Independent Media Institute

Why America needs union workers to drive the success of a national infrastructure program

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

Visitors to National Airport in Washington, D.C., have often gazed in awe at a grand, wide hall with soaring, vaulted ceilings intended to evoke the grandeur of government buildings in the nation's capital.

Union workers at Cives Steel Co. in Winchester, Virginia, fabricated thousands of tons of steel for that innovative project. While they're pleased to have contributed to the facility's majestic appearance, they're even prouder to know that their skilled craftsmanship produced strong, flawless steel components keeping thousands of passengers, vendors and other airport users safe every day.

As America embarks on a historic modernization of roads, bridges, water systems, airports, schools, manufacturing facilities and other infrastructure, it's essential that the nation's highly skilled union workers supply the raw materials and parts as well as the labor for these publicly funded projects.

Union workers will deliver infrastructure that's safe to use and built to last. Congress just needs to ensure they have the opportunity to put those skills to use, and that means including domestic procurement requirements in legislation implementing President Joe Biden's infrastructure program.

"If you want a good-quality product, it's got to be made by union people. They take pride in what they do. They want to put out a good product," said Buddy Morgan, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 8360, which represents workers at the Winchester plant.

Morgan, who has worked at Cives Steel for 42 years, and his coworkers, many of whom also have decades of experience under their belts, have already worked on many of the kinds of infrastructure projects Biden now wants to take to scale through his American Jobs Plan.

In addition to the National Airport project, which involved the production of pieces so huge that workers faced formidable challenges just maneuvering them onto trucks, members of Local 8360 fabricated tons of steel for a terminal at Philadelphia International Airport and a military aircraft hangar in Norfolk, Virginia.

Over the years, they've also manufactured steel components for schools, industrial facilities, sports complexes, hospitals and laboratories.

The structural integrity of enormous buildings—and the lives of people using them—depend on the quality of their work. That's why welders in Morgan's plant will stand for hours, barely moving, sweating profusely under helmets and protective clothing, to perfectly fuse steel pieces together.

"You wouldn't believe the welds they put down and some of the pieces they put together," Morgan said, noting the difficulty of transforming the specifications on a blueprint into components that will hold up a building. "They can look at the thing, and they do this so well, and they've done it for so long, that they can figure out what they need to do."

Upgrading the nation's roads, bridges, locks, dams and ports—all crucial parts of Biden's infrastructure plan—would help Morgan and his coworkers more quickly and cost-effectively transport their large, custom-built products to customers.

Hundreds of Virginia's bridges are structurally deficient, and many of the state's roads are in poor condition, according to the most recent analysis by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Just around Winchester, Morgan noted, major transportation projects continue to languish for lack of funding even though they're urgently needed to reduce congestion, improve traffic flow and help businesses like Cives Steel stay competitive.

"It's hard to get around," some of the truckers tell Morgan.

Upgrading infrastructure with union labor and union-made goods will not only guarantee quality craftsmanship but also ensure that the American Jobs Plan delivers the biggest possible boost to the U.S. economy.

Biden's plan has the potential to create as many as 2.7 million jobs—essential for rebuilding the middle class—while re-energizing the nation's industrial base.

"It's our economy," said Mark Powers, a longtime member of USW Local 831, explaining why he wants a national infrastructure program to directly benefit workers in his Danville, Virginia, community.

Powers trains new workers at the Goodyear plant in Danville that produces tires for tractor-trailers, dump trucks, cranes, cherry-pickers and other heavy-work vehicles.

An infrastructure program carried out with union-made goods would send demand for tires soaring. That, in turn, means more of the good-paying jobs that enable Powers' coworkers to provide for their families, support local businesses and pay the taxes that sustain their communities.

"We would have to grow our plant to meet the demand," Powers predicted. "If the trucks are rolling, we're making money."

Construction companies receiving road-building contracts under the American Jobs Plan would need to buy tires for earthmoving equipment. Biden's proposal to upgrade the electric grid, build renewable energy facilities and expand high-speed broadband portends surging purchases of tires for bucket trucks. Modernization of schools, airports and seaports means increased need for the tires on water trucks, fuel carriers and cement mixers.

And Powers envisions many of the parts and components for infrastructure projects traveling to job sites on 18-wheelers equipped with the highly regarded "steer" tire and other products his coworkers make.

"It's the best in the world," Powers said of the steer tire that goes on the front of the truck. "They're smooth, and they're built on our most modern machinery. They balance well. They run well. You've got to pay attention to the details."

The success of America's once-in-a-generation infrastructure program also hinges on the details.

Only America's union workers have the skills and passion necessary to deliver historic, top-quality returns on the nation's infrastructure investments.

"We can do just about everything," Morgan said.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

The clock is ticking as Democrats rest their hope for immigration reform on a technicality

Republican officials in Texas are celebrating a major political win after successfully suing the federal government over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA has been a GOP target since 2012 when then-President Barack Obama first created it and then in 2014 expanded it via executive action. It has faced numerous Republican-led legal challenges and subsequent court rulings as well as an outright suspension of the program during Donald Trump's administration. In spite of a 2020 Supreme Court ruling that upheld it, a new Texas federal court ruling by a known anti-immigrant judge named Andrew Hanen deemed the program "illegal," leaving the lives of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants in limbo once more.

One such immigrant is Fatima Flores, the political director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), who just a week and a half before the ruling had renewed her DACA status. Had Hanen's ruling come before her renewal, Flores would likely have been among those immigrants at risk of losing her status given that no new applications are being processed.

Flores told me in an interview that she sees the devastating ruling as "an attack on our immigrant communities," and points out that there is a "backlog of thousands of DACA recipient hopefuls [who] will not have a decision on their case." This means they are in jeopardy of losing employment and benefits, which in turn could result in evictions. The ruling also means that those immigrants who might have been able to adjust their status under DACA are now eligible for possible deportation. Flores explained, "I came to this country when I was six, and I am 30 now. And I am one of millions of people who have been waiting for something to happen [toward legalization]."

The ruling is even more disappointing considering the role that DACA holders have played as essential workers and health care workers during the pandemic, delivering lifesaving care to U.S. residents. After the U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled against Trump's suspension of the program—saying that the Trump administration did not provide adequate justification for ending it—an estimated 30,000 health care workers with DACA status were protected from deportation and allowed to continue their critical work. The American Medical Association's general counsel went as far as citing that the central tenet of health care is "do no harm," and that, "if we strip this population of caregivers out of the system, that's pretty significant harm." Hanen's ruling threatens to do just such harm at a time when the United States appears to be on the cusp of another surge of COVID-19 infections.

Although President Joe Biden has already announced that his Justice Department will appeal Hanen's ruling, Flores worries such a legal challenge will simply take too long, leaving countless numbers of potential DACA applicants stranded, unable to gain employment and subject to deportation even though the United States is the only country most have known. Worse, if the appeal goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, this time the conservative majority on the court could end the program altogether.

She suggested that a more direct pathway to cementing DACA was via the legislative process so that it is no longer beholden to the whims of Republican attorneys general, state governors or presidents. While legislative pathways on immigration have been frustratingly elusive in recent years, and while Democrats have passed far too few bills while holding power in 2021, this time on this issue, success may be within reach. That is because a limited form of immigration reform could pass through the Senate budget reconciliation process, requiring only a simple majority instead of a filibuster-proof supermajority.

To that end, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) just released a $6 trillion budget blueprint that includes $150 billion in funding toward pathways for legal status for immigrants including DACA holders. Flores cited the promising leadership of California's newly seated Senator Alex Padilla, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee's immigration panel and who is working closely with CHIRLA.

Padilla is pushing for legalization pathways to be included in negotiations over an infrastructure package and is confident that Biden backs him, saying, "I believe the White House is supportive of both an ambitious infrastructure package, and as substantive immigration reform as you can achieve in any way possible." Perhaps more importantly, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, one of the most intractable Democrats on progressive legislation, has signaled that he too supports passing immigration reform in this manner.

Worryingly, it is the Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough who decides if legalizing DACA through budget reconciliation is acceptable or not, and immigrant advocates slammed Biden's announcement that he would defer to whatever the unelected official decides on the matter. One can only hope that MacDonough's past as a Justice Department trial attorney dealing with immigration cases makes her sympathetic to the plight of DACA holders. Her decision earlier this year to deny the inclusion of a federal minimum wage increase as part of the budget reconciliation was met with national outrage. That said, those financial priorities that can be included in reconciliation are indeed narrowly limited.

The pursuit of immigration reform through a technicality based on the federal budget is perhaps fitting for a nation whose dominant culture, set by elites, perceives human beings as resources and capital, rather than seeing them through the lens of compassion and empathy. But people like Flores and others in her community have had their lives turned upside down for decades awaiting a political solution. If Democrats see immigrants as financial assets, Republicans see them as future Democratic voters who can jeopardize their ill-gotten hold on political power. Flores said, "we're here to stand in solidarity with our communities [fighting for legalization] and be relentless because the Republicans and the GOP are relentless against us."

There is a clear economic case to be made for legalizing undocumented immigrants, even outside the traditional bounds of seeing them as a source of cheap labor for the agricultural and apparel industry. A study released in mid-June by the Center for American Progress examined numerous scenarios for immigrant legalization. If all undocumented immigrants were offered citizenship, the authors concluded that it "would boost U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by a cumulative total of $1.7 trillion over 10 years and create 438,800 new jobs." If only DACA recipients were legalized, it "would increase U.S. GDP by a cumulative total of $799 billion over 10 years and create 285,400 new jobs." Interestingly, the authors extrapolate that in the former scenario, "all other American workers would see their annual wages increase by $700," and in the latter, "annual wages [would] increase by $400" across the board.

In other words, legalizing immigrants will benefit all American workers over time. Such a conclusion is not based on a complicated economic analysis. Undocumented workers are far more vulnerable to employer exploitation simply because of their lack of legal status. Their status drives down all wages. The converse is also true.

Flores pointed out that the clock is ticking. "We can't leave 2021 without some legalization efforts," because the 2022 midterm elections are around the corner and those senators up for reelection are likely to be preoccupied by their campaigns next year. Additionally, DACA holders and prospective applicants like her are tired. "For the longest time we've been told 'stay in your lane.' We're done waiting," she said. "We're done having to take a back seat. We're done playing nice."

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Inside observers say the Arizona 'auditors' are backtracking — and the reality only supports Biden's win

The "big lie" that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected is not going away. One reason is Americans who care about their democracy are not learning how votes for president in 2020 were counted and verified — neither from the big lie's promoters nor from most of its fact-driven critics.

Most visibly, the absence of a clear and accurate explanation can be found among former President Donald Trump's ardent supporters. As seen in a July 15 briefing in Arizona's legislature, the contractors hired by the state Senate to assess the 2020 election's results unleashed a new thicket of finger-pointing and innuendo that fans doubts about Maricopa County's election administration and votes for Biden.

Critics of the big lie, who range from state officials (including Republicans) to voting rights advocates — and, of course, Democrats— have mostly emphasized that the Arizona Senate's inquiry and copycat efforts in other states are bad faith exercises led by Trump supporters who lack election auditing experience.

These competing narratives lack clear explanations of what matters when counting and verifying votes, and, by extension, what does not matter and is a sideshow. With few exceptions, easily understood explanations of how 2020's votes are counted and verified have been missing in the election's volatile aftermath.

Most of the arguments used by those trying to dispel 2020 election myths focus on labeling the big lie a propaganda narrative, or sweepingly dismissing Arizona's audit as a partisan-led hoax. But these don't seem to be nearly as effective as a different approach—one that focuses on demystifying the wonky details of the voting and vote-counting processes.

Two examples of the latter, more rigorous and successful approach stand out: the post-Election Day daily briefings by the Georgia Secretary of State office's Gabriel Sterling, which were widely covered by the media and attested to Biden's victory in that state and the victory by Democrats in its U.S. Senate runoffs; and ongoing efforts by a self-funded team of experienced election auditors in Arizona, which have attracted some coverage by using hard evidence from public data sources.

The team of experienced auditors includes a longtime Arizona Republican Party election observer; the retired CEO of Clear Ballot, a federally certified auditing firm; and the retired chief technology officer of Clear Ballot. They have drawn on Maricopa County's official 2020 election records to provide a baseline to assess the accuracy of its presidential election. Their nuts-and-bolts approach has been missing from almost every other report criticizing the state Senate's inquest.

Among their early findings were tens of thousands of ballots where most of the votes were cast for Republicans, but not for Trump — and many were cast for Biden, which provided a factual explanation for Trump's loss. More recently, the auditors' documentation of 2020 ballot inventories and vote count subtotals has pushed the Senate's contractors to start a new recount of Maricopa County's 2020 ballots.

Sources with access to the contractors' operations have told Voting Booth that the contractors now know that their hand count of 2.1 million ballots was initially sloppy, and cannot account for thousands of ballots in the official results. (Hence, a new count.) But what the contractors are doing in private, behind locked doors in a Phoenix warehouse, is the opposite of what they have been saying in public, which is pedaling vote-theft conspiracies.

Because the public's picture of the Senate's inquiry has a notable absence of clear descriptions articulating the building blocks of counting votes, there is a void that keeps being filled with misinformation, as exemplified by the contractors' July 15 briefing for Senate Republicans in Arizona's capitol.

Their statements, not given under oath, exemplified this charade. The contractors repeatedly spoke with indignation and bluster about technicalities in the corners of Maricopa County's election infrastructure, suggesting that the county's handling of the presidential election was deeply amiss. Not only were these technicalities hard for almost everyone, including the senators, to follow, but their presentation and tone supported conspiracy theories (which dominated pro-Trump media). In reality, the issues raised have little to do with validating voters, ballots and votes.

The contractors said, for example, that Maricopa County's central tabulators could have been hacked because key passwords and antivirus software had not been updated. They implied that officials had covered up their Election Day actions because activity logs on the tabulators were erased in March 2021. The lead contractor, Cyber Ninjas' Doug Logan, said there were several categories of suspicious ballots, all involving volumes of votes that exceeded Biden's statewide margin.

It is no surprise that fervent Trump supporters are invested in perpetuating doubts about his loss while their investigators fan diversions that hide their incompetence. Mostly, the Arizona Senate's contractors have discovered Maricopa County could have done better with managing some aspects of conducting the 2020 election. It is not headline news that election administration is complex, that officials do make mistakes, and — crucially — that the process usually catches and corrects them.

But what is going on here is far more cynical and intentionally dishonest.

In April, the Senate's contractors were told what was needed to conduct a credible audit, but they rejected that accounting-style approach. They were urged to compare the starting and finish lines of the vote-counting process to see if the figures matched. That involves three sets of records: the hand-marked votes for president on 2.1 million ballots; the digital images of every ballot immediately created by the scanners to start the electronic counting process; and the official results spreadsheet that lists every vote cast on every ballot. If the starting and finish line votes and totals matched, the election's outcome is legitimate.

Instead, the Arizona Senate's agents raced ahead with a hand count that did not even try to compare its step-by-step results with the building blocks of the official results. Now, inside observers have told Voting Booth that the Senate's contractors are backtracking in private to make more specific comparisons. (They also are trying to figure out if the hand count missed thousands of votes, which is why they are recounting the number of ballots but not the presidential votes.) But, publicly, the Senate contractors are not telling anyone what is going on. Instead, they are suggesting with bluster that they are hot on the election theft evidence trail.

The Senate Republican leaders are either falling for this masquerade or helping to perpetuate it. Not once during the July 15 hearing did senators ask their contractors why the Senate had to spend additional thousands to rent machinery to reconfirm the volume of ballots. The contractors urged the Senate to subpoena more data from the county, including voter signatures, in that briefing.

A new subpoena could lengthen the Senate's inquest, and, if some records are not released, it would provide a pretext for the contractors to claim that they cannot conclude their inquiry because evidence was withheld. Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen telegraphed this scenario in his closing remarks, saying, "it [the inquiry] will be incomplete if we don't have those items."

The session ended with Arizona state Senate President Karen Fann reciting her oft-stated disclaimer that the inquiry was not about overturning her state's 2020 presidential results, but merely addressing the doubts of Republican voters. "At no time have we ever implied or inferred that there is any intentional misdoings here in any way whatsoever, and, in fact, we certainly hope not," she said. "But we do need to have this information and answer these questions."

After the briefing, Trump issued three statements falsely claiming election fraud. And several days later, another Arizona Senate subcontractor, Jovan Pulitzer, who has led its inquiry into forged ballots, said the same thing without evidence—that election fraud had deprived Trump of Arizona's 2020 Electoral College votes.

"Finally, you get to see the truth that there is such a thing as election fraud," he told Arizona pro-Trump activist Liz Harris on her July 19 podcast. Pulitzer was interviewed while on a private jet en route to Arizona to meet other funders and organizers (those featured in the new pro-Trump film, "The Deep Rig"). Pulitzer praised the patriotism of the donors who have funded the inquiry and the 1,500 volunteers who "made this happen," saying, "The Arizona Senate only paid $150,000 for what ends up being a $9 million audit."

But inside the Phoenix warehouse where the Senate contractors are continuing their work, people know that the documentation and methodology provided by the independent outside auditors have not only unmasked their hand count's flaws; they also keep pointing toward the conclusion that Biden won Arizona's presidential election, and that Maricopa County's administration of that election, while not perfect, was not fraudulent.

There are Arizona Republicans who know what is going on inside the Senate's investigation, but whether they are willing to stand up to Trump's supporters is another question. That task would be easier if the public knew more about the building blocks of counting votes.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Undercover investigations expose brutal wildlife killing contests

You would really have to try hard to find anything more depraved than a wildlife killing contest, which targets coyotes, foxes, bobcats, squirrels, raccoons, crows and even wolves and cougars in some states, for the sake of a prize that could range from cash to hunting equipment. These contests are responsible for the mindless killing of an inconceivable number of animals, all under the guise of sport.

Contests like these should be relegated to history books; instead, these events still take place in nearly all of the 42 states where wildlife killing contests are legal and result in the killing of thousands of animals every year.

Participants in these events, billed as family-friendly and often sponsored by bars, churches, firehouses and other local groups, compete with each other for prizes for killing the largest or smallest animal or the highest number of animals. Hundreds of animals may be slaughtered during a single contest. After the bloody piles of animals are weighed, prizes are awarded and the celebration ends, the bodies of the dead animals are often dumped like trash. Contestants frequently use cruel electronic calling devices to lure animals in for an easy kill and then shoot them with high-powered rifles—including AR-15s.

Referring to a custom-built rifle, a competitor in the De Leon Pharmacy and Sporting Goods' Varmint Hunt told an investigator from my organization, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), that these rifles, "they're like a .22-250 on steroids." He had just used the rifle to gun down animals during the 21-hour contest that culminated in the pharmacy's parking lot on a January morning in Texas. The rifles are "not very fur-friendly," he added as he stood over a row of bloody bodies he had killed. "I wouldn't use something like that if you want to save the fur." To illustrate his point, he nudged a coyote, bragging, "I shot this one up here in the throat from high up and it blew out the whole bottom of his chest."

Other participants at the contest unloaded more dead animals from the trucks, which were outfitted for prime killing with raised decks, cushioned chairs and gun mounts. A team of three men, who called themselves "Dead On," won the event, killing five coyotes, two bobcats, a fox and a raccoon. Contest organizers handed out more than $3,000 in prize money.

At another killing contest in December 2020 that took place 1,000 miles north of Texas, an HSUS investigator saw firefighters helping to drag dead coyotes to the weighing station in the parking lot of the fire department in Williamsport, Indiana. The grand prize went to those who killed the five heaviest coyotes, with side pots awarded to those who killed the greatest number of coyotes, the "big dog" and the "small dog" (referring to the size of the coyotes). The winning team, which had all its teammates dressed in matching jackets, killed about 16 of the roughly 60 animals lined up for display when the contest ended. One competitor told investigators from the HSUS that he used an AR-15 rifle with night vision, adding, "I enjoy it."

Other undercover investigations by the HSUS—in Maryland, New Jersey, New York (in 2018 and 2020), Oregon and Virginia—showed similar chilling images of contests, including children playing among dead bodies of animals.

Some of these contests are high stakes. At the West Texas Big Bobcat Contest in January, participants vied for $148,120 in prize money. The jackpot for "Most Grey Fox" killings went to a four-man team that killed 81 foxes in 23 hours.

Competitors spend thousands of dollars on equipment to achieve an almost absurd advantage. Electronic calling devices amplified across a field by a loudspeaker lure unsuspecting animals into the open using the sounds of dependent young in distress. These animals can hardly be expected to compete with a team of people armed with spotlights and AR-15-style weapons fitted with precision thermal night vision scopes that "troll" habitat areas, obliterating anything that comes their way.

Killing contests have a cousin in the old-school pigeon shoots—another contest based on indiscriminate animal slaughter. At a pigeon shoot, the birds are stuffed into spring-loaded boxes, thrust into the air at the shooter's command and then shot from a short distance—all for thrills and prizes. Only one state—Pennsylvania—still openly holds these pigeon shoots.

Just like pigeon shooters, participants in wildlife killing contests spout false claims that they're doing some act of service for society by ridding the landscape of animals they deem as "varmints" and "pests." But it is a fact that these events are for fun and games and serve no legitimate wildlife management purpose. The best available science shows that randomly killing animals, especially coyotes, creates problems where there were none.

It sounds counterintuitive but killing coyotes causes them to proliferate. In an unexploited coyote pack, typically only the dominant pair reproduces. Kill off a few members, and the pack splinters apart to find other mates. More breeding pairs means more coyotes—and this adds yet another wrinkle. While most coyotes avoid livestock and prefer to munch on rodents, more pups mean more mouths to feed, forcing adult coyotes to find easier targets like sheep just to survive.

It's a "paradoxical relationship"—kill more coyotes, lose more livestock. Haphazardly removing coyotes who haven't been proven to threaten livestock before leaves voids that may be filled by coyotes who are more likely to prey on livestock. Most coyotes can even serve as "guard coyotes" for ranchers, keeping other carnivores at bay.

Native carnivores like coyotes and foxes provide a range of free ecological services to our communities—including controlling rodent and rabbit populations, indirectly contributing to the boosting of plant and bird biodiversity, and scavenging animal carcasses, which keeps our environment clean—and removing them en masse upsets the natural balance of our ecosystems.

We can't make wildlife management decisions based on anecdotes or intuition or cater to misinformation that competitors use to justify their actions—we must follow the science. State wildlife agencies recognize that ethics must come into play, too. The Arizona Game and Fish Commission outlawed these killing contests in 2019. When the commission was still considering the ban, its chairman, Jim Zieler, who is also a hunter, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying, "There has been a lot of social outcry against this, and you can kind of understand why. It's difficult to stand up and defend a practice like this." Sportsmen and state wildlife agency professionals and commissioners across the country have echoed similar sentiments, and some have noted that these contests are damaging the reputation of hunters and jeopardizing the future of hunting. It's a reasonable fear—society's values about wildlife are shifting in favor of greater harmony with nature.

Making matters worse, the pandemic has added another element: virtual competitions where the killing persists but the judging and participation are online. Contestants living anywhere in the United States can submit videos of the animals they have killed nearby, and in these videos the contestants are seen shaking the bodies of the dead animals to show that they have been killed recently. These virtual competitions have also led to new prize categories like "best video of a kill." People from more than 40 states have joined these contest websites, including from states where the contests have been banned. These virtual events take place nearly every weekend.

We certainly can't let this continue without challenge, especially since many hunters share the growing public disdain for wildlife killing contests. They understand that no animal's life should be taken in this cruel manner, and like countless other Americans, they believe that there are limits to what we should permit when it comes to the treatment and use of animals.

The good news is that bills and regulations to prohibit wildlife killing contests are emerging at both the federal and state levels. The reasons to ban these events are supported by overwhelming evidence, and those who oppose these contests will have increasing opportunities to register their viewpoints and convictions about this senseless killing of American wildlife, in letters to Congress and to state legislatures and state wildlife management agencies (contact your HSUS state director to find out what's happening in your state), and to their local government. Wildlife is important to everyone, and our public policies and practices should reflect that.

Katie Stennes is the program manager for wildlife protection at the Humane Society of the United States. She has worked in the animal protection field for over eight years.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The U.S. must bolster retraining for workers harmed by unfair trade

When Goodyear closed its Tennessee manufacturing facility and laid off Ray Spangler about a decade ago, he moved his shell-shocked family about 330 miles so he could take a job at the company's Gadsden, Alabama, plant.

Goodyear shut that plant as well last year, after shifting most of the work to Mexico, leaving Spangler with the agonizing question of whether to relocate again.

In the end, he opted to use a federal retraining program, Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for Workers, to build a future in Gadsden.

Thousands of Americans find themselves in Spangler's shoes each year, victims of bad trade and corporate greed, and so Democrats in the House and Senate want to strengthen the program and provide more of the resources these workers need to start over.

However, the clock is ticking. On July 1, the most recent version of TAA expired, limiting assistance for those not already in the program. Congress needs to act as quickly as possible to ensure help is available when workers need it.

"It's life-saving," Spangler, a former member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 12L, said of the TAA program that's covering his tuition, supplies, and other expenses while he studies electronics technology at Wallace State Community College near his home. "Other people need to have access to it."

TAA enables workers to chart new paths forward when they lose their jobs because of bad trade.

In some cases, as with Spangler and his coworkers, corporations shift jobs and production to countries with low wages, weak labor standards and lax environmental laws. Goodyear moved work from Gadsden to a plant in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, and pays workers there just a few dollars an hour.

Other times, foreign countries illegally subsidize the production of aluminum, electronics, paper, steel, tires and other goods, and then dump the items in the United States at below-market prices. American manufacturers cannot compete on this uneven playing field, and so U.S. workers lose their livelihoods.

TAA pays for postsecondary education, on-the-job training, apprenticeships and other skill-building to let workers enter new fields.

Even then, starting over isn't easy. That's why TAA also provides income supports, case management services, job search allowances, a tax credit to help cover health care premiums and other resources that workers need to rebound from the bad hands they're dealt.

Dozens of Spangler's former coworkers leveraged TAA benefits to obtain commercial driver's licenses, learn trades, and pursue degrees in education, nursing and other fields.

When Goodyear closed the Gadsden plant, Spangler wasn't sure what to do. The career tire worker thought about pursuing a job at the Goodyear facility in Topeka, Kansas, but he decided to keep his family in the Gadsden area.

TAA lets him chart the future on his terms.

"It's just preparing me for more opportunity down the road," explained Spangler, whose associate degree will enable him to work for manufacturers, power generators and communications companies, among many other employers.

He and his colleagues were among 96,000 workers across the country who became eligible for TAA during the 2020 fiscal year alone. And that figure was up 6 percent over the 2019 fiscal year, driving home the continuing threat of bad trade and the dire effects on workers, their families and communities.

Congress reauthorized TAA many times over the years, and on July 1, the most recent iteration expired, triggering an automatic reversion to an older version of the program with a smaller budget, fewer resources and restricted eligibility.

It's essential that congressional Democrats quickly move forward with proposals to implement a program even stronger than before so it can better meet the needs of workers in today's economy.

The Democrats' plans include expanding income supports, increasing the job-search allowance and health care tax credit, establishing a child-care allowance, and adding pre-apprenticeships to the list of education programs TAA will cover.

They also want to extend TAA help to additional categories of workers affected by trade, like public-sector workers whose jobs are outsourced as well as those who lose their livelihoods when disruptions in global supply chains—as occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example—hurt production and sales.

"Hopefully, they keep that program and expand it to others as well," said Brian Schweitzer, formerly a negotiating steward for USW Local 94, who was among hundreds laid off when the Verso paper facility in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, idled operations amid high levels of imports last year. "Without it, I would have been scrambling."

Schweitzer, who worked in the facility shipping department for 13 years, recalled how learning about the program made an immediate difference to him and coworkers who felt "down… and worried about the future."

He initially considered selling his house and leaving town but instead decided to use TAA to enter a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning training program at Mid-State Technical College. He still has several months of study, yet already gets a steady stream of job offers from employers who cannot fill vacancies for technicians and other HVAC experts fast enough.

"I'll have this in my back pocket forever," he said of his in-demand skills.

Because of its comprehensive services and high success rate, among other reasons, TAA stands out in a nation that has long failed to provide adequate job training opportunities.

Relative to the size of its economy, the United States spends far less on worker training programs than many other industrial countries, according to one study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Congress has a chance to start reversing that trend with a significant new investment in TAA, which has proven time and again to help workers like Spangler and Schweitzer forge ahead.

"It's been very rough," Spangler said, "but it's going to pay off."

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

20 years of American occupation in Afghanistan was brutal — the exit will be too

When a reporter in early July asked Joe Biden a question about the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. president sniped back, saying, "I want to talk about happy things, man." Biden revealed, perhaps unintentionally, that the situation in Afghanistan is anything but a happy topic. It might have been one of the most revealing responses from a sitting president about the longest-running war in modern United States history.

The president shifted focus, saying, "The economy is growing faster than anytime in 40 years, we've got a record number of new jobs, COVID deaths are down 90 percent, wages are up faster than any time in 15 years, we're bringing our troops home." The war's end is merely the icing on the cake he is seemingly gifting the American public: an end to a war in addition to peace, prosperity, and health at home (even if such achievements are more marketing than reality).

At the very least, one can give Biden credit for formally ending the U.S. role in the war, even if he had nothing substantive to say about the devastation we have wrought over the years. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said they "commend President Biden for fulfilling his commitment to ending the longest war in American history" and took his withdrawal of troops to mean that "there is no military solution in Afghanistan." (They made no mention of Biden's role during the Obama presidency in prolonging the war.)

Opponents of the war have known since 2001 that there is no military solution to the U.S.-sponsored fundamentalist violence that had plagued Afghanistan at the time. More such violence—which is largely what the U.S. offered for nearly 20 years—only made things worse.

In announcing the war's end and pivoting to what he deemed were "happy" topics, Biden fed the "propaganda of silence" that my co-author James Ingalls and I referred to in the subtitle of our 2006 book Bleeding Afghanistan. There has long been a deliberate effort to downplay the U.S.'s failures and paint a rosy picture of a war whose victory has always been just around the corner.

But there is no happy ending for Afghans, and there was never meant to be.

Afghans, already weary of never-ending war in 2001, were promised democracy, women's rights, and peace. But instead, the U.S. offered elections, a theoretical liberation of women, and an absence of justice while championing corrupt armed warlords and their militias. In trying to end the debacle, American diplomats refused to involve the (admittedly flawed) Afghan government that they had helped to build as a bulwark against fundamentalism, and instead engaged in peace talks with the Taliban—the same "enemy" of democracy, women, and peace that the U.S. had spent nearly two decades fighting. Now, as the fundamentalist fighters claim more territory than they have controlled in decades, and the Taliban have predictably begun reimposing medieval-era restrictions on women, ordinary Afghans, including women, are taking up arms to fight them. Was this the liberation that the U.S. promised Afghan women?

Even the manner of withdrawing American troops was as shameful as the mess the U.S. is leaving behind. The Associated Press reported that the U.S. military abandoned Bagram Airfield in early July in the dead of night, failing to properly coordinate with the Afghan army commanders who were expecting to take over. After they left, a "small army of looters" rifled through the millions of taxpayer-funded items left behind by American troops including small weapons and ammunition. Later on, one Afghan soldier bitterly told the AP, "In one night, they lost all the goodwill of 20 years by leaving the way they did, in the night, without telling the Afghan soldiers who were outside patrolling the area."

Afghans have every reason to be cynical. "The Americans leave a legacy of failure, they've failed in containing the Taliban or corruption," said one shopkeeper in Bagram. Another auto mechanic told Reuters, "They came with bombing the Taliban and got rid of their regime—but now they have left when the Taliban are so empowered that they will take over any time soon."

Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, explained to me in an interview that there is a likelihood of civil war breaking out but warned, "I think it would be a mistake to see it as a new civil war." Bennis, who is the author of several books including Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror and Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan, added, "This would be in a sense a continuation of the existing civil war."

By that, she meant that for the past 20 years, the U.S. has essentially been inserting itself into an existing civil war between the Taliban and fundamentalist Northern Alliance warlords who had enjoyed previous U.S. support. The Taliban had won that war in 1996, "not because of the extremism of their definitions of religious law, but despite that," said Bennis. But in 2001, after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. restarted that civil war by bombing Afghanistan and bringing the Northern Alliance warlords back into power along with a puppet government in Kabul.

More than 200,000 lives and $2 trillion later, the U.S. is leaving the same basic dynamic largely in place. Most wars are a farce. But if ever there was a textbook case to be made about the futility of war, the 20 years of U.S. militarism in Afghanistan offers a shining example.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in an opinion piece on repeated the same list of tired and empty achievements that other defenders of the war have made: "the establishment of a democratic government, expanded rights for women, improved education, and successful operations to decimate core Al Qaeda and bring Osama Bin Laden to justice." But then he went on to cite all the ways in which these seeming successes have unraveled and that the only way to prevent the Taliban from fomenting future violence is to "continue counter terrorism operations."

The narrow spectrum of actions that American elites have offered on Afghanistan ranges from Biden's idea to withdraw forces (while pretending everything is happy), to an unending military presence as per Panetta. In other words, Afghans were never meant to have their happy ending. War and militarism do not offer such a solution. One cannot bomb a nation into democracy, women's rights, and peace. Those things are built internally by civil-society-led institutions and networks free from violence, and that are engaged, supported, funded, and nurtured. Over 20 years, the U.S. cared little for such things.

To its credit, the Congressional Progressive Caucus demanded from Biden that in addition to withdrawing troops, "The U.S. must support peace and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan." In their statement, lawmakers said, "we encourage the Biden administration to quickly put in place a multilateral diplomatic strategy for an inclusive, intra-Afghan process to bring about a sustainable peace." But there appears to be little appetite for such solutions within the Biden administration. And Americans remain largely blissfully ambivalent either way.

If only Biden, Panetta, and others had the courage to admit that the war in Afghanistan was ultimately an exercise in American imperialist hubris. It was an expensive and deadly smackdown of a poor nation that dared to host a terrorist faction that attacked the U.S., a costly message to the world that an attack on the U.S. will not go unpunished. That is all it was designed to do, and when histories of the war are written, one can only hope that this stark fact is made crystal clear.

Most ordinary Afghans understand this even if Americans don't. "We have to solve our problem. We have to secure our country and once again build our country with our own hands," said Gen. Mir Asadullah Kohistani, the new commander of Bagram Airfield. Sayed Naqibullah, the shopkeeper interviewed by Reuters, echoed this claim, saying, "In a way, we're happy they've gone… We're Afghans and we'll find our way."

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Justice Alito's voting rights ruling is plunging the Supreme Court back to the segregation era

In recent decades, voting rights progress has consisted of expanding access to a ballot and the ways to cast it—such as online registration, voting from home with mailed-out ballots and other options to vote before Election Day. Those innovations have been widely embraced, especially during the 2020 election in response to health concerns during a pandemic. In the general election, 56 million people voted in a different manner than they had in 2016.

But the Supreme Court's latest major decision on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has imposed new standards that election law scholars say are hostile to the more expansive and convenient voting options that have surfaced in recent years. Even more troubling, the court's conservative majority has done so in a way that is reminiscent of the arguments put forth by last century's opponents of equal voting opportunities for racial minorities.

In Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the court eviscerated the strongest remaining section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), Section 2, which held that election laws and voting rules that had a racially discriminatory impact could be blocked. (In 2013, the court, in Shelby v. Holder, neutered the VRA's sections that allowed federal authorities to block regressive new election laws or voting rules in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination.) Perhaps most alarmingly in Brnovich, Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion resurrected a legal strategy embraced by the opponents of last century's major civil rights reforms.

Brnovich held that some discriminatory impacts of an election law do not alone invalidate that law. That standard, put forth in "guideposts" laid out by Alito, means that suits challenging laws and rules that make voting harder must go beyond showing a discriminatory result. Those challenging a law must prove that its authors intended to discriminate—making it much harder to sue and win. Shifting the burden of proof from the result or effect of a law to its authors' intent was a tactic of 1970s anti-civil rights litigants.

But Brnovich went even further by also reviving the states' rights strategy cited by mid-20th-century segregationists. It held that state legislatures could cite an interest in policing voter fraud—which, factually, barely exists—as a pretext to pass stricter new election laws. And the ruling said that it didn't matter if a new law advantaged the party that authored the law.

"Effectively, most of the VRA is now dead," David Schultz, a Hamline University scholar specializing in elections and democracy, wrote in an email.

"The proof issue is critical," he continued. "[First, t]he court gives the benefit of the doubt to states that their laws are valid. Second, the court dismisses mere inconveniences as proof of creating less opportunity. It also dismisses small disparities as minor. And it also imposes a difficult burden on statistical evidence. Finally, even if someone can surmount all this, the court seems to dismiss some burdens by saying in the totality of the circumstances the overall voting system may be fine. In effect, despite the fact that voting is a fundamental constitutional right which is supposed to force the state to prove why its restrictions are valid, it shifts the burden to challengers with a near-impossible argument to make."

Other legal scholars have also written that Brnovich's dark implications are sinking in.

"[E]ach time I read Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the angrier I become," Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine election law scholar, wrote on July 8 for Slate. "I'm angry not only about what the court did but also about how much of the public does not realize what a hit American democracy has taken."

Segregationist Revival

In strict terms, Hasen noted that the Brnovich ruling rolls back "the clock on voting rights to 1982," a date cited by Alito's majority opinion. That date is legally and politically significant. In fact, Brnovich cannot be seen as apolitical. As Schultz noted, "What makes this so bad is that the decision does not look neutral, and it makes the court look even more like a political institution where justices are simply partisan politicians with robes."

The early 1980s were the heyday of Ronald Reagan's presidency. At that time, both Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts held senior positions in the Justice Department, where the Reagan administration not only resisted enforcing federal voting rights law but also sought to weaken the same section of the VRA that is the focus of 2021's Brnovich decision. Today, few may recall that candidate Reagan gave a reactionary states' rights speech in August 1980 at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi—near where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. The murders were one of many events that propelled passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Southern states' rights advocates and their conservative descendants have long resisted broad voting rights—today, during Reagan's day, in the 1960s, and in the earlier Jim Crow era. Congress passed other civil rights laws by the late 1960s, such as in housing and employment. After the VRA's passage, its advocates' early focus was registering voters for 1968's presidential election and dealing with the legacy of exclusion. Richard Nixon, who won that election, ran on a states' rights "Southern strategy" that conveyed his support for segregationist values. Once in office, Nixon appointed judges vetted by South Carolina's Republican Senator Strom Thurmond, a white supremacist, in exchange for his endorsement over segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, said Chris Sautter, an election lawyer and American University adjunct professor.

By the mid-1970s, Nixon had resigned. But the impact of his judicial appointments was being seen. In civil rights litigation outside the voting sphere, civil rights opponents and conservative judges chipped away at new civil rights laws by changing the burden of proof required by those suing to enforce those laws. The cudgel concerned altering the burden of proof from showing a law's discriminatory effect to proving discriminatory intent. In short, the prosecutorial burdens that Alito revived in Brnovich didn't come out of thin air but were used by segregationists in his formative years as a young Reagan administration lawyer.

By 1980, the reactionary push to alter the burden of proof in new civil rights laws reached the voting sphere. In City of Mobile v. Bolden, the Supreme Court held that Section 2 challenges required proving discriminatory intent—a ruling that contradicted the law's text. At that time, race-based electioneering was returning to GOP circles. In New Jersey's 1981 elections, the Republican National Committee used Jim Crow-like thuggish tactics to try to intimidate Black and Hispanic voters. The Democratic National Committee sued and won a now expired court order that restrained the RNC. (Election lawyers point to the RNC's tactics as foreshadowing the modern Republican Party's voter suppression playbook.)

Some of that backlash also was due to Jimmy Carter's presidency (1977-1981), Sautter said, which enforced another part of the VRA: its preclearance provisions. These sections required states and counties with histories of discriminatory elections to get federal approval before implementing any new election law or rule. (In 2013, the court, in Shelby v. Holder, a majority opinion written by Roberts, gutted the VRA's preclearance provisions.)

In 1982, the 97th Congress reacted to the Supreme Court's Mobile ruling by restoring Section 2's original burden of proof—those who sued only needed to show that a new law's effect was discriminatory. The VRA's 1982 amendments said that courts should consider the "totality of the circumstances" to protect voting rights. The Reagan administration opposed reviving the law's original standard, an effort led by Roberts, as Hasen noted in his recent Slate piece.

"Congress disagreed with the Supreme Court's [1980] interpretation of Section 2, and in 1982 Congress passed a revised Section 2. This revision came despite fierce opposition from the Reagan administration and the president's point person on the issue, John Roberts, who now happens to be the chief justice of the Supreme Court," Hasen writes. At that time, Alito worked in the solicitor general's office, arguing for the Reagan administration in federal court.

In Brnovich, Alito laid out five "guideposts" for courts to judge Section 2 claims, including the harder burden of proof.

"In truth, these are less guideposts and more roadblocks looking to stop plaintiffs at every turn when they assert their Section 2 claims," Hasen writes. "One of the guideposts specifically tells courts to compare the voting restrictions being challenged in a Section 2 case to the burdens of voting as they existed in 1982."

Back to 1982?

What does it mean when a big slice of voting rights law is rolled back to 1982? The first take by scholars like Hasen is that recent voting options—such as allowing early voting on Sundays to accommodate "souls to the polls" drives led by clergy—have little basis for federal protection.

"[I]magine a state passes a law barring early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, because white Republican legislators know that reliably Democratic Black voters often run 'souls to the polls' events to take church-going voters straight to vote after services," he writes. "While a challenge to such a rollback under Section 2 had a good chance of going forward before, how could it survive the 1982 benchmark now, when Sunday voting, and early voting as a whole, was rare?"

Consider the Texas legislature's current machinations to ban the expanded voting options that Harris County—home to Houston—implemented in 2020 to make voting more accessible in the pandemic, such as 24-hour voting centers and mailing out absentee ballot applications. These GOP-led reforms are unfolding despite the statewide victories in fall 2020 elections by Texas Republicans.

"States are [now] mostly free to do what they want with voting and there appears to be little federal remedies or help to protect voting rights," said Schultz. "More than a decade ago, I said we were in the middle of a Second Great Disenfranchisement in America (the first was after the Civil War Reconstruction ended). This decision [Brnovich] is confirmation that the Second Great Disenfranchisement is in full swing, and we can expect more restrictions on voting rights in the years to come."

Brnovich's reach may be even bigger. The way that Americans vote today is completely different from 1982. What is called convenience voting—such as decades of mailing out ballots to every voter in some states, and the options to vote from home or in person before Election Day—did not exist in 1982. Neither did the voting technology and related election rules in wide use today.

"The expansion of voting rights since the 1980s has repeatedly been met with conservative resistance, first in the form of Republican Party initiated so-called ballot security programs and eventually with extreme voter suppression laws," said Sautter. "But the strategy to eviscerate voting rights with an ultra-conservative controlled judiciary goes back to Nixon and the presidential election of 1968. Until the makeup of the Supreme Court changes, progressives will have a difficult time winning these battles."

In the meantime, the best progressives might hope for is passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which restores and fortifies the VRA, which Sautter said would "seriously undermine the rationale of Alito's opinion." That scenario hinges on all Senate Democrats voting to create a voting-right exception to the filibuster rule.

On July 13, President Biden gave a passionate speech where he decried the Brnovich ruling and called Republican efforts to subvert voting rights and election results "21st-century Jim Crow." Biden called on Congress to pass sweeping federal voting rights legislation, including the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, but he did not mention the Senate filibuster.

"Just weeks ago, the Supreme Court yet again weakened the Voting Rights Act and upheld what Justice Kagan called, quote, 'a significant race-based disparity in voting opportunities,'" Biden said. "The court's decision, as harmful as it is, does not limit the Congress' ability to repair the damage done. That's the important point. It puts the burden back on Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act to its intended strength."

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The actual reason why Republicans and their media are discouraging people from getting vaccinated

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a CNN Medical Analyst, said last week, "A surprising amount of death will occur soon..." But why, when the deadly Delta variant is sweeping the world, are Republicans and their media warning people not to get vaccinated?

There's always a reason. People don't do things — particularly things involving a lot of effort and a need for consistency — without a reason. It just doesn't happen. No matter how bizarre, twisted or dysfunctional the reason may be, there's always a reason.

Dr. Anthony Fauci told Jake Tapper on CNN last Sunday, "I don't have a really good reason why this [unwillingness to get vaccinated] is happening."

But even if he can't think of a reason why Republicans would trash talk vaccination and people would believe them, it's definitely there.

Which is why it's important to ask a couple of simple questions that all point to the actual reason why Republicans and their media are discouraging people from getting vaccinated:

1. Why did Trump get vaccinated in secret after Joe Biden won the election and his January 6th coup attempt failed?

2. Why are Fox "News" personalities discouraging people from getting vaccinated while refusing to say if they and the people they work with have been protected by vaccination?

3. Why was one of the biggest applause lines at CPAC: "They were hoping — the government was hoping — that they could sort of sucker 90% of the population into getting vaccinated and it isn't happening!"

4. Why are Republican legislators in states around the country pushing laws that would "ban" private businesses from asking to see proof of vaccination status (they call it "banning vaccine passports")?

5. Why, when President Biden suggested sending volunteers door-to-door into low-vaccination communities to let people know how and where they could get vaccinated, did rightwing media go nuts about "government thugs" coming to your door to "force" vaccines on you?

6. Why are about half of all the Republicans in Congress refusing to say if they've gotten a vaccine or not? For that matter, why do the CPAC speakers who are trashing vaccines refuse to say if they're vaccinated or not?

7. Why would a Newsmax host trash-talk vaccines saying, "I feel like a vaccination in a weird way is just generally kind of going against nature"?

8. Why did Republican Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota downplay the dangers of Covid last week by bragging that she never shut her state down (and Ron DeSantis did) when SD has 230 Covid deaths per 100,000 people while similar low-population states like Vermont and Oregon are at 41 and 66 deaths per 100,000 respectively?

I hope I'm proven wrong on this, but the only possible explanation I can see for all this activity that seems so well-coordinated and largely consistent is that they all think there's something in it for them. And what might that be?

Political power. And, of course, the eventual wealth that often comes with political power, particularly corrupt power. Retired Republicans make a lot of money.

Put simply, I believe these Republicans are trying to promote outbreaks of Covid in America to soften or damage Joe Biden's red-hot economy on the assumption that if the economy tanks then people will vote out Democrats and vote in Republicans in 2022 and 2024.

As Pat Buchanan wrote today: "Are the Democrats headed for their Little Bighorn, with President Joe Biden as Col. Custer? The wish, you suggest, is father to the thought."

They're not just willing to let tens or hundreds of thousands of Americans die just to win the next two elections, they're actively encouraging that outcome.

Death is their electoral strategy.

Is there any other possible explanation?

They're not stupid (although they're banking on their audience being, at least, poorly informed) and most have college degrees (and Lauren Boebert finally got her GED). Even if a few of them fell down the Facebook or YouTube rabbit hole into anti-vaxxer territories, they still have no shortage of actual medical experts and staffers who know how to use Google available to them.

It's remotely possible they just hate and want to damage the US, and a few who are pushing vaccine "hesitancy" like Ron Johnson and John Kennedy recently celebrated the 4th of July in Moscow, but it's unlikely that they'd take the chance of coordinating with a foreign power to kill Americans (even if much of the foreign troll activity on social media is also trashing vaccines to American social media users).

A bizarre faux masculinity could be behind it, the way Trump tried to promote the idea that only wimps wear masks, but, seriously, do you really think these folks are taking fashion/appearance tips from an obese geriatric guy with a huge comb-over who wears absurd amounts of makeup, contacts, men's diapers and false teeth? And what's "masculine" about slowly dying by drowning in your own snot? Or becoming unable to get an erection, as happens to a significant number of men who get Covid?

It's certainly not fear of, or concern about, the vaccine itself; whether they'll admit it or not, virtually all of these Republicans and media stars telling people to be afraid of getting a shot have been secretly vaccinated themselves, just like Trump and his family were in January. As CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, said, "Over 100 members of Congress, all of them GOP members, refuse to tell their constituents whether they have been vaccinated. They've all been vaccinated, every single one of those characters have been vaccinated."

This also has nothing to do with "conservative" ideology. Vaccination has been a part of the American landscape since George Washington ordered his troops inoculated against smallpox during the Revolutionary war, and Republican President Dwight Eisenhower (and his VP, Richard Nixon) had schoolchildren across the nation get the polio vaccine in the 1950s (I was one of them who lined up in school to get it and remember it well).

As California governor, Ronald Reagan oversaw a public school system that required vaccination for admission and conservatives like Bill Kristol and George W. Bush are proudly vaccinated against Covid. Mitch McConnell, who had polio as a child, said, "As a victim of polio myself, I'm a big fan of vaccinations, and if I were a parent who had a child … being subject to getting any particular disease, I would come down on the side of vaccinations." This is not about fearing or not understanding vaccines.

They're certainly not being paid by "big Pharma" to trash vaccines, and you can bet your last dollar that the billionaires who pay for big Republican events are not only themselves vaccinated but have made sure the entire staff of their multiple mansions, from the cooks to the pool boys to the masseuses and the live-in chefs are all vaccinated.

So, what's left?

Politics, and the power and money that derive from it.

The reason why Donald Trump spent much of 2020 desperately encouraging people to keep shopping and working was because he knew that when an economy collapses in the 18 months before an election, the party in power always loses.

In his desperation to get the economy back in shape, Trump even issued an executive order forcing mostly Black and Hispanic meat-packing and slaughterhouse employees back to work under threat of imprisonment.

But, sure enough, the economy tanked anyway and Democrats now control the White House, Senate and House of Representatives.

Thus, it appears that today's entire GOP strategy of encouraging "vaccine hesitancy" is to try to replicate that dynamic, to tank the economy, only this time in a way that works in favor of Republicans.

Encouraging Americans to die so they can win elections. That's how low today's GOP has sunk.

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of The Hidden History of American Oligarchy and more than 30 other books in print. He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute and his writings are archived at article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The critical race theory panic is a new weapon in the right-wing war on public education

"No one deserves the school I went to," says Celia Gottlieb.

Gottlieb is currently enrolled in Middlebury College and working as an intern with New York University's Metro Center, but she is talking about the high school she attended in Highland, New York, a small community in the Lower Hudson River Valley region of the Empire State.

The Highland Central School District would raise few concerns to the casual observer. Its state data report card says the district graduates 89 percent of its students, above the national rate of 86 percent, with a college, career, and civic readiness level of four, the state's highest rating. But Gottlieb's negative recollections about her high school years have more to do with what went on inside the building.

"There was not a single day that I didn't hear a student openly use the n-word," she told me in a phone call. "Confederate flags were common. Students had Confederate flags on their cars and on their clothes. One kid wore a shirt with a Confederate flag on it nearly every day and was never told to take it off, even though a student who wore a shirt with an LGBTQ message on it was told to take it off."

Gottlieb, who identifies as white and Jewish, describes learning a "whitewashed curriculum" in which the only history taught was American and European. She says there were few references in lessons to the legacies of colonialism, even though the influence of the Dutch settlers who founded the town was ubiquitous in the names of the local streets and buildings.

The Reconstruction period following the Civil War—when formerly enslaved Black people enjoyed a degree of prosperity before the backlash of Jim Crow—received only a brief overview, says Gottlieb. There was nothing taught about Black, Native American, or Latinx culture, she recalls. History courses were taught mostly by white male teachers who were often athletic coaches, who wanted to "talk about what was important to them, not what was important to the students," explains Gottlieb.

The school district is majority white, 70 percent in 2019-2020, but is slowly diversifying—the population of white students was higher, 80 percent, 10 years ago. And there's evidence the nonwhite students are not as well served. According to its report card, Highland Central School District has been designated a Target District by the state, meaning it "struggled to prepare certain subgroups (such as students with disabilities or certain racial/ethnic groups) but not all of their students with some or all indicators of success."

Gottlieb didn't need to look at the data to know that what was going on in her school was wrong. But what she didn't anticipate was that her commitment to change the culture of her high school would in time land her smack in the middle of today's culture war over how public schools should address issues of race, inequity, and diversity in institutions that are dedicated to educating all students.

'I Don't Believe Anyone Believes He or She Is a Racist'

Gottlieb was not the only student who found her school's culture oppressive, and she and her like-minded classmates organized an effort to take their concerns to the local school board.

They began by collecting 117 testimonials from students, parents, and teachers reflecting the discriminatory culture in schools. The testimonials are disturbing and revelatory of why students who are not white Christians would have difficulty learning in such a hostile environment.

"One of my former peers throughout elementary, middle, and high school was very dark skinned," one testimonial reads, "and because of that, many white kids in my grade would talk behind his back and make jokes about how dark his skin is. I remember this occurring from elementary all the way to high school. They'd laugh and joke about how 'you couldn't see him in the dark' and compare the color of his skin to insulting things."

A Latinx parent wrote, "My son was repeatedly called a 'wetback'… [and an 'illegal immigrant'] by [students] who considered this joking. It caused him much embarrassment but as much as I encouraged him to speak out he'd say that these things took place in front of teachers and never were… addressed."

"I've had kids show me Holocaust memes because they think they're funny," another reads. "I've had students go through the Holocaust data base and find people with the same last name [as mine] to make jokes at me or about me. I've had people say I've never seen a Jew in real life before and people drop quarters near me to see if I'd pick them up."

Gottlieb and her fellow activists presented these testimonials to the school board, reading for nearly three hours the significant record of racist and discriminatory behaviors allowed in the school and offering their recommendations. Then they continued to attend every board meeting for the next three months until members demonstrated a commitment to change the oppressive culture in the school.

As a result of this advocacy, the district launched a Climate and Culture/Racial Equity Initiative in 2020 that included hiring outside expertise to advise the district.

"Racism is a truly horrible word that spurs thoughts of intentional actions to harm someone because of their color," district superintendent Thomas Bongiovi wrote in announcing the new initiative. "I don't believe anyone believes he or she is a racist, but hearing these personal experience[s] makes it clear that we, as a district, need to dig deeper into the issues of race and equity. We need to do better for our students and families of color."

Drawing the Wrath of a Nationwide Movement

While Gottlieb's work for her high school alma mater represents a genuinely well-meaning effort to improve the culture of the school, and thus the academic outcomes of its nonwhite, non-Christian students, efforts like hers have drawn the wrath of a nationwide movement fomented by right-wing organizations that insists any work related to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in schools is an attempt to promote "divisiveness" in communities and to "indoctrinate" students in ideas, such as critical race theory (CRT), that supposedly discriminate against white students.

"In towns nationwide, well-connected conservative activists, and Fox News, have ramped up the tension in fights over race and equity in schools," reports NBC News. The NBC reporters count "at least 165 local and national groups" that receive support from "conservative think tanks, law firms, and activist parents" to "swarm school board meetings, inundate districts with time-consuming public records requests, and file lawsuits and federal complaints alleging discrimination against white students."

So far, none of these right-wing activist groups has targeted Gottlieb or Highland schools. "There was not much visible opposition," she recalls, to what she was trying to accomplish. But she knows "the haters," as she calls them, are there, even if "they don't appear to be organized—yet."

However, the backlash may indeed be close by, less than an hour's drive, where the Onteora Central School District has been identified for a "Flagged Curriculum" that supposedly teaches "political activism, false facts, critical race theory, etc." on What Are They Learning, a website that "allows you to browse problematic curriculum being assigned across the country, and anonymously upload your own examples from your child's school."

The website is the creation of Luke Rosiak, according to the podcast of the Family Research Council hosted by Tony Perkins, the organization's leader. The Family Research Council "bills itself as 'the leading voice for the family in our nation's halls of power,'" according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, "but its real specialty is defaming LGBTQ people." And Rosiak is "an investigative reporter" for the Daily Caller, "a conservative/Republican news spin organization founded in 2010 by conservative reporter Tucker Carlson and former Dick Cheney aide Neil Patel," according to the Center for Media and Democracy's SourceWatch.

The Onteora district's alleged transgression is that it "pays Morningside Center," a New York City nonprofit that assists schools with racial equity and social-emotional issues, "to train staff to lead 'circles' during class time." Circles, we're warned, "are modeled after Native American religious rituals." Furthermore, the comment on What Are They Learning goes on to say that the district's "teachings have anti-racist, critical theory underpinning."

The Highland Central School District has yet to be flagged on What Are They Learning. Visitors to the site are urged to "be the first" to target districts like this that have yet to be designated for parental concern.

The site also links to Parents Defending Education, which has its own "indoctrination map" to flag schools engaged in diversity, equity, and inclusion work, for "resources." That organization's founder and president is Nicole Neily, who has a lengthy history of being an employee of organizations funded by right-wing philanthropists Charles Koch and his late brother David, according to Maurice Cunningham, a retired professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Structural Racism Is Real

Someone who does know what it's like to engage in the hard work of making schools more welcoming, inclusive, and just, and then be targeted for political smears by right-wing agitators, is Letha Muhammad, the director of the Education Justice Alliance (EJA) based in Raleigh, North Carolina.

"EJA's work is focused on ending the school-to-prison and school-to-deportation pipelines," Muhammad told me in a phone call, referring to the well-established understanding that students of color disproportionately experience excessively harsh school discipline practices and the involvement of law enforcement officers in schools, and these experiences often lead to those students being pushed out of the school and into the criminal justice system, or, in the case of undocumented students, into the immigration system.

EJA, according to its website, encourages local school officials to explore alternatives to school suspensions, to protect immigrant and undocumented students, and to invest more in school support staff—such as school psychologists, mental health therapists, counselors, and nurses—to help attend to the social-emotional needs of students.

Much of EJA's work, Muhammad tells me, happens through empowering students and families to be front-line advocates in the struggle against racial inequity and injustice in schools, since they are the ones being most affected by harsh discipline policies.

Muhammad explains, "We work with young people and families to… share a narrative about the reality of their lives and their needs for support rather than punitive policies."

It was that work of empowering student and family advocates that made EJA a target of Education First Alliance, a North Carolina-based advocacy group that opposes, among other things, "radical teacher training" in "critical race theory."

In a post titled "EXCLUSIVE: Foreign Money Funding Critical Race Theory in North Carolina's Public Schools," Education First Alliance's president Sloan Rachmuth reported EJA had been among a group of government and nonprofit organizations that had been "awarded part of a $1.4M grant from Switzerland-based Oak Foundation to 'combat structural racism within the education system' in North Carolina."

The piece alleges that grant money awarded by a Swiss foundation is essentially "foreign control of North Carolina's school system" and that this foreign agenda is "being carried out by groups like Durham-based Education Justice Alliance [EJA is based in Raleigh] who trains student activists to campaign against ALL school discipline policies and against allowing school resource officers on campus."

Rachmuth finds it all the more concerning that the Oak Foundation is among the many investors in a massive infrastructure development project rolled out by the Chinese government, and she concocts a guilt by association argument to accuse recipients of the grant, which also includes the North Carolina School Board, of "'transforming' the state's school system into a Marxist system."

When I asked Muhammad about what her reactions were to the article when it was brought to her attention, she responded, "Wow, the lies. I had heard of [Education First Alliance] but had not really paid any attention to them and was really taken aback by the manipulation of facts to support a particular narrative."

"What they say about our organization are just lies. We don't have anything to do with spreading communist doctrine. We do train students to be activists for themselves. We don't train them in advocating communism."

To those who oppose the need to address structural racism in the education system, Muhammad wants to assure them that structural racism is real.

"I am a Black woman and mother of three children who have been and are in the public school system. I've seen with my own eyes how structural racism shows up in schools. You can't convince me otherwise. Look at the data and talk to students and parents. There's just no denying this."

Yet denying that reality has become ideal fodder for groups intent on inciting white rage.

What the Fighting Is Really All About

It's not surprising at all that a newly formed and highly organized campaign aimed at public schools follows closely after the reign of former President Trump's Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who revealed that modern-day conservatives don't want to improve public schools as much as they want to undermine and privatize them.

For this reason and others, news stories about these attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion work in public schools are reporting that right-wing radicalism sees a campaign against cultural race theory as a tactic to gain an advantage in a battle with much higher stakes.

NBC reporters place these attacks in an electoral context aimed at "ousting as many school board members" as possible and fomenting the next iteration of grassroots conservative populist revolt "akin to the tea party" movement that radicalized the GOP a decade ago.

Similarly, a report for Time says the conflict is an extension of a decades-long culture war that conservatives believe is "a winning electoral message."

But what DeVos's agenda revealed to the nation was that attacking the institution of public education, and furthering its demise, is an important goal of the radical right in and of itself.

Public schools are, after all, one of the few, if not the only, places where people are brought together in a common space that reveals their differences and engages them in sharing these differences and coming to mutual understandings about them. If that can somehow be framed as something negative—by attacking what schools do to accommodate differences—then the right wing is one step closer to achieving its goal to hasten the demise of public education.

But as long as there are people like Gottlieb and Muhammad, who see in public education the potential to rise above our differences and focus on what unites us, then public schools still have a chance at becoming stronger and more enduring American institutions.

"I'm still patriotic in every way," Gottlieb says, "and there's a potential in our country to create a more just nation, but that requires a more robust public education system."

The Trump Org indictment conceals the bigger story of how the rich don't pay taxes

After many months of anticipation and nearly three years of investigation, the Manhattan district attorney's office has charged the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg with 15 offenses related to tax fraud. According to the lengthy indictment, former President Donald Trump's namesake corporation engaged in a 15-year scheme to "compensate Weisselberg and other Trump Organization executives in a manner that was 'off the books.'" While many are disappointed that Trump himself was not directly indicted, the sweeping charges offer some vindication for those who have watched wealthy elites like Trump hoodwink authorities for decades. Recall his response to his rival Hillary Clinton during a 2016 presidential debate when she accused him of evading taxes: "that makes me smart." But when put into the broader context of how the wealthiest Americans manage to avoid paying taxes without breaking any laws, the Trump Organization charges seem like a minor affair.

A much bigger story than the Trump Organization's alleged tax fraud was a ProPublica story in June of how fabulously wealthy individuals like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Tesla founder Elon Musk, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have paid little to nothing in federal income taxes for years. Reporters obtained confidential tax records for thousands of wealthy Americans from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and concluded that, "the wealthiest can—perfectly legally—pay income taxes that are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions, if not billions, their fortunes grow each year." The heart of the story is that the form of wealth owned by the richest Americans—stocks, real estate, and other assets—is simply not taxed until it is sold.

Based on tax information published by the New York Times last fall, Trump, like Bezos and other billionaires, has paid little to nothing in taxes for years. The scheme that the former president relied on in order to do this was somewhat different. "His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes," explained the New York Times.

The point is that there are so many legal ways for wealthy elites to avoid paying taxes that it's no wonder the Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance took nearly three years to come up with charges that involve a paltry $1.7 million worth of "perks" that ought to have been reported to the IRS as income. The "sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme" that Vance accused Weisselberg of meant that the Trump Organization CFO pocketed less than a million dollars that he should have paid in taxes and reaped a little over $100,000 in tax refunds he should not have received.

The inordinate focus on the tax fraud charges against the Trump Organization obscures a far larger grift that Trump and his party were responsible for—all conducted through the legislative process and considered perfectly legal—the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

A recent investigation by Greenpeace UK's Unearthed showcased just how financially significant that law was for the world's largest corporations such as ExxonMobil. A lobbyist for Exxon named Dan Easley admitted on video that, "the executive branch and regulatory team for Exxon had extraordinary success over the past four years in large part because the [Trump] administration was so predisposed to helping." When asked what Exxon's biggest wins were under Trump, Easley rattled off a series of victories and then added, "tax has to be the biggest one. The reduction of the corporate tax rate was probably worth billions to Exxon." In fact, ExxonMobil's profits reportedly quintupled after the Trump tax cut.

Republican lawmakers also directly benefited from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as did Trump himself. The far more scandalous punchline is that most elites need not resort to risky efforts such as tax fraud when such generous and perfectly legal giveaways are available.

Ordinary Americans are supposed to sit out the debate on tax rates, as complex economic analyses are apparently required in order to fully appreciate the ramifications of raising or lowering taxes. The tax code is so complicated, we are told, that we could not possibly understand the rationale for why rich individuals and corporations deserve to be taxed less. The part we are not told is that the complexity is deliberate.

In spite of the media missing the broader context for stories such as the Trump Organization's tax fraud charges, there is massive public support across the political spectrum for a seemingly radical and yet far simpler idea: enact stiff taxes on wealthy individuals and large corporations. Even CNBC commentator and economist Jim Cramer, who has claimed he is wedded to higher stock prices rather than any political affiliation, admitted when he read ProPublica's story of billionaire tax avoidance that "these revelations make me sick," and that he favored a surtax on the massively wealthy.

While Republicans are honest about their craven allegiance to the profits of the wealthy, Democrats claim to care about fairness and rising inequality. Unsurprisingly, much of the Democratic Party noise on the matter amounts to lip service and empty gestures such as reintroducing a bill to tax millionaires. Even Senator Elizabeth Warren's tax plan aimed at the richest Americans doesn't go far enough and targets only 2-3 percent of amassed wealth.

President Joe Biden earlier this year proposed a series of reforms that would generate $1.5 trillion in federal revenues largely based on higher taxation of the wealthiest Americans but still bowed at the altar of wealth by making a wholly unnecessary pledge to elites that "I think you should be able to become a billionaire or a millionaire… but pay your fair share."

Democrats, who won't even ensure through the legislative process that their own party is able to win future elections through fairer voting rules, are hardly going to be aggressive about legislating higher taxes on the wealthy. As long as they can demonstrate to their voters that they care about higher taxation, actually enacting higher taxes will remain purely theoretical.

At the global level, President Biden recently led an effort at the G-7 to impose a minimum corporate tax rate to undermine offshore tax havens. But the rate that governments settled on was so embarrassingly small—only 15 percent—that a spokesperson for Oxfam complained, "They are setting the bar so low that companies can just step over it." Unsurprisingly, Republicans are opposing even this.

Only Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, two of a handful of self-declared socialists in Congress, have stated a belief radical enough for our times: that billionaires should simply not exist. Yet, this should not be a radical notion. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, one of the world's wealthiest people, admitted that Sanders' remarks were justified when he said, "On some level, no one deserves to have that much money."

Considering that the global pandemic has foisted suffering on so many millions of people worldwide while enriching the already-super-wealthy, the current moment could not be more appropriate for a rethinking of wealth and how it is taxed at both the individual and corporate level. Not only should the world's governments be redirecting needed resources to those suffering the worst economic impacts of the pandemic, but they should also be preparing for the massive public spending that will be required to mitigate the catastrophic impacts of climate change. The obvious source of funding such things is the mountain of money that wealthy elites have been silently amassing. While it may give many Americans a small modicum of satisfaction at seeing the Trump Organization being slapped with minor tax fraud charges, the headline-making story is sadly a distraction from the vast wealth that elites and corporations even wealthier than Trump have legally accumulated.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.


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