position for normal public employees. But for the public employees, the hospital workers who are front facing, we are mandating vaccinations, Bill.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, the CDC issued new mask guidelines that recommend even vaccinated people return to wearing masks. But state and local officials are not legally required to implement CDC guidelines. In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order to bar local officials from requiring masks. Missouri's Republican attorney general sued to halt a county mask mandate now in effect in St. Louis.

This comes as Mississippi top health officials say they're seeing an "astounding" rise in COVID cases as the Delta variant spreads and threatens to overwhelm hospitals. As of last week, the CDC said 35% of U.S. counties are experiencing high levels of community transmission.

For more, we're joined by Dr. Leana Wen, emergency room physician, former Baltimore health commissioner, also contributing columnist for The Washington Post and author of her memoir, just out, Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health.

Dr. Wen, welcome back to Democracy Now! Let me start with this question. As President Biden is announcing today civilian federal health workers — this excludes Pentagon — will be required to be vaccinated, CDC saying you've got to wear masks once again — something you were opposed to when they changed a few weeks ago — in fact, the vaccines have not gotten full authorization. It's still emergency use authorization. So, people who are concerned, they're saying, "If the federal government hasn't fully approved these, why should I risk my health?" Can you talk about what's going on here? And what is your answer to them?

DR. LEANA WEN: Sure. And I just first want to clarify that. I was opposed to the CDC —

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

DR. LEANA WEN: — back in May, when they lifted the indoor mask requirement. I thought that the honor code was never going to work, that when vaccinated and unvaccinated people are mixing, unless there is proof of vaccination, everybody should still be wearing masks. And so, I actually support what the CDC is now doing, which is going back to this indoor mask requirement, because, frankly, we know that we can't trust the unvaccinated, that they have been walking around without masks, and, in fact, that's what led to the surge that we're seeing.

But to answer your question about what's happening now with vaccine approval, I mean, I think it's good that the FDA is making sure that we follow the right process. We don't want for anything to be rushed. But, that said, whatever red-tape bureaucracy there is, we really should be cutting out, because full approval — I mean, at this point, hundreds of millions of people around the world have received these life-saving vaccines. We know, and it's been proven, how safe and effective they are. So I'm not entirely sure what we're waiting for. I do know that having full approval will really pave the way for a lot more employers and schools and other institutions to implement vaccine mandates, which I strongly believe is what we need at this point.

So I very much support what the Biden administration is doing with the federal government, with federal employees, saying that at this point we are in the middle of a national and international public health emergency; you have a right to stay unvaccinated if you want to, but if you want to be in public spaces, if you want to now be coming to work and be around other individuals, you don't have a right to infect others with a potentially deadly disease. So, the idea of either testing or proving that you're vaccinated, I think, is exactly the right one. And FDA approval in the near future, I hope, will be coming, as well.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Dr. Wen, I mean, one of the things that many people have been surprised by all over the world is that despite the fact that these vaccines have been available to Americans for several months now, only 50% of Americans are fully vaccinated. It's a huge issue because, as you point out, now especially with the spread of the Delta variant, there have also been numerous incentives offered to Americans to take the vaccine, even as around the world people are desperate for this same vaccine. What do you think can be done, apart from, of course, the FDA granting full approval? What can be done to get people to take these vaccines, if they haven't taken them 'til now? Is there any reason to think they'll take them in the future?

DR. LEANA WEN: It's a really good point that you're making about American exceptionalism, which is that there are people around the world, who are even healthcare workers or vulnerable older individuals, who are so desperate to get the vaccine — and, frankly, some people are going to die because they don't have access to the vaccine — and here we are in the U.S. sitting on this surplus, really having doses that are going to go to waste. We're begging people to take the vaccine, when there are people around the world begging to get access to the vaccine. And I think that we should really be thinking about who we are as a country, what are the values that we have, and what is our obligation to people around the world, as well.

But to your point about what is it that can be done, I think that the Biden administration has done a great job in getting vaccine supply and initially working on the vaccine rollout. They, though, have hit a wall. There is really not much else that they can do, short of vaccine mandates, and that's because you just can't keep on doing more of the same at some point. You've got to admit that you've got to change tactics. I mean, you can't keep on doing education and outreach. Yes, that's really important, but that's not going to get us over this hump. We are at less than 70% of all adult Americans having received at least one dose. We are at just about a third of teens, who are now eligible to get the vaccine, who have gotten vaccinated. And so, we really need to do something different.

In the past, we know that vaccine mandates are effective. And I think we really need to be reframing how we think about them. We should be thinking about this as we do drunk driving. You have a right, if you want to be intoxicated in your home or in some other setting, at a bar, let's say. But you do not have the right to be intoxicated and then get behind the wheel of a car in a way that you could potentially endanger other people. And so, I think that the vaccine mandate concept is going to be increasingly important, because, for example, I have two unvaccinated young kids. I don't know that someone has the freedom, so to speak, to transmit COVID-19 to my unvaccinated kids, or to somebody with immunocompromise or cancer and is on chemotherapy.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Wen, I wanted to ask whether you think this has had any impact on people's hesitancy or outright refusal to take the vaccine, that initially there were widespread reports that so-called healthcare workers were refusing the vaccine. Now the American Medical Association has said that 96% of physicians are fully vaccinated. But healthcare workers include a very large number of people. But I think, initially, many may have thought that doctors themselves are refusing this vaccine, so how do we know it's safe? It seems it's not safe if doctors aren't taking it. But physicians have taken it, almost 100% of them. So, what effect do you think that's had? And do you think that needs to be clarified further?

DR. LEANA WEN: That's a really interesting point. And I think you're right that at the very beginning, we were hearing a lot of reports of healthcare workers writ large, not physicians. I mean, perhaps there were some physicians who at the beginning said, "OK, I don't want to be in the first week of getting the vaccine," but you'd be very hard-pressed to find any physician in the U.S. now who's not fully vaccinated and who isn't extremely enthusiastic about recommending it to our patients and to all of our family members. It is true that, especially early on, nurses, home healthcare workers, the broader swath of people, as you mentioned, who constitute healthcare workers and the healthcare profession, there were people who were hesitant. But increasingly, this group is also getting vaccinated.

And we have now seen, I think, of last count, more than 800 hospitals and healthcare systems are implementing some type of vaccine mandate, because this is not new to us as healthcare workers. We are routinely required — every year, we have to get the flu vaccine. We're required to have our MMR vaccines and our hepatitis vaccines, because it would just be irresponsible for us to pass on diseases to our patients, some of whom are among the most vulnerable. I mean, we have an obligation to care for our patients. This is another one where I really believe that mandates are important. We've seen all these medical associations get behind the idea of vaccine mandates for healthcare workers. And I think as more healthcare workers are vaccinated, it's also important that we recognize that we are in a trusted position in our communities, and begin to tell our friends and relatives and colleagues in the community writ large about the importance of vaccination.

AMY GOODMAN: This week, President Biden responded to questions from reporters about the millions of Americans who are still unvaccinated.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We have a pandemic because of the unvaccinated, and they're sowing enormous confusion. And the more we learn, the more we learn about this virus and the Delta variation, the more we have to be worried and concerned. And only one thing we know for sure: If those other hundred million people got vaccinated, we'd be in a very different world. So, get vaccinated. If you haven't, you're not nearly as smart as I said you were.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's President Biden. The virus now quicker, sicker, younger. Talk about who's packing the hospitals, who's getting intubated, people especially in their twenties, and long COVID, at this point what we understand about it, even if you're not as sick, possibly being sicker for so much longer.

DR. LEANA WEN: Yeah, these are really good points. And I'd say two things about where we are and who's getting sicker, based on the science and based on what we're seeing. The first is that the good news is that older individuals, those who have chronic medical illnesses, tend to be the people who are vaccinated. And that's why we are seeing a shift to younger groups. But it's young people — I mean, we're talking about people in their thirties and forties — who are becoming so ill that they're dying and leaving behind their young children and families as orphans. We're talking about people in their twenties who may think that they are invincible, but, exactly to your point, that they're really not. I mean, they are also getting ill.

And even if they recover and leave the hospital, what ends up happening is that they have these long-haul COVID symptoms. I mean, I've seen patients, for example, who, even months after they get relatively mild symptoms, they are still so short of breath that they have trouble walking just a couple blocks. They're so tired, they have difficulty concentrating at work, and some people have even had to take disability leave because of the symptoms that they're having. Some people are also left with loss of hair, loss of smell or taste, and can't now enjoy food, and they don't know when this return to normal is going to be. And so, long COVID is a real problem.

I think something else that you mentioned about the younger, quicker, sicker, I think, is a really good point, that with the Delta variant that we now have, we know that a person infected with the Delta variant carries a thousand times the viral load than someone infected with the previous variants. And what that means is that that person can transmit a lot more virus. They also get ill a lot faster, and so potentially they could infect a lot more people, as well. And so I think people who are unvaccinated should really know that they are at high risk and also that this is not just — I mean, I agree with everything in the clip that you played from President Biden, but this is not just a pandemic of the unvaccinated. This is also spilling over to the vaccinated. And those who are vaccinated, we now know, based on the CDC, they are now able — but with the Delta variant, because they carry so much more virus, they could transmit it to their unvaccinated family members. And so, I, for example, even though I'm fully vaccinated, my children are not, because they're too young to be vaccinated. So I need to be now careful for my children because of all the unvaccinated people around us.

AMY GOODMAN: Many countries have been unable to secure enough vaccines for their populations, and children and students in the United States and around the world have had their education disrupted for more than a year and a half. This is James Elder of the United Nations Children's Fund speaking at a press briefing in Geneva yesterday.

JAMES ELDER: More than 600 million children who aren't on an academic break remain affected by school closures — 600 million. … Schools need to open as soon as possible. Reopening schools cannot wait for all teachers and students to be vaccinated. Governments, at a time of great fiscal stress, need to protect those education budgets. We need to find new ways to try and — those children who were never in school, to get them back in amid COVID.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you could talk about this issue of having vaccine accessibility around the world, and at the same time you have Pfizer in the United States saying people should get a third booster? They say they have evidence that it increases your ability to deal with the variant by something like five times, and if you're older, far more than that. And you have companies, like Pfizer, making record profits, while what? Yesterday, Tanzania got their first vaccines. And they're lucky. Some countries haven't gotten any.

DR. LEANA WEN: Yeah, I mean, I think that this is a really tricky issue. Of course, global vaccine equity is a priority. As people have said, if we don't share the vaccine with the world, the virus is going to share the world. I mean, we are going to get new variants that develop, that then impact us here, as well. So it's a humanitarian issue, but it's also a self-interest issue for us to share the vaccine and to figure out a better way of manufacturing the vaccines, scaling up production around the world.

I think this question of the booster shot, this is why we have federal regulatory agencies. This is the way it's supposed to work, that the company produces data, they submit the data to the FDA and CDC, they then review the data and decide: Are booster shots needed at this time? Probably we're going to find that the booster is necessary for some people, for example, those who are severely immunocompromised, maybe older individuals with chronic medical illnesses. But that is the way that this process is supposed to work.

I will go back to something you mentioned about children. You know, I just came out with my new book, Lifelines, and I talk a lot in the book about how we, as a country, have really failed our children here. I mean, we have consistently failed our children by not investing in early childhood education, in providing child care and so forth. But during the pandemic, we also prioritized opening bars and not schools. We also failed to invest in ventilation and other changes that could have allowed our schools to reopen safely much sooner. And I think that we are now making the same mistake. I mean, there are governors, for example, that have outlawed or banned school districts from even requiring masks, come the fall. And I really worry that we are just not prioritizing our children, their learning and their health once again. And, by the way, all those individuals who are not getting vaccinated right now by choice, they're also impeding the ability of our kids to safely be back in school. They're also directly exposing our children, who don't have the choice to be vaccinated, to COVID-19 and to potential long-term consequences. And so, I hope that we, as a society, as I talk about a lot in Lifelines, take a hard look at who we are and what our values are when it comes to our children.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Wen, we're just going to get into your book, but could you talk about this? You've mentioned your children now, and many people are concerned. When is the vaccine likely to be available to them? And then, in your book, you speak at length about how the lack of access to public health impacts children, potentially for the rest of their lives. The absence of public health, poverty and other issues have a huge impact, not just in the moment, on children, but potentially for their whole lives.

DR. LEANA WEN: Right. With regard to FDA authorization, I would hope that for the 6-to-11-year-old group, that we'll have vaccines sometime this fall, probably late fall; for the younger group, 3 to 5, maybe by winter — my hope is by this winter; and for the even younger group, 6 months to 2 years, probably at the beginning of 2022.

Now, I talk in Lifelines about my own story. I talk a lot about — the main portion of the book is talking about my experience leading Baltimore's Health Department and the programs that we led, for example, B'more for Healthy Babies, that as a result of home visitation programs and partnerships across our city, we were able to reduce infant mortality by 38% in a seven-year period and also close the gap between Black and white infant mortality by over 50%.

But I saw, growing up as an immigrant, about how people go without access to care, and how, in this country, we do not treat healthcare as a fundamental human right, as the human right that it really is. I mean, I was, I think, about 10 years old when a neighbor child, who I — who was our neighbor, I knew well — he had a severe asthma attack, and his grandmother was too afraid to call for help because the family was undocumented. And she was afraid that their family would be deported and face immigration trouble if she called for help, and so she didn't. And as a result, this boy died in front of me from an asthma attack. I mean, that's something that is happening right now because we, as a country, just do not have a system where we value lives the same way, and where we are not prioritizing our children.

And so, throughout my career as an ER doc and working in public health, I've seen what the needs are when it comes to understanding, for example, that housing is also a health issue, that the food that we eat, the air that we breathe are also health issues. And I think we, as a society, really need to look post-COVID or at the learnings from COVID, even though we're still very much in this pandemic. We need to see how can we really learn the lessons so that we are not failing our most vulnerable again.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Wen, talk specifically about your own childhood — you came to the U.S. when you were 7 — and how that informed your decision to go into public health and, in particular, to focus on emergency medicine.

DR. LEANA WEN: Right. So, my parents and I immigrated from China. We were fortunate to be granted political asylum here in the U.S. My parents, though, like many immigrants, worked multiple jobs, but we still had trouble making ends meet. My father worked in a restaurant, delivering newspapers. My mother was working in a hotel, cleaning, while also getting her degree so that she could become a teacher, which she did. She ended up teaching second grade for many years in Los Angeles. But we went through many periods where we depended on SNAP, food stamps. We depended on public housing. At certain points, we were experiencing homelessness ourselves.

And that very much shaped who I am and why I wanted to specifically enter the ER. The experience that I mentioned of watching a child die in front of me when I was a child myself, I knew that I did not want to ever be in a position where I had to turn someone away because of inability to pay or because of their immigration status or because of health insurance or lack thereof. And so, that's why I entered the ER.

But it was also in the ER that I saw how much what patients need isn't just what we can do within the walls of the hospital. I mean, I had another patient who was a child with asthma, but he didn't need new inhalers. He was living in an area where he was across the street from an incinerator, and there were row houses that were around where he lived that were full of mold, and that's what was triggering his asthma. And so, that's why I turned to public health and then had my dream job as Baltimore's health commissioner, to lead the city to see what we can do about these social determinants of health, these other circumstances in people's health that actually determine their well-being, and why public health can actually be a critical tool for social justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Wen, you also talk in your book about the fierce anti-Chinese backlash in this country. Do you find, as you push for mask mandates, something you have been saying consistently, whatever the federal government says — that when you push for vaccines, you get enormous pushback as a Chinese American woman? Are you receiving death threats now?

DR. LEANA WEN: You know, every time I appear on air and people see how I look, there's something about being an Asian American person, a woman, talking about vaccines and masks, issues that have been so charged ideologically, that somehow sets people in a direction that's extremely harmful. I mean, and it's — you know what? It's not really just about me. I mean, there are so many AAPIs here in the U.S. and Asians around the world who have been assaulted, who have been spat upon and blamed directly for the coronavirus. There have been shop owners whose shops have been destroyed and burned to the ground because people blame them for the virus.

I mean, there is a real consequence to the words that people use. When our former president, for example, and other allies used words like the "kung-flu" or the "China virus," there was this insinuation that somehow people of Asian descent are to be blamed for this global pandemic that's killed so many people. And then, understandably, some people then take out their anger — understandable anger and frustration, but they take it out on people who look like me. And this is a major problem that obviously we need everyone to help us to stop anti-AAPI hate, to start using the correct language, because language, in this case, really matters.

And I think we also need to take a stand when we're talking about, for example, the lab leak theory, which is, obviously — the origin of coronavirus — something we need to investigate. But we need to be investigating this in a scientific way, not putting this into the political sphere, because when we do, when we make these issues partisan, there is a direct consequence on anti-Asian hate, assault and violence.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician, previously served as Baltimore's health commissioner, contributing columnist for The Washington Post, author of a new book Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health.

This is Democracy Now! Next up, the Senate has voted to open debate on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that includes some new spending on climate and environment measures, but critics say it falls far short of what's needed in this time of a climate catastrophe. Stay with us.

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