Sonali Kolhatkar

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.

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.

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.

Making Juneteenth a holiday was the easy part — but will real justice follow?

After the United States Senate and House in quick succession passed a federal bill to make "Juneteenth" a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery, President Joe Biden wasted no time in signing the bill into law. "Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, expressing what has come to be his party's standard performative gesturing toward historic racial injustices by a party that likes to set itself apart from Republicans via lip service to liberal ideals.

To his credit, Schumer added, "But we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution." Ensuring "equal justice" is precisely the step that would carry real meaning and add teeth to the very short, one-page Juneteenth bill. So why is that critical aspect missing from the bill?

There are many historical accounts of how Juneteenth came about, but the most widely accepted one is that enslaved Black people in Texas were the last in the U.S. to know that they had the legal right to be free—two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. The revelation that freedom was at hand came from General Gordon Granger in Galveston on June 19, 1865, and if ever there was a declaration of American independence that carried any moral weight, it is the day that came to be known as Juneteenth—rather than the Fourth of July and the syrupy and blind patriotism that accompanies it.

When a wave of mass protests against racist police brutality swept the United States last summer after George Floyd's killing, corporate America began to acknowledge Juneteenth as an important day, "discovering" what many Black communities had commemorated for years. Then-President Donald Trump also took credit for publicizing it, saying with his usual audacious ignorance, "I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous. It's actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it." Since most white Americans had likely not heard of Juneteenth, in the 45th president's mind, that meant nobody had. Trump made the comments in the context of a controversial political rally that his reelection campaign scheduled for June 19, 2020, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the historical site of some of the nation's bloodiest racial violence.

A year later, Democrats, with their newfound political power, are trying to set themselves apart from Trump and the GOP. Rather than making aggressive efforts to pass a hefty infrastructure bill, a minimum wage increase, or important voting rights reform—all of which would more substantially benefit Black Americans—the party is now expecting credit for recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday that all Americans can mark.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas who sponsored the Juneteenth holiday legislation went as far saying, "what I see here today is racial divide crumbling, being crushed this day under a momentous vote that brings together people who understand the value of freedom." These words are as hollow as the declarations of a "post-racial" era when Barack Obama was elected to the presidency in 2008.

What Democrats are utterly failing to acknowledge is that when enslaved people were declared free, that freedom meant an abrupt end to the horrific injustices wreaked upon generations of Black Americans, but it also meant almost no accountability or justice to compensate for what was done to them, no payment for the centuries of stolen labor, no redress for the violence, terror, family separations, sexual assaults, grinding servitude, and other hard-to-imagine harms.

For Democrats to make a symbolic gesture toward racial justice without the financial redress that could actualize such justice is mere posturing. Melina Abdullah, a leader in the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter and a professor in Pan-African studies at California State University of Los Angeles, made a statement that cuts to the heart of what lawmakers need to hear, saying about Juneteenth, "White folks need to sit this one out. It's not yours. Your acknowledgment should come in the form of #reparations." She added, "And by 'white folks' I mean government, corporations, and the individual white families whose wealth is built on the stolen labor of Black folks." Her sentiments were widely echoed by other Black Americans on social media.

Neither party appears to have the political courage to truly respect the idea of racial justice for Black Americans. Democrats, who take great pride in the symbolism of their history-making half Black, half Indian Vice President Kamala Harris, are also going out of their way to censure and silence Somali American Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota for speaking uncomfortable truths. The liberal party excels in performance over substance and in celebrating Black Americans as long as they help meet diversity quotas but remain subservient to the establishment.

In contrast, Republicans have brushed aside all pretense toward respecting racial equality altogether. The rabidly racist Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) almost objected to the Juneteenth bill, saying, "it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery." (One wonders what the senator would deem acceptable instead.) And in Texas, where the original Juneteenth celebrations began and where the day was declared a state holiday earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill championed by Texas Republicans to bar the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in state schools. It is precisely the academic framework of CRT that has helped to create a broad understanding of why Juneteenth is important, and it is also what can help make the case for why reparations must be central to racial justice.

Republicans and conservatives have fought hard to ensure that injustices arising from slavery remain the past and that there must be no accounting for it in the present day. (These are often the same people who righteously insist on preserving Confederate-era statues for the sake of history.) If only it were true that racial injustices ended when slavery ended. But American society has remained hostile to Black communities through persistent, ongoing, debilitating racial discrimination and injustices even today. There has been no serious federal acknowledgment in the form of accountability and compensation either of historic injustices or present-day discrimination. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are bold enough to embark on a project of reparations, and instead the two major parties remain emotionally invested in the myth of American exceptionalism.

Marking Juneteenth as a federal holiday is only the first step toward financial redress, not the last. The small town of Asheville, North Carolina, last year launched a program targeting Black residents for housing and business opportunities without actually dispensing what matters—money. The city of Evanston, Illinois, earlier this year went a bit further and began issuing $25,000 housing grants to Black residents to compensate for systematic housing discrimination along racial lines. Amherst, Massachusetts, is exploring pathways to reparations, and even states like California are considering steps for financial restitution.

Such efforts indicate that the countless Black academics, leaders, journalists and activists who have painstakingly made the case for reparations for decades might be seeing some vindication. Now if only federal lawmakers like Schumer, Ed Markey (D-MA), and Lee would use their political clout to move beyond performative gestures, we might believe they truly care about righting historical injustices in the service of full equality.

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

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.

What the Tulsa race massacre destroyed

One hundred years after the worst instance of racist mob violence in 20th-century America, the Tulsa Race Massacre is finally getting the attention it is due. The 1921 terrorist attack by an armed white mob against a prosperous Black community is perhaps one of the clearest and most extreme illustrations of how many African Americans were stripped of their wealth for a generation.

In the span of just 24 hours, an army of deputized white men devastated the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, burning down what had been known as "Black Wall Street," and killing hundreds of residents and business owners. There has never been a full accounting of the murder and mayhem unleashed upon the community, and some estimates put the minimum death toll at 300.

While major media outlets are finally covering this dark incident as a symbol of historic white supremacist violence, a critical lesson of the Tulsa Race Massacre is how economic injustice was foisted upon Black America and how wealth was stripped out of the hands of those few Black Americans who found success within a capitalist system.

Professor Karlos K. Hill, department chair and associate professor of African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, is one of the nation's preeminent scholars on the history of racial violence and the author of The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: A Photographic History. He explained to me in an interview that "the Greenwood District [of Tulsa] was perhaps the wealthiest Black community in the country" and a "symbol of what was possible even in Jim Crow America." According to Hill, Greenwood's 11,000 Black residents lived in an area that was home to hundreds of successful businesses and included four millionaires and six near-millionaires—in today's dollars. It was Booker T. Washington who in 1913 famously called Greenwood the "Negro Wall Street."

In a single day, all that was built was destroyed. "The Greenwood District and its affluence drew the ear of whites," said Hill. He argued that the armed white mob and its supporters "saw in Greenwood not just [their own] resentment of Black economic wealth accumulation, but they saw in Greenwood the future." In other words, "the fear was, if Black people could have economic and political equality, then social equality would follow right behind." And that was a threat to the foundations of Jim Crow segregation.

One survivor of the massacre, 107-year-old Viola Fletcher, testified to Congress a few weeks ahead of the 100th anniversary and recalled growing up as a child in Greenwood in "a beautiful home" with "great neighbors and… friends to play with." "I had everything a child could need. I had a bright future ahead of me," she said. A few weeks after Fletcher turned seven, the armed men struck on May 31, 1921. After recounting the "violence of the white mob," and her memories of seeing "Black bodies lying in the street" and "Black businesses being burned," she went on to describe the grinding poverty she was thrown into as a result of the massacre.

Fletcher never made it past the fourth grade in school. The promising future that her family had worked hard to give her was obliterated in the ashes of the Tulsa Race Massacre. "Most of my life I was a domestic worker serving white families. I never made much money. To this day I can barely afford my everyday needs," she told lawmakers during her testimony.

The Tulsa Race Massacre was unusual in its scope, the ferocious speed of its destruction, and the extent of prosperity that was decimated. But it was not unusual in that there were relentless pogroms against Black communities, especially between the years of 1917 and 1923—so much so that one report characterized the period as "a reign of racial terror after World War I, when whites rose up to quash prosperous Black communities."

President Joe Biden's proclamation on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre and his moving speech in Greenwood went much further than any president has ever gone to acknowledge the horrors of Tulsa and to offer a starting point for justice. Short of making a case for reparations, his announcement of "New Actions to Build Black Wealth and Narrow the Racial Wealth Gap" is also a far more progressive nod to systemic race-based economic injustice than we might expect from the White House.

While Hill admits that Biden's "plan is a good start," he maintains, "it's not sufficient." "We need to stay focused on reparations for victims, survivors, and descendants," he said. Indeed, the Tulsa Race Massacre Commission, which was created more than two decades ago by the state of Oklahoma, recommended reparations that "involve compensation at the individual and community levels." In reflecting on what Fletcher's life might have been like had her family's wealth and her community not been burned to the ground, we can only imagine what was lost for her as an individual, and for generations of Black Americans like her as well as her descendants.

Today Black activists, leaders, and advocates are demanding a reckoning of racial violence and the systemic stripping of wealth from Black communities. The Movement for Black Lives, for example, explicitly calls for "economic justice for all and a reconstruction of the economy to ensure Black communities have collective ownership, not merely access." There is a direct link between the U.S.'s macabre history of racialized violence and contemporary forms of systemic racism that are designed to suppress Black success and wealth building. Study after study proves ongoing discrimination against Black Americans in home mortgages, rental housing, employment, wages, and college admissions, so much so that it hurts the economy as a whole.

And yet white conservatives still refuse to accept that the American economic system is designed to benefit them at the expense of people of color and especially Black people. Hill maintained, "We need to think bigger and more aggressively about the ways in which systematic racism has not just reduced Black wealth but made it impossible to build."

The latest front in the right-wing culture war is a bizarre new campaign against the field of "critical race theory" being taught in academic institutions. In fact, in the same year when the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre occurred—when a U.S. president finally gave an unprecedented acknowledgment of the event, and when the history of racist violence in Tulsa has finally begun to gain the prominence it deserves—the state of Oklahoma banned the teaching of critical race theory. Hill roundly denounced the move, saying, "it is so offensive that this state on the 100th anniversary of the race massacre would pass such a bill. It's so maddening, it's so frustrating, it's such a slap in the face." Perhaps because this is precisely the educational framework that can help young Americans analyze the history of racialized economic injustice, today's white conservatives see it as a threat to the maintenance of their racial and economic privilege.

During her testimony about surviving the Tulsa Race Massacre, Fletcher warned, "Our country may forget this history, but I cannot. I will not… and our descendants do not."

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.

Native American communities living on the route of the Line 3 pipeline project rally to stop it

A decades-old pipeline called Line 3, run by the Canadian company Enbridge, is in the midst of a controversial upgrade sparking fierce resistance from Indigenous communities living along the route. Line 3 is being replaced in order to enable the transport of nearly 800,000 barrels of dirty tar sands crude oil per day from Calgary, Canada, to Wisconsin. The majority of the pipeline cuts across northern Minnesota through the heart of lands where the Anishinaabe people have treaty rights to hunt, fish and harvest wild rice and maple syrup.

Line 3 joins a growing list of controversial oil pipeline projects targeted by the burgeoning Indigenous-led climate justice movement. In his last year in office, President Barack Obama responded to the powerful and internationally hailed convergence at Standing Rock in South Dakota by halting work on the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Almost a year earlier, he had canceled the Keystone XL pipeline—which was another major target of climate protesters. Entering office in January 2017, President Donald Trump promptly revived both projects and eventually greenlit the Line 3 pipeline. Once Joe Biden entered the White House in early 2021, he canceled the doomed Keystone Pipeline but has yet to take action on reversing Trump's approval of DAPL or canceling the Line 3 project.

Indigenous leaders, embodying the spirit of Standing Rock five years ago, have been resisting the Line 3 replacement project and are now calling on all Americans, including those who are not Indigenous, to join them for what is being called a "Treaty People Gathering" from June 5 through 8 to demand an end to the project. One of them is Nancy Beaulieu, co-founder of the Resilient Indigenous Sisters Engaging (RISE) Coalition, and the northern Minnesota organizer for Beaulieu explained to me in an interview that, "as Indigenous people, we have the inherent responsibility to protect the waters and all that is sacred. And as settlers—people who signed those treaties with our ancestors—they have an obligation to uphold those treaties." In other words, "everyone has a responsibility to the treaties" signed with tribal nations.

Non-Indigenous Americans have largely forgotten not only that we have treaty obligations, but also that we live in a nation with a bloody history of settler colonialism. Former Republican Senator Rick Santorum demonstrated that ignorance in his tone-deaf comments on CNN—which later got him fired—when he said, "We birthed a nation from nothing. Yes, there were Native Americans, but there isn't much Native American culture in American culture."

Leaders like Beaulieu are determined to fight such erasure by reviving the conversations around treaty obligations and how the fight against pipelines and climate change is central to Indigenous stewardship of the natural world. She sees the June gathering as building on the Standing Rock mobilization and the Keystone pipeline activism, saying it is "the same exact thing but with different tribes."

According to Beaulieu, President Biden could cancel the Line 3 project with "the stroke of a pen," and she is perplexed about why he doesn't just do so. When the president convened a virtual climate summit in April with dozens of world leaders, he pledged to slash the U.S.'s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent in less than a decade. That is an enormously ambitious goal—one that would only be helped by a cancelation of the Line 3 pipeline project.

"Not only should Biden stop Line 3 but he should also step in and stop these corporate giants responsible for the mess they're leaving us in in this beautiful country of ours," said Beaulieu. Instead, she worries that "corporations are just buying their way through lobbying our politicians."

When politicians do stand in their way, companies like Enbridge respond with shocking impunity. Take the case of Michigan where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last year demanded the closure of another decades-old pipeline run by Enbridge called Line 5. That pipeline, first built in 1953, carries more than half a million barrels of crude oil per day under the Great Lakes and has had dozens of leaks over the years, spilling more than a million barrels across its length. Michigan's Great Lakes hold more than a fifth of the entire world's fresh surface water and remain in jeopardy as the aging Line 5 pipeline continues to operate. Rather than comply with Gov. Whitmer's order, Enbridge, backed by the Canadian government, simply refused to shut it down.

Enbridge is taking a similarly defiant position in northern Minnesota with its continuation of the Line 3 replacement project in the face of mass opposition. Shockingly, the company is even going as far as anticipating police responses to protesters by paying into an escrow account to reimburse local Minnesota law enforcement departments for costs related to policing the resistance. In other words, a Canadian fossil fuel corporation is essentially hiring public servants to protect their private financial interests against the public.

Pipelines leak. That fact is as inevitable as greenhouse gas emissions fueling climate change. The United States has the largest number of pipelines, both existing and planned, than any other nation on the planet. According to Greenpeace, Enbridge's pipelines have leaked hundreds of times, spilled millions of gallons of hazardous material, and contaminated water at least 30 times. The original Line 3 project suffered the largest inland oil spill in the nation's history in Minnesota in 1991, and Enbridge's Michigan Line 5 pipeline dumped hundreds of thousands of barrels of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. So, when Indigenous leaders like Beaulieu say their treaty rights to pristine land and water are threatened by Line 3, the facts are on their side.

While the fate of our planet and human life remains precarious in the face of ongoing emissions and a changing climate, fossil fuel companies have been laughing all the way to the bank. According to one analysis, since 1990, when the impact of emissions on the climate was well established, the top four largest oil and gas companies on the planet accumulated nearly $2 trillion in profits. "It's about power," said Beaulieu. "It's about the 1 percent and who's going to be in charge of our government."

However, the climate justice movement is slowly winning. A Dutch court recently ordered Royal Dutch Shell—one of those top four profitable companies—to slash its emissions by 45 percent by the year 2030 in a remarkable and historic case that could inspire similar legal challenges to other oil and gas companies. Another one of the big four—ExxonMobil, which is the U.S.'s most profitable oil corporation—is being challenged internally by an investor shareholder who ousted two board members over the company's climate policies. It was the first time such a thing happened, prompting one analyst to exclaim, "Investors have sent a shot across the bow of Exxon, but its impact will ricochet across the boards of every major fossil fuel company."

Joining such efforts are on-the-ground movements like the one opposing the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. As she prepares for the mass gathering in June, Beaulieu told me, "we are going to peacefully resist this pipeline, and we're calling on all our allies across Turtle Island to come here to northern Minnesota," using the Native American term for North America. "Treaties don't only protect us as Native people. They protect those people that signed the treaties as well," she added.

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.

Why Big Pharma's arguments against patent waivers don’t add up

Days after he publicly opposed the waiving of patents for lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates had a change of heart. He released a statement saying, "No barriers should stand in the way of equitable access to vaccines, including intellectual property, which is why we are supportive of a narrow waiver during the pandemic." His statement came after President Joe Biden, in a surprising move, and in contrast to his European allies, backed a temporary waiver on COVID-19 vaccine patents. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai released a statement saying, "extraordinary circumstances… call for extraordinary measures." Immediately, the big drugmakers' share prices fell, and they shot back in anger with a litany of dire predictions.

Gates had been singing a different tune just a few weeks earlier, expressing opposition to vaccine patent waivers when he said in an interview, "The thing that's holding things back in this case is not intellectual property. There's not like some idle vaccine factory, with regulatory approval, that makes magically safe vaccines."

Gates' initial opposition echoes the pharmaceutical industry's staunch resistance to waiving the intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccine technology. In a letter to the Biden administration, members of an industry group called Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) wrote, "Eliminating those protections would undermine the global response to the pandemic, including ongoing effort to tackle new variants, create confusion that could potentially undermine public confidence in vaccine safety, and create a barrier to information sharing." The signatories added, "Most importantly, eliminating protections would not speed up production."

Walden Bello, co-founder of the advocacy organization Focus on the Global South and an international adjunct professor at SUNY Binghamton, told me in an interview from Manila, Philippines, that "these arguments are really quite spurious." Bello had penned an opinion column in the New York Times saying, "A short-term Trips waiver would allow developing nations to quickly ramp up vaccine production and save lives at an affordable cost."

The demand for vaccine patent waivers originated in October 2020 when the governments of India and South Africa proposed a temporary suspension of the World Trade Organization's 1995 TRIPS agreement. Now, more than 100 nations support the call. TRIPS stands for the "Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights," and for years has been a boon to corporations that have manufactured products with the help of public investment and reaped massive profits through the 20-year monopolies that the agreement grants them.

Bello pointed out that even though the U.S.-based vaccine manufacturer Moderna had said it would not enforce its patent on the COVID-19 vaccine, "if others use its patents and its processes, there's no guarantee. Nobody touches it unless there is an official government waiver. And Moderna knows that, and Pfizer knows that." Bello's characterization is not an exaggeration. The United States has been one of the most ardent enforcers of the TRIPS agreement, bringing aggressive cases on behalf of American manufacturers against other governments.

Indeed, Gates, who sees himself as a self-appointed global health leader, has been an ardent supporter of monopolies on vaccine patents. Still, wealthy elites like him know that it is a morally reprehensible position to overtly back profits over public health, and so they have an alternative to sharing know-how: charity. Developing nations need only wait until wealthy countries and corporate boards are done prioritizing themselves before being able to access vaccines and other lifesaving medication and treatments through donations and diplomatic channels.

In his interview with Sky News, Gates said as much. He expressed patronizingly, "some of the rich countries including the U.S. and the UK, even this summer will get to high vaccination levels and that'll free up so that we're getting vaccines out to the entire world in late 2021 and through 2022." In other words, poorer nations must simply wait for the crumbs of the wealthy to fall off their table in order to be fed.

Pharmaceutical companies have also echoed this sentiment, pretending to care about the well-being of billions of people in the Global South and preferring to distribute finished vaccines through COVAX, a World Health Organization initiative. In their letter to President Biden, PhRMA members wrote, "current estimates are that COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers will supply approximately 10 billion doses by the end of 2021, enough to vaccinate the entire current global vaccine eligible population." Birgitte Markussen, the EU ambassador to the African Union, also said she supports COVAX over a TRIPS waiver. In other words, she and the drugmakers prefer that African nations wait for a handout from wealthier nations rather than be empowered to produce their own lifesaving vaccines. Developing nations know that such offers can easily be revoked or hinged to other conditions.

Western Pharmaceutical companies have also asserted that waiving vaccine patents will strain the supply chain for raw materials. Indeed, in order to mass-produce the new mRNA-based vaccines, raw materials are going to be needed on an unprecedented scale. But if Pfizer and Moderna claim they can produce enough vaccines for the entire world's population, then clearly there are enough ingredients. What the companies want is a monopoly on the materials, the vaccines, and the resultant profits.

Another spurious argument from billionaires like Gates and pharmaceutical companies against waivers is that sharing vaccine technology will "stifle innovation." In this neoliberal capitalist worldview, profit-seeking companies are essentially saying they will not strive for excellence unless there is a very large financial carrot dangled in front of them. Only pure market forces, we are led to believe, can spark the best possible innovation in medical technology. Yet it has been massive public spending to the tune of tens of billions of dollars by the governments of the U.S., the EU, Japan, South Korea, and others that fueled the production of COVID-19 vaccines. Similarly, the new mRNA technology on which Pfizer and Moderna based their vaccines was produced through billions of dollars in public investment.

Bello pointed out that a majority of the money that drug manufacturers spend "is going toward marketing, not innovation, and also to executive pay." He's right. For example, Pfizer spent nearly twice as much on marketing and sales as it did on research and development in 2019. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla was rewarded with a $21 million compensation package in 2020—a jump of 17 percent from the year before. Vaccines are a "cash cow" for companies, said Bello. He maintains, "we need to show the real face of these guys. They are robber barons."

Perhaps the most insulting of all arguments against waivers is the idea that generic vaccines produced in the factories of developing nations could erode public trust in vaccines because of the possibility of counterfeit products or a lowering of quality and standards. "It's a red herring," said Bello. He argued that it is deeply condescending "if you say that… Indian or Brazilian manufacturer[s] who have already been through the licensing processes in their own countries will somehow screw up during the manufacturing" of a vaccine. He pointed out that "this is all speculative and it goes against their record where many of these manufacturers have been producing generics for years which are as good [as] if not better than the original brands."

In 2019, the Serum Institute of India was cited as the world's "largest producer of affordable vaccines," combating diseases like measles, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, H1N1 influenza, polio, and more. To suggest that non-Western vaccine manufacturers would screw up the process of producing COVID-19 vaccines borders on racism.

Furthermore, there have been instances of Western drugmakers making mistakes in manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines, such as the Baltimore-based plant run by Emergent BioSolutions, which has partnered with Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca and which contaminated 15 million vaccine doses because of "human error." Another 62 million doses that were produced at the same plant, were, according to the New York Times, "in jeopardy until it can be determined whether they were also contaminated." Almost 12,000 doses of Moderna vaccine were thought to be compromised while en route to Michigan in January because the shipping company McKesson stored them at the wrong temperature. Ultimately, the government regulatory processes in place in the U.S. ensured that such screw-ups did not impact the public, and there is no reason to suggest the same would not be true in developing nations with a long history of creating and distributing other vaccines.

Bello welcomed President Joe Biden's decision to back a TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, saying he "did the right thing." But the WTO still has to either come to a consensus or, if need be, vote on the TRIPS waiver. The task has become politically easier with the U.S. on board. And even if the waiver comes through, it will only be the first step before developing nations can begin manufacturing generic vaccines.

Bello rightly pointed out, "you're running out of time. You have to start right now. The industry people are just creating all of this nonsense in order to hold on to their cash cows, which are the patents, and the processes of manufacturing." In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk in the Global South as Western nations are reaching stability via mass vaccinations.

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.

The American left needs to use hardball tactics to win worker protections

Among the many reasons behind the recent failure of Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, to form a union was their employer's intimidation tactics about what a union would mean for workers. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in its response to the disappointing vote against unionization released a statement saying, "Amazon interfered with the right of its Bessemer, Alabama employees to vote in a free and fair election." RWDSU Union head Stuart Appelbaum claimed that the retail giant "required all their employees to attend lecture after lecture, filled with mistruths and lies, where workers had to listen to the company demand they oppose the union."

Although the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 protects the right of workers to collectively organize without fear of retaliation from employers, most of Amazon's tactics were technically legal. With a nearly endless source of money to fund its barrage of misinformation and fearmongering, Amazon will likely manage over and over again to convince its workers that unions, not management, are their enemy.

While several unions represent Amazon's European workers, no group of Amazon workers in the United States has thus far managed to win the right to unionize, suggesting that there is something unique about our approach to labor organizing that stands in the way. And, in legal challenges, the U.S. Supreme Court has often sided with corporations over workers. Given the court's current conservative dominance, this is unlikely to change.

Fortunately, there is a solution. The U.S. House of Representatives in early March passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2021, which, among other things, would make it much harder for companies like Amazon to misinform their workers. The PRO Act, which has been introduced several times before, "makes it an unfair labor practice to require or coerce employees to attend employer meetings designed to discourage union membership."

Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and a leader in the Movement for Black Lives, explained to me in an interview that "if the PRO Act was law today, it would mean that some of the union-busting tactics that Amazon is employing around the country would be illegal."

The PRO Act would also upend the so-called "right-to-work" laws in many states around the country, including Alabama, that Mitchell calls "horribly regressive." One might imagine based on the name that such laws ensure workers have the right to employment. If only that were so. Instead, "right-to-work" laws, deliberately named so as to confuse workers, are part of an aggressive GOP-led push over the past decade to undermine the financial power of unions by making it illegal for unions to mandate dues.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which for years has championed "right-to-work" state laws, calls the PRO Act "a litany of almost every failed idea from the past 30 years of labor policy," as if the Chamber was ever concerned about the interests of labor. Warning that if passed it would "undermine worker rights, ensnare employers in unrelated labor disputes, disrupt the economy, and force individual Americans to pay union dues regardless of their wishes," the Chamber pretends to care about workers rather than corporate profits.

In the fantasy world of the organization, there are two forces vying for dominance: earnest corporations versus "Big Labor." Such a narrative invokes an Orwellian vision of benevolent corporations and the Chamber of Commerce stepping in to gallantly defend vulnerable workers from tyrannical unions. In fact, the only time pro-business institutions and conservatives ever appear to care about protecting workers' rights is when workers are on the verge of actually winning more rights.

One basic fact throws cold water on the anti-union claims of "Big Business" and its allies: unionized workers—even though there are fewer of them thanks to anti-union efforts—make significantly more money than non-union workers.

According to Mitchell, the PRO Act is, in a nutshell, about "creating a level playing field for workers to be able to organize their labor." He offered a more accurate depiction of our current economic reality: "Organized capital has captured government, and in many ways captured our lives. This [PRO Act] allows us to use the only thing that could counterbalance organized capital: organized labor."

For years, U.S. labor organizations have thrown unconditional support behind the Democratic Party and had little to show for it as unionization levels have fallen precipitously. It is no coincidence that as unions shrank, wealth and income inequality rose. In backing the PRO Act and doing all it can to pass it into law, the Democratic Party can prove it is truly a friend of organized labor, and by extension, American workers. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the bill "a game changer," and asserted that "[i]f you really want to correct inequality in this country—wages and wealth inequality, opportunity and inequality of power—passing the PRO Act is absolutely essential to doing that."

After all, as Mitchell said, the left has "won the debate over neoliberal capitalist policies," and even President Biden openly admitted as much during his recent address to Congress. "[T]rickle-down economics has never worked and it's time to grow the economy from the bottom and the middle out," said Biden in a surprising pronouncement.

So far, there are hopeful signs as all but one of the House Democrats voted "yes" on the bill (Texas Representative Henry Cuellar voted "no," citing Republican talking points about supporting his state's "right-to-work" law and claiming without evidence that the PRO Act would destroy thousands of jobs).

President Joe Biden, who overtly expressed support for the unionizing efforts among Amazon workers in Alabama, also urged the passage of the PRO Act in his address to Congress. He said in clear terms, "I'm calling on Congress to pass the Protect the Right to Organize Act—the PRO Act—and send it to my desk so we can support the right to unionize."

Mitchell explained to me, "We have a limited window for us to create the type of transformative change that is on the agenda that so many people voted for," referring to the two-year period in which Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress before the 2022 midterms potentially change the equation. With the House passage of the PRO Act and the White House signaling it fully supports the bill, it falls into the purview of one of the most undemocratic branches of government—the U.S. Senate—to pass this critical bill.

So far 45 Senate Democrats and two independents have signaled support for the bill. This number surprisingly includes Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has emerged as an obstacle to other progressive-leaning bills but who was apparently convinced by the PRO Act. Now, only three Senate Democrats remain on the fence: Virginia's Mark Warner and both of Arizona's senators, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema.

A large coalition of labor organizations and progressive activist groups like Mitchell's Working Families Party is waging a fierce campaign to urge those three senators to support the PRO Act. In late April, according to Politico, "Union leaders told the Senate Democrats' campaign arm in a private call Wednesday not to expect them to back lawmakers in upcoming elections unless they coalesce behind" the bill.

This is precisely the type of hardball politics that the American left needs to play in order to push through the relatively modest reforms in the PRO Act so that American workers can enjoy the same standards of their non-American counterparts. With the relentless class war that corporations and wealthy elites have managed to successfully wage against the nation's middle and working classes for decades, there is little left to lose.

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.

Prime Minister Modi's culpability for India's COVID crisis has become startlingly clear

India has become the new global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with daily infections surpassing 300,000 per day and the official death toll—likely a massive underestimate—nearing a quarter of a million people. Hospitals are being overrun with patients, and the crisis is exacerbated by a devastating shortage of oxygen. The Indian judiciary has gone as far as threatening capital punishment for anyone caught trying to divert shipments of oxygen from around the country to affected areas. There have been dozens of deaths documented directly tied to a lack of oxygen.

Only a few months ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was basking in the glow of success at beating the virus and scientific experts were confounded as to why COVID-19 infections and related deaths were falling. India had access to two vaccines, a homegrown one developed by Bharat Biotech, and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that was being mass-produced at Indian facilities. Mask wearing was reportedly nearly universal, and the Wall Street Journal hailed India's "proven pandemic strategy."

So, what happened?

Amandeep Sandhu, a journalist and novelist based in Bangalore, author of Bravado to Fear to Abandonment: Mental Health and the COVID-19 Lockdown, had a one-word explanation for me: "complacency." In an interview, he issued a scathing critique of the Modi government, saying it suffered from "arrogance, policy paralysis, and no efforts to learn from the past year." A government with a religious fundamentalist ideology that has taken aim at minority groups and elevated a form of fascist Hindu supremacy has failed its people spectacularly.

Sandhu cited how Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has retained a majority stranglehold on Indian politics for decades, sponsored massive in-person rallies this spring to shore up votes for state elections. Modi's Twitter feed is replete with videos of his speeches in early April (here, here, and here for example) where he boasted of "euphoric" crowds packed together like sardines with nary a mask in sight cheering him on. The phenomenon was not unlike Donald Trump's political rallies in the United States last year, which were often marked by increased rates of infection in the weeks following.

Modi also encouraged millions of Hindus to attend the Kumbh Mela festival that takes place every 12 years. This largest religious pilgrimage on earth involves masses of devotees submerging themselves in the Ganges River. A whopping 3.5 million people attended this year, even as rates of infection had begun to rise and public health experts warned of the potentially dire consequences.

A year ago, government leaders denounced a far smaller gathering by a Muslim organization called Tablighi Jamaat which was linked to the spread of the virus. A BPJ member of the legislative assembly from the state of Karnataka went as far as encouraging the lynching of Muslims over the gathering and said, "Spreading COVID-19 is also like terrorism, and all those who are spreading the virus are traitors." This year, no such pronouncements were aimed at the Hindu gathering that was many orders of magnitude larger.

Modi has also refused to negotiate with tens of thousands of poor farmers who began a mass occupation on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi last year in protest of new harsh privatization farm laws. While the number of farmers protesting declined during the annual spring harvest as they returned to pick crops on their farms, an estimated 15,000 still remain, and according to Sandhu, many more are ready to return if needed.

"What choice do the farmers have at this point?" asked Sandhu. "The farm laws will kill them in the next few years, and, heaven forbid, if the virus comes, it will kill them quickly. So, death is on both sides. What do they do?" And so, the farmers continue to protest, although, according to Sandhu, their outdoor occupation has not been linked to the spread of COVID-19 yet. Instead, farmers fear that the Modi government will use the pandemic as a tool to force them to end their protests.

Like Trump, Modi has gone out of his way to ensure he receives credit for combating the virus, launching a relief fund last year called PM Cares that has collected massive amounts of donations. And just like Trump, he has been opaque about disseminating and managing the fund. One activist called the PM Cares fund "a blatant scam."

In spite of being the world's largest manufacturer of COVID-19 vaccines, India has exported far more doses to other nations than were deployed internally. Modi has been accused of engaging in "vaccine diplomacy," giving away millions of vaccines to other nations to shore up his international support. Sandhu said that although he didn't hold India's vaccine exports against the Modi government given that the pandemic is a global disaster, what he does object to is how the privatization of Indian health care has kept vaccines out of the reach of the poorest Indians.

According to Sandhu, the "vaccine has been put on the open market with limited provision from the government to inoculate citizens." In other words, poor Indians have to wait far longer to obtain the vaccine compared to wealthier Indians who can walk into a private clinic and purchase a dose. Sandhu asked, "how will India's poor afford the vaccine? If they can't, we as a society, and the world at large, remain vulnerable. The vaccine must be free for all."

Now, as the Indian government flounders under international scrutiny with hundreds of thousands of new infections emerging each day, Modi, who is as prolific on Twitter as Trump had been before he was banished from the platform, appears more concerned about his image than about his country. His administration found time amid the crisis to demand that Twitter remove tweets critical of his handling of the pandemic—and the social media company complied.

It's not just Twitter that is validating Modi. Right-wing supporters of Indian origin in the U.S. routinely donate millions of dollars to float the Modi government's fascist educational programs and nationalist groups. Indeed, some groups like the Houston-based Sewa International are considered the U.S. arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is the parent organization of the BJP. Sewa International, taking advantage of international concern over India's coronavirus crisis, is seeking to raise $10 million for oxygen concentrators and other medical supplies. But, in 2004, the organization was implicated in a scam where it diverted funding from the British public intended for earthquake relief toward the building of ideological Hindu supremacist schools. More recently, the group was caught restricting funding for flood victims in Kerala to Hindus only.

President Joe Biden's administration has also faced criticism for embracing the BJP and its authoritarianism, continuing a trend from the previous administration. Biden appointed Sri Preston Kulkarni, an Indian American with ties to the RSS, to a key position in AmeriCorps. Kulkarni ran a failed campaign for a congressional seat representing Texas with funding help from Ramesh Bhutada, who is now the director of Sewa International.

The Biden administration has been under pressure for months to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, weighing the need for pharmaceutical corporations to reap profits against the lives of millions. Now, with India's devastating crisis, Biden once again considered the option ahead of a World Trade Organization meeting on April 30. But by the time the waived patents are put to use, hundreds of thousands more will have died.

In the meantime, Indians continue dying in numbers so large that the capital New Delhi glows at night from the fires of mass cremations. As the hashtag #ResignModi began trending to new heights, Sandhu summarized succinctly that "the government has failed on all accounts."

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.

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

Almost everything Biden said about ending the Afghanistan War was a lie

President Joe Biden, in announcing an ostensible end to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, is continuing his streak of paying eloquent lip service to progressive causes while maintaining the implied status quo. In a televised address from the White House on April 14, Biden said, "it's time to end America's longest war. It's time for American troops to come home." But just a day later, the New York Times reported without a hint of irony that "the Pentagon, American spy agencies and Western allies are refining plans to deploy a less visible but still potent force in the region." This means we are ending the war, but not really.

U.S. military leaders and generals gave a much more accurate assessment of the war's future in the days following Biden's speech. Former CIA officer and counterterrorism expert Marc Polymeropoulos explained to the Times, "What we are really talking about are how to collect intelligence and then act against terrorist targets without any infrastructure or personnel in the country other than essentially the embassy in Kabul." In other words, the U.S. wants to wage a remotely run war against Afghanistan, as it has done in other nations like Yemen, Syria, and Somalia.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin added his two cents, underscoring the U.S.'s ability to wage war without troops on the ground, saying, "There's probably not a space on the globe that the United States and its allies can't reach." Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. echoed this sentiment in ominous terms on April 20 at a House Armed Services Committee hearing, saying, "if we're going to strike something [in Afghanistan], we're going to strike it in concert with the law of armed conflict and the American way of war."

One may suppose that this "American way of war" is unlike a traditional war where troops occupy a country—a type of war that is generally deeply unpopular with the U.S. public. By publicly promising a withdrawal of troops while quietly continuing airstrikes, Biden ensures that U.S. violence against Afghanistan remains invisible to the American people.

Biden also failed to mention in his speech that there are tens of thousands of private military contractors employed in Afghanistan. According to the Times, "[m]ore than 16,000 civilian contractors, including over 6,000 Americans, now provide security, logistics and other support in Afghanistan." The Times did not see fit to ask how the war can be declared over if mercenaries remain on the ground, nor how Biden can declare the war as ending if airstrikes will continue.

Dr. Hakeem Naim is an Afghan American lecturer in the Department of History at the University of California, Berkeley; he was raised in Afghanistan and has lived in multiple countries as a refugee and immigrant before moving to the U.S. In an interview, he explained what Biden refused to mention: that "the U.S. created chaos by supporting the most corrupt elite groups and created a mafia-system of economy run by the drug lords, warlords and contractors." Worst of all, "the Taliban is back in power," he said, implying that Afghanistan is essentially back where it started in 2001.

Fahima Gaheez, the director of the Afghan Women's Fund, concurred with Naim, saying that "the U.S. made a bigger mess in Afghanistan and lost too many opportunities to help Afghans to fix the problems that the U.S. itself created 40 years ago." She was referring to the CIA arming of Afghan mujahideen warlords against the Soviet Union, which invaded and occupied Afghanistan in the late 1970s.

In other words, our destructive involvement in Afghanistan predates by decades the post-9/11 invasion and occupation that continues to this day. Instead of owning up to the havoc we have wreaked in Afghanistan, Biden wants credit for withdrawing U.S. troops from a war we have been involved in since the 1970s (not 2001), and that will most certainly not end by September 11, 2021.

Today, according to Dr. Naim, "the CIA has thousands of militias operating in Afghanistan, and there are still thousands of contractors whose objective Afghans don't even know." He summarized, "It's going to be very naive and simplistic to think that the war will end." Gaheez, who has traveled to Afghanistan numerous times to oversee humanitarian aid projects, has seen firsthand what the private contractors represent. She said, "they have CIA clearance and weapons, and they can be used as a partial military force." In fact, the private military contractors outnumber U.S. troops by so much that more contractors than soldiers have died. The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog agency, warned that the pullout of contractors could have worse consequences than the withdrawal of troops.

The most disingenuous aspect of Biden's speech was his insistence that the U.S. had a simple goal in Afghanistan and met it. He said, "We went to Afghanistan in 2001 to root out al Qaeda, to prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States planned from Afghanistan," and that "[o]ur objective was clear." But the U.S. did far more than that. It cobbled together a puppet government, foisted its idea of democracy onto a people struggling with U.S.-backed armed warlords and thus ensured that secular democratic movements remained weak. It poured billions into fighting a drug war, only to end up encouraging drug production. It defeated the Taliban only to choose the rebel group as a partner for peace. Along the way, it killed more than 40,000 Afghan civilians—most likely an underestimate.

Today, although there is an Afghan government in power headed by President Ashraf Ghani, it is entirely dependent on the U.S. for legitimacy and remains at the mercy of Taliban-led violence as well as armed fundamentalist warlords that successive American administrations and the government itself have legitimized.

But none of that was important enough for Biden to mention. Instead, the president claimed that in 2001, "The cause was just… And I supported that military action." Then, encompassing the disastrous war into a single simplistic sentence, Biden claimed, "We delivered justice to bin Laden a decade ago, and we've stayed in Afghanistan for a decade since."

With these words, the president offered a tantalizing characterization of the Afghan war: that the U.S. intended to root out terrorism, that the task was achieved, and that we should have left soon after. It is a comforting thought to reimagine the Afghanistan war through such a benevolent lens—as if our only gaffe was that we stayed too long. Biden also made absolutely no mention of the fact that bin Laden was captured and killed in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

Missing from the political dialogue over the war is just how obscenely we have paid to fight this futile 20-year battle that will leave Afghanistan in the hands of a corrupt and ineffectual government and a newly empowered Taliban force and other warlords and militias. According to the Costs of War project run by Brown University, American taxpayers forked over more than $2.2 trillion for a war in Afghanistan that Biden wants us to believe achieved its objective by assassinating bin Laden a decade ago in Pakistan.

At a time when inequality continues to rise in the U.S. and politicians claim there is no money to fund infrastructure projects or a Green New Deal or Medicare for All, the costs of the Afghan war will continue to rise in both economic and human terms. Taxpayers will continue to foot the bill for airstrikes and private contractors with no end in sight. Afghans will continue to suffer and die.

Seen through such a lens, Dr. Naim gave an accurate impression of Biden's speech as simply, "a colonialist and orientalist justification of an intervention."

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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