Sonali Kolhatkar

Why Republicans are betting the farm on attacking transgender people

The GOP's latest culture war is focused squarely on the nation's transgender community, specifically transgender youth. It isn't a new war, simply a new front in an old war that can be traced back to the famed "bathroom bills" from some years ago that spread across dozens of states. Those bills were introduced in tandem with former President Donald Trump's targeted federal government-led attacks that included the overturning of anti-discrimination statutes protecting trans people and an outright transgender ban in the U.S. military.

Now, in the wake of Trump's humiliating electoral loss, Republicans have accelerated the state-level attacks to a breathtaking level. In just the first three months of 2021, GOP-led state legislatures introduced more billsaimed at transgender people, especially youth, than they did over the entire previous year. There are now more than 80 bills introduced this year alone that, according to Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, "are not addressing any real problem, and they're not being requested by constituents. Rather, this effort is being driven by national far-right organizations attempting to score political points by sowing fear and hate."

I recently spoke with Jules Gill-Peterson, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of the award-winning book Histories of the Transgender Child, in an interview, and she echoed this claim, saying, "A lot of authoritarian political movements are using trans people as their scapegoats." She called the latest wave of anti-trans legislation "an unprecedented assault in terms of just the magnitude of the bills and the severity of what they propose to do in terms of criminalizing basic access to health care and equal access to education."

She explained that "due to perhaps their general political incompetency, a lot of [Trump's attacks on transgender people] didn't really end up making it into practice." However, "on the state level, as is often the case, the GOP is much more successful at pursuing an anti-trans agenda than they ever are at the federal level." Gill-Peterson sees this as a culmination of efforts that can be traced back to North Carolina's 2016 passage of a bill banning transgender people from using facilities of the gender they identify with.

On April 5, North Carolina Republicans continued what they began five years ago, introducing a bill called the "Youth Health Protection Act," which blocks transgender minors from accessing the health care they need upon deciding to transition. Just as the GOP has often couched its attacks on communities under the guise of protecting them (think of anti-abortion legislation presented as "fetal personhood" bills), this bill, like several others in states like Arkansas, purports to protect trans youth.

Republicans also claim they want to protect "fair competition," in the words of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, by banning transgender kids from sports. Lee, along with the governors of Arkansas and Mississippi, signed bills into law this year banning trans youth from playing sports in school. These transphobic bills are based on a theory that transgender kids, especially girls, have an unfair biological advantage over non-transgender girls.

Just as the GOP's stated war on voter fraud is based on an imagined assault on the nation's democracy in order to disguise the real war on voting, the conservative party's stated reason for going after transgender children's access to health care or participation in sports is based on an imagined crisis. Gill-Peterson said, "most of these lawmakers will admit, they've never heard of any issue with transgender participation in sports in their state, and they've never heard of any issue around trans health care in their state, and they don't actually know any trans children."

The GOP's war on voting offers another analog. If the GOP really cared about democracy, they would make voting easier, not harder. Similarly, if the party were truly interested in the safety of girls, it would offer up bills that protect transgender girls in particular, who face very real dangers. Gill-Peterson said, "young trans girls and trans women are extremely vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence because it's not taken seriously." Instead, the bills banning access to health care and sports only fuel greater violence against them. Every year, dozens of trans women are killed, and more transgender people were killed in the U.S. in the first seven months of 2020 than all of the previous year. It's no surprise that the spike in violence has coincided with legislative attempts to dehumanize the community.

Just as with anti-voter and anti-abortion bills, the GOP's tactic of pursuing transphobic legislation involves wasting legislative time and money by passing clearly unconstitutional bills that are invariably legally challenged, remain tied up in the courts for years and ultimately end up at the Supreme Court. Last summer, justices ruled against an attempt to legalize workplace discrimination against transgender employees, and then in the winter, they left in place a public school's accommodation of transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

Whether the GOP wins or loses on this issue in the nation's highest court is almost beside the point because the party's goal is to distract its anxious base from the fact that their leaders do little to nothing about pervasive problems around inequality and depressed wages, a stagnant job market and the ever-rising cost of living.

Moreover, the GOP's anti-trans bills fulfill part of a larger conservative agenda to create evermore exceptions to government-provided services such as health care and education, whittling away at the state's responsibility for resources to be available to all and rights to be respected universally. If hormone treatments, abortions, and medical treatments for immigrants are exceptions to government-provided health care; if public education is for everyone but transgender kids; then those services are weakened in service of libertarian fantasies of how society should function.

How to combat this brutality and inhumanity? Gill-Peterson pointed out, "the folks who are on the same side of this debate as the Republican legislators include a wide swath of extremist groups: white nationalists, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, anti-immigrant groups." To meet this threat will require an equally broad coalition of progressives to stand guard against attacks on transgender people.

The state of South Dakota has been a testing ground for state-level legislation aimed at trans rights. Bill after bill has failed in that state, thanks largely to a coalition that has stood firm at every turn to protest them. Alongside transgender activists are parents, teachers, and doctors as well as national organizations like the ACLU and the National Center for Transgender Equality. Having a president like Joe Biden who has reaffirmed the humanity and dignity of transgender people, rather than targeting them for violence as Trump did, is also a huge help. "We need to see trans rights as integral to a broader agenda for democracy, justice, and public good in this country," said Gill-Peterson.

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 Allproject at the Independent Media Institute.

Biden reportedly aims to be 'bolder and bigger-thinking' than Obama — and health care gives him a big chance

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on people's lives, President Joe Biden has been on a victory tour to promote the American Rescue Plan, a hefty $1.9 trillion spending package that not only sends direct stimulus payments to struggling Americans, but also greatly expands health care options through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). "We're becoming a nation where health care is a right and not for the privileged few," said Biden in his remarks at a hospital on the campus of Ohio State University. Eleven years after the ACA was first passed into law as President Barack Obama's signature health care reform, it has survived relentless Republican attacks in the form of legal challenges and defunding attempts. Preserving and expanding it under Democratic leadership certainly constitutes a win against Republican obstructionism and a refusal to offer better alternatives. But this latest strengthening of the ACA is first and foremost a victory for the health insurance industry.

The American Rescue Plan includes tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to substantially lower premiums for insurance options purchased through the ACA health exchanges. Additionally, it covers 100 percent of the cost of COBRA coverage for those who have been laid off during the pandemic. Even the New York Times characterized it with the headline, "Private Insurance Wins in Democrats' First Try at Expanding Health Coverage."

Dr. Paul Song, co-chair of the Campaign for a Healthy California, and board member of Physicians for a National Health Program, explained to me in an interview that, "that's money that's just going to the private insurance industry." He asked, "why not say to anyone who lost their job during the pandemic and lost their health care coverage, that you would automatically be enrolled in Medicare until you found your new job?" Such a move would cost significantly fewer taxpayer dollars but would have boosted the arguments in favor of a Medicare for All program, which centrist Democrats like Biden have vehemently railed against for years. Ironically, insurance industry loyalists cite high costs as central to their opposition to Medicare for All.

A new poll by Morning Consult and Politico finds that a majority of Americans—55 percent—support Medicare for All. Strangely, the pollsters headlined their results by saying, "Medicare for All Remains Polarizing." Nearly 80 percent of all Democrats support it, and even among Republicans, more than a quarter back the idea of a government-run health plan for all.

As Biden touts the success of the ACA (without mentioning the high cost of supporting it), a growing number of Democratic lawmakers are refusing to fall in line. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) dismissed the health care subsidies in the American Rescue Plan, saying, "I don't think this was the most efficient way to do this," and had instead called for exactly what Song suggested: that unemployed Americans sign on to a Medicare plan rather than their former employer's plan.

Jayapal recently introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2021, which was co-sponsored by more than half the House Democratic Caucus. Her office released a statement explaining that the bill "guarantees health care to everyone as a human right by providing comprehensive benefits including primary care, vision, dental, prescription drugs, mental health, long-term services and supports, reproductive health care, and more with no copays, private insurance premiums, deductibles, or other cost-sharing."

Dr. Song is hopeful, saying there is "more momentum every year" for such a program. Whereas in previous years Democrats like former Congressman Joe Crowley would have railed against Medicare for All, "they've all been voted out by the AOCs, by the Jamaal Bowmans," said Song, referring to the freshmen representatives from New York who in recent years ousted centrist incumbents like Crowley from their party in primary challenges. Now, "for the first time, the entire New York delegation has supported Medicare for All," he said.

The timing for a bold and comprehensive health care plan is ideal. According to Axios, Biden "loves the growing narrative that he's bolder and bigger-thinking than President Obama." Democrats are looking to distinguish themselves from Republicans in willingly spending what it takes to care for a population battered by the pandemic after years of austerity measures that have whittled away safety net programs. Criticism of Medicare for All from a cost perspective will not only be deemed hypocritical, but it will also sound Republican-like in its callous calculation to prioritize private interests ahead of human needs.

According to the advocacy group Public Citizen, the U.S.'s private health insurance-based system put the nation at such a deep disadvantage during the pandemic that according to a new analysis, "millions of Americans have contracted COVID-19 unnecessarily and hundreds of thousands of deaths could have been prevented." This estimate is not based on people dying because they did not have health insurance. On the contrary, the government rightly stepped up to ensure that COVID-19 related treatments for the uninsured would be covered by taxpayers (yet more proof that lawmakers are willing to cover everyone's health care costs if the crisis is dire).

Rather Public Citizen found that our entire health care infrastructure failed because "hospitals focused on profit and revenue were unable to respond to COVID-19 while safety net hospitals faced closure." The patchwork of private health insurance systems and limited public systems left the nation in a confusing mess at a time when streamlined approaches to a deadly pandemic required systematic testing, contact tracing, and now, vaccine distribution. In contrast, as per Public Citizen, "Countries that had more unified systems were better able to roll out testing, track the spread of the disease via a central information hub, and intervene appropriately."

Given the fact that Democrats require either some Republican support or an end to the Senate's filibuster rule in order to pass any major legislation, Jayapal's bill is likely to remain aspirational. However, newly seated Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra may be able to offer another pathway to a government-run health system. Backers of such a system ought to take heart from Becerra's confirmation hearing where the likes of Republican Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) said to him, "Your long-standing support for single-payer, government-run health care seems hostile to our current system from my perspective." Of course, Becerra said what he had to in order to win confirmation and toed the Democratic party line by responding that he would be enacting President Biden's agenda, not his own.

Still, according to Dr. Song, "Secretary Becerra has been very public in saying that he thinks states should be afforded waivers, and now he has the ability to do that." One of the positive aspects of the ACA is that states have the right to apply for federal waivers and that the HHS secretary oversees the granting of such waivers. According to the New York Times, "Because these waivers do not require congressional approval, they could become a crucial policymaking tool for the Biden administration," regardless of which party controls the Senate.

"States like California could set up their own state-based health care system if it at least met the standards determined by the ACA," explained Song. Just like their federal-level centrist Democratic counterparts, California Governor Gavin Newsom (and before him, Jerry Brown) spoke out in favor of Medicare for All while they were candidates only to back off from taking a strong stand on the issue once they had the power to do something about it. Newsom, who is facing a Republican-led recall effort, is now facing a push from his Democratic colleagues in California's legislature to keep his promise on health care.

Regardless of how we arrive at a government-run health care plan, there is growing momentum for it. Scientists worry that the next pandemic is just around the corner. Instead of throwing taxpayer dollars into the pockets of private health insurance industry executives, a government-run plan would not only be more efficient and cheaper but also save lives—which is ultimately what should be the most important consideration.

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.

Biden's new Interior Secretary Deb Haaland strikes fear into the heart of the GOP — here's why

In her farewell address to the House of Representatives, New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland said to her colleagues about her new role as interior secretary, "I have the opportunity to make a real difference for communities everywhere by addressing climate change, protecting voting rights, [and] fighting for racial, environmental, and economic justice." It was a far cry from the oil and gas lobbyists who have long occupied the position she now assumes.

The 60-year-old Haaland is an activist-turned-lawmaker who was among the crop of progressive women of color who won a slew of races in the 2018 midterm races. She became one of the two first Indigenous women ever to win a congressional seat. Now, in a 51-40 Senate vote, Haaland broke barriers once more in winning confirmation as the nation's first Indigenous interior secretary and first Indigenous Cabinet secretary.

I had the chance to speak with Haaland in 2018 before she won her congressional seat representing New Mexico. Six months before she was elected, she told me that "creating a renewable energy revolution in our state and in our country" was a central issue for her as a candidate and that she was working "to get big corporate money out of politics because I don't believe that our elected officials should be working for the lobbyists—they should be working for the people."

It isn't just Haaland's Native American identity that symbolizes progress. What makes her a formidable force is that her racial and ethnic background in combination with politically progressive views is antithetical to power and capital. She is now in a position to direct the federal agency whose central task is to "manage and sustain America's lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources, [honor] our nation's responsibilities to tribal nations, and [advocate] for America's island communities." Not only will a Native American for the first time oversee the government's relationship to Indigenous Americans, but an avowed environmental activist will manage how the nation's natural resources serve the interests of the oil and gas industry—or not. No wonder Republicans are terrified.

The fear was on display during Haaland's confirmation hearings when Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) led the GOP opposition to her nomination, claiming that she had a "very well documented and hostile record toward made-in-America energy, toward natural resource development, toward wildlife management and sportsmen." Daines denounced Haaland's "very far left divisive positions that will fail to represent the West, to be in the mainstream of commonsense and balance." Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, concurred with his colleague, deeming Haaland's views as "radical." The Center for Responsive Politics points out that both Daines and Barrasso have each received more than half a million dollars from the oil and gas industry.

As interior secretary, Haaland is as much of an opposite of her white male predecessors as one can imagine. In 2018, President Donald Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told oil and gas industry representatives seeking to drill on public lands that the federal government should partner with them and "not be in the business of being an adversary." At another conference he told the industry that the U.S. government "should work for you." Zinke then resigned in a cloud of ethics scandals and went on to work as a consultant for the former industry clients he once was tasked with regulating. Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, known as "a walking conflict of interest," then replaced Zinke. As one analyst described it, Bernhardt had "alternated between lobbying gigs and jobs in the Interior Department since 1998."

Both Zinke and Bernhardt represent the epitome of the corrupt "revolving door" between corporate lobbyists and government. In contrast, before she ran for Congress, Haaland visited tribal leaders protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, and led the New Mexico Democratic Party's divestment from Wells Fargo over the bank's funding of that controversial pipeline project.

As interior secretary, Haaland will oversee the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which has been accused of routinely auctioning off federal lands to oil and gas companies and ignoring tribal leadership in drilling projects. Haaland told me that her ancestral homeland of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico remains continuously under threat from the BLM, which favors hydraulic fracturing (fracking) projects on grounds that are considered sacred. Indeed, during his last year as interior secretary, Bernhardt proceeded to lease lands near Chaco Canyon for fracking and mining operations at the same time as tribes were occupied with trying to survive the coronavirus pandemic. Brian Sybert, executive director of Conservation Lands Foundation, complained that "[o]nce again, Secretary Bernhardt is putting profits ahead of the people, and is failing to recognize the impact of the pandemic on tribal communities who hold Chaco Culture National Historical Park sacred."

Now, for the first time in this nation's history, an Indigenous person not beholden to corporate interests will wield decision-making power over oil and gas projects on federal lands. While Biden's choice of Haaland to lead the Interior Department is indeed commendable and forward-thinking, the dangers of shaping policy through departmental discretion alone is that future administrations can easily reverse progressive trends. In order to truly cement a climate-justice-centered approach to the management of natural resources, Congress and the president need to lead through legislation. The environmental organization Food and Water Watch hailed Haaland's confirmation as the first step in a fracking ban. But, as the group rightly asserts, "Now the White House must follow through on a ban on fracking on public lands."

As soon as he took office, the president signed an executive order suspending oil and gas drilling on public lands for two months. But the move is symbolic and falls far short of an actual ban. Sensitive to relentless Republican accusations of wanting to ban the extractive industry, Biden took pains to reiterate as he signed the executive order, "Let me be clear, and I know this always comes up: We're not going to ban fracking."

During Haaland's confirmation hearings, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) was correct in seeing the battle over her nomination as a "proxy fight about the future of fossil fuels." Indigenous Americans have led the fight for climate justice for years, successfully linking responsible stewardship of our land and water with the need to switch to renewable energy sources. Haaland's identity and politics taken together are a threat to the oil and gas industry, its lobbyists like Zinke and Bernhardt, and its political champions like Daines and Barrasso. But in order to move past symbolism and avoid turning her identity into a tokenistic stunt, the Democratic Party leadership must itself embrace and embody Haaland's environmentalism.

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.

New study in one of the 'most miserable' US cities shows the amazing effects of a guaranteed income

An ongoing study conducted in Stockton, California, examines how the lives of low-income Americans can improve if they are simply given money—a modest, but reliable source of income with no strings attached. The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) randomly chose 125 participants from poverty-stricken residential areas and gave them $500 per month to simply use for whatever they wanted over the last two years. A majority of the participants were women (69 percent) and people of color (53 percent). Preliminary results from the first year are tantalizing for anyone interested in solutions to address rising inequality in the United States, especially as they manifest along racial and gender lines. Within the first year, the study's participants obtained jobs at twice the rate of the control group. At the beginning of the study, 28 percent of the participants had full-time employment, and after the first year, that number rose to 40 percent.

Sukhi Samra, the director of SEED, explained to me in an interview that although Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate now running for mayor of New York City, helped popularize the idea of a universal basic income (UBI), the Stockton study of a "guaranteed basic income" (GBI) is subtly different from Yang's proposal. "Where guaranteed income differs," said Samra, "is that it's usually targeted along income lines," rather than given to everyone. "It's more often touted as a tool for equity, especially racial and gender equity," she added.

Samra said it was important to frame the idea of GBI within the "racial justice and social justice movements of the 1960s when you had Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the National Welfare Rights Organization and the Black Panthers all advocating for a guaranteed income as the simplest and most effective way to abolish poverty." Indeed, Dr. King wrote in his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, that he was "convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective—the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income."

Stockton is a fitting location for an experiment such as this. Known as "America's most diverse city," Stockton was economically devastated by market forces more than a decade ago during the national housing crisis and declared bankruptcy in 2012. Race-based inequality is rampant, with the city's white minority enjoying a median income that is roughly twice that of Black incomes. This microcosm of larger American cities also suffers from ill-health, crime, and over-policing, so much so that it earned another nickname, as one of "America's most miserable cities." Then in 2016, the city elected its first Black mayor, Michael Tubbs, who happened to also be the youngest person ever elected to that office.

The idea for the Stockton demonstration of a guaranteed income was Tubbs' brainchild, and he funded the SEED study with private donations in order to demonstrate that equity can be reached by direct means such as unconditional cash payments to those who need it the most. It is no coincidence that a majority of the Stockton study's participants were women and people of color. This is precisely the demographic that has been left behind by national economic trends.

Samra explained that for those who were able to transition from part-time to full-time work, the cash payments enabled them to do basic things like go to a job interview, "not because they were lazy before but because they were wage workers who just could not afford to lose one shift to go interview for something else, as that meant they would have to cut something from their household budget for that month." Others were able to pay for childcare so they could pursue better job opportunities.

Another critically important outcome of cash payments was a marked improvement in mental health and overall well-being. A 2020 paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that "negative economic shocks cause mental illness, and anti-poverty programs, such as cash transfers, improve mental health." Samra explained that at the beginning of the study, almost all of its participants could be classified as "clinically depressed," but after one year, there was a significant reduction in anxiety and depression compared to levels seen in the control group, so much so that "$500 a month can be as effective as other forms of medication."

The study's preliminary results cover the year just before the coronavirus pandemic was declared. The study's second year will help answer a question that Samra expressed as, "How exactly can a guaranteed income act as a financial vaccine?" Anecdotal evidence from some of the study's participants revealed that the $500-a-month stipend became even more important during the pandemic, as it enabled them to adhere to "shelter-in-place" and other safety measures and stock up on food because they could financially afford it.

Of course, the idea of giving poor people of color money to survive is utterly antithetical to Republican and even some Democratic lawmakers. Since the assault on government welfare launched by President Ronald Reagan and accelerated by Bill Clinton, financial support to the poor has become perversely demonized as a disincentive to work. People of color and women have been particularly demonized and cast as parasites taking advantage of the system. Poverty is seen as a moral failing, and therefore assistance is seen as an immoral reward for such a failing. According to Samra, the Stockton study was criticized on the basis that giving people money would stop them from working. But so far it has proven the opposite: that a guaranteed income can actually help struggling Americans get jobs.

The logic of poverty as a moral failing persists today as various pieces of legislation to counter the economic devastation of the pandemic have included direct aid in the form of one-time checks and monthly unemployment checks. Republican Senator Tom Cotton denounced the latest bill, the American Rescue Plan that just passed under President Joe Biden, by asking, "How will sending stimulus checks to murderers and rapists in prison help solve the pandemic?" Conflating poor Americans with "murderers and rapists" is a common conservative dog-whistle tactic.

Financial help aimed at poor people of color has never been popular with richer, whiter Americans, and in November 2020, Stockton Mayor Tubbs was defeated in his reelection bid. His opponent, a Republican named Kevin Lincoln, denounced Tubbs' gun violence intervention program as "cash for criminals," and claimed that, "All this funding that the mayor has brought in, it's been brought in to serve him." One analysis of his defeat also pointed out that, "some residents of the city's wealthier North side feel that they're being ignored." Tubbs was also the target of a vicious right-wing social media operation in the form of a popular blog that relied on racist tropes, lies, exaggeration and fake news to topple the young progressive leader.

A critical lesson from the Stockton experiment that wasn't cited among the official results of the study is that while a guaranteed income can actually work to address the ills it sets out to fix, American politics remains mired in conservative racist notions of who deserves help. And therein lies the problem at the heart of our inequality crisis. Despite the Stockton study's positive results, the political loss of its architect, Mayor Tubbs, reaffirmed the city as a symbolic microcosm of the broader American landscape and the ongoing challenges to addressing race and gender-based poverty.

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 vaccine Hunger Games: How companies are holding humanity hostage for profit

At a recent virtual gathering of parents and faculty at my children's school, one parent who is a teacher and therefore eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine mentioned that she got her first Pfizer shot at a local pharmacy, and when she asked about a leftover dose that could be given to her husband rather than thrown away, her husband got lucky. The rest of us parents eagerly took down the drug store's information and called about leftover doses after the meeting. Better for the vaccines to be dispensed than thrown into the trash, was our logic. But the pharmacist, perhaps tired of being hounded about extra doses, informed us they would no longer give them out to those who weren't currently eligible.

It's the vaccine Hunger Games. Or, as the creator of the Minneapolis Vaccine Hunter Facebook group told the New York Times, "It's like buying Bruce Springsteen tickets."

In the private Los Angeles Vaccine Hunter Facebook group in which I lurked for a few days, both as a bona fide member and as a journalist, I observed Southern Californians sharing tips about how to obtain leftover doses at Kedren Community Health Center in South Los Angeles, a private clinic serving a vulnerable community. Vaccine hunters reminded one another to be polite and considerate to the community they obviously did not hail from, and some even said they made a donation after getting their shots. Obtaining leftover doses requires standing in a separate line, sometimes for hours, with no guarantee of getting a vaccine. Many fear being judged.

There is shame and blame all around. There are accusations that those who are privileged are cutting ahead of others. There is disappointment and unfairness. In January, journalists like me were included in an early "tier" of eligibility in California, classified as essential workers under "Communications and IT." As a daily television and radio show host, I am required to come into contact with at least one staff member daily. News reporting cannot stop. And yet by February, the eligibility had disappeared as Los Angeles County reconfigured its eligibility tiers.

In the meantime, my husband, a work-from-home scientist, is classified as an "educator" because he is employed by a university. Although in-person classes will not resume until the fall on many campuses, he and others like him are eligible to get the vaccine now simply because county authorities decided so. As one vaccine hunter asked on Facebook, why are we "letting the government dictate who gets to live or die, and labeling who is essential and who is not essential to society"?

And yet, even for those who are eligible, finding a vaccine has turned into a blood sport. The conservative Wall Street Journal recommends that elderly Americans who may not be tech-savvy should simply "Recruit a College Kid with Tech Skills and Patience," to navigate the "bewildering field of online portals and limited supplies."

So far in California, most of those who need vaccines the most have not received them. According to the Associated Press, "African Americans have received 3% of vaccine doses while they make up 6% of the state. Latinos, who make up 39% of the state, have received 17% of doses." Meanwhile, Republican-led states like Texas and Mississippi are ending all quarantine and safety requirements, well before vaccination rates are at safe levels.

Given the extreme difficulty in obtaining a vaccine, authoritative exhortations by officials "to get a shot if it's offered to you" and to set aside any guilt about who deserves it and who is cutting in line ignore the real problem: we live in a nation where health care is considered an individual privilege by way of employment, not a right. Health care in the United States is considered an industry where profits are a critical priority over the delivery of care.

At the heart of the desperate stampede to obtain vaccines is one simple dilemma: there aren't enough vaccines against COVID-19 being produced. Variants of the virus are developing faster than nations are able to inoculate their populations, and plummeting infection rates in the U.S. have now leveled off.

Part of the problem is that former President Donald Trump, who quietly got vaccinated recently and wants all the credit for vaccine development, last year turned down the chance to purchase additional Pfizer vaccines beyond the first 100 million doses. After President Joe Biden threatened to invoke the Defense Production Act to force Pfizer and Moderna to produce more vaccines, the companies agreed to sell more doses faster than had been agreed upon.

Also showcasing that governments can indeed force private companies to do what is needed, Biden more recently brokered a deal with the pharmaceutical company Merck to produce extra doses of a new vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson. Merck is being paid handsomely with $268.8 million of taxpayer funds. Biden has also invoked the Defense Production Act to help the company obtain the supplies it needs. Had Trump last year used the might of the U.S. government against these private companies, we might not be fighting to sign up for vaccines today.

Pharmaceutical companies whose vaccines were funded by massive public investments still refuse to share their intellectual property with the world. The Open COVID Pledge, created by a group of academics and scientists to make virus-related technology freely available, has urged corporations to prioritize public health over profit. But notably absent from the pledge's list of signatories are Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, or Merck.

The United States and other nations where these pharmaceutical companies are based could force them to share the life-saving information, especially because doing so keeps all of us safe. Unless nations stop all international travel across borders, hoarding vaccine technology from the rest of the world will not help anyone. The old adage of "no one is safe until everyone is safe" applies especially well to the pandemic.

Journalists with the Associated Press say they found three factories on three continents that could begin manufacturing "hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccines on short notice if only they had the blueprints and technical know-how." Except that such "knowledge belongs to the large pharmaceutical companies who have produced the first three vaccines."

Instead of blaming and shaming one another over the frustrating lack of vaccine availability and the individual race to obtain it, Americans ought to turn their gaze to the companies that are manufacturing the products. Pfizer and Moderna have earned near-mythical status for the life-saving vaccines, but it behooves us to remember that these private entities were paid handsomely to do their job and cannot be allowed to hold humanity hostage over their profits.

The U.S. took down its dangerous white supremacist leader — but that's no substitute for revolutionary change

There is a scene in the new film "Judas and the Black Messiah," directed by Shaka King and produced by Ryan Coogler, in which Chairman Fred Hampton of the Illinois Black Panther Party explains to a group of Black students that just because their school was allowing them to change its name to "Malcolm X College" did not mean they were now free from oppression. Hampton, who is played by actor Daniel Kaluuya in the film, clarified that there is a "difference between revolution and the candy-coated façade of gradual reform." Hampton, a real-life revolutionary who was murdered by the state in 1969 at just 21 years of age, was ultimately seen as the greater danger to American society than white supremacy and racism.

Indeed "candy-coated" reform is all that most politicians have offered Black communities in America for decades. Evidence of it abounds in the form of damning statistical measures showing racial discrimination against Black Americans in health (including from the novel coronavirus), law enforcement, criminal justice, voting rights, education, employment (including during the pandemic), housing, and life expectancy before and especially during the past year.

The starkest symbol of how little the lives of Black people mean to the state are the ongoing reckless killings by police that almost always go unpunished. In one of the more recent and widely covered instances, the brutal police killing of Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York, that took place nearly a year ago as he lay naked, hooded, and handcuffed in the middle of the street, has gone unpunished after a grand jury declined to press charges. Although a medical examiner ruled that he had died from "complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint," and the police initially refused to release the incriminating and deeply disturbing video of his last conscious minutes of life, it seems that there will be no justice for Prude.

Prude, like countless other Black people killed by police—whether they were women like Breonna Taylor, or children like Tamir Rice—are sacrifices to the altar of white supremacy. They are daily reminders of the bottom-rung status that Black people occupy in the American consciousness. Even George Floyd, whose deadly videotaped encounter with Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was so egregious and widely viewed that even Donald Trump, among some of the nation's most vociferous white supremacists, could not immediately deny the injustice that unfolded, is yet to receive justice. Floyd would have likely been alive today had Chauvin only been held accountable for the previous incidents in which he attempted to use fatal force, including at least one in which he placed his knee on the neck of a Black suspect.

Meanwhile, all that is offered up in response to widespread anger over police killings are more examples of "candy-coated" reform. No matter how much money is spent on training police to not be so violent, they routinely kill on average about 1,000 Americans a year, with stunning consistency. Their victims are disproportionately Black.

White supremacists emboldened by Donald Trump's presidency want to ensure that justice will remain ever elusive. In a stunning exchange between Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) and Judge Merrick Garland at a recent hearing for Garland's nomination as attorney general, Kennedy spent more than five minutes attempting to trap the judge over his position on racism. The white Southern conservative senator who voted to acquit Trump of responsibility for the January 6 Capitol riot, who cast doubt on the results of the 2020 election, and who denounced four congresswomen of color ("the Squad") as "whack jobs" tried vainly to test Garland's understanding of the definitions of "systemic racism" and "implicit bias."

Kennedy was clearly hoping he could get the judge to claim that entire agencies in the U.S. government were racist because there might be some evidence of systemic racism in their ranks. The senator—more invested in being protected against accusations of racism than actually not being racist—is a powerful elected official representing a state with the second-largest percentage of its population that is Black in the nation.

The nation's standard for tackling racial discrimination in the United States is so low that the fact that Garland, the man who would be the nation's top cop, was able to clearly explain systemic racism and accept that it does indeed exist has been hailed as a triumph. What went less noticed is Garland's absurd defense of the extraordinarily generous funding that police departments enjoy because Capitol police officers were attacked by white supremacist Trump supporters on January 6. He told senators that he is of the same mind as the current liberal president: "Biden has said he does not support defunding the police, and neither do I." Garland said he believes "in giving resources to police departments to help them reform and gain the trust in their communities." In other words, he understands there is deep racism in American society but is unwilling to take the hard steps to dismantle it.

The main difference between white supremacist supporters of police and liberal reformist supporters of police centers on rhetoric. The former group wants to claim American racism is over while the latter wants credit for admitting it is still a problem. Regardless of who is making decisions—Kennedy, Trump, Garland, or Biden—police are free to keep killing Black people with impunity.

Rather than be distracted by pretty words, following the money offers a much clearer picture of liberal priorities. American cities, including those run by Democrats, spend inordinately large percentages of their budgets on police. The central demand of Black Lives Matter, to "defund the police," has largely gone unmet. It matters little how much lip service politicians, institutions, corporations, and others paid to the notion of equality last year when mass protests rocked the nation over Floyd's killing. If offenders are not held legally accountable and money is not moved to reflect a priority for racial justice, empty words are nothing more than "candy-coated" reform.

"Judas and the Black Messiah" reminds Americans that just a few decades ago, law enforcement officials from the city, county, and federal level collaborated to brutally murder Fred Hampton, a charismatic revolutionary leader of the Black Panther Party. While law enforcement painted the killing as a justifiable response to shots fired at them during a raid of Hampton's apartment, in the end it was determined that only one shot was fired by the Panthers while police unloaded nearly 100 bullets, killing Hampton and one of his colleagues and injuring others. No officer was ever held accountable, but the survivors of the attack were instead charged with attempted murder—as stark an example as one might find of the racism of American justice.

Having just experienced a dramatic change in leadership from an avowed and dangerous white supremacist to a more traditional liberal leader, the nation has understandably breathed a sigh of relief. After four years of openly racist rhetoric, policies and actions, even the diverse demographics of President Biden's Cabinet appointments are enough to inspire excitement for a better future. But we've been here before. Reforming the police is simply not as good as defunding the police. The symbolic hallmarks of reform are no substitute for revolutionary change.

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.

A Republican's damning admission offers a dark preview of the future

As Texas battles a severe snowstorm and mass power outages this winter, Tim Boyd, the now-former Republican mayor of Colorado City, revealed his party's plan for the deadly extreme temperatures linked to climate change. In a lengthy Facebook post that was deleted soon after it went viral, then-Mayor Boyd told his residents that they were entirely on their own as the brutal winter weather caused mayhem and deaths across the Lone Star state.

His honesty was like catching a glimpse of a rare animal in the wild. "Sink or swim[,] it's your choice!" he wrote, without bothering to couch his words in euphemisms. Boyd added, "The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!" For such an exhortation to come from the elected leader of a city—a man literally chosen by his people to ensure that local government works for them—was shocking.

Just as they pay their mayor, Colorado City's residents also pay authorities to provide them with basic necessities like electricity and water. But apparently, Boyd thought an expectation of services was out of line. He conjectured, "If you don't have electricity you step up and come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe." Many Texans have tried to do just that, running their car engine in their garage to warm their homes. So far in Harris County, there have been at least 50 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning and several people have died.

"If you have no water you deal without and think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family," posited Boyd, expecting Texans who were searching for ways to provide their own electricity to also deal with a lack of water as pipes froze in the plummeting temperatures.

Boyd's diatribe veered into familiar Republican territory as he blamed residents for their own plight by saying, "If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your (sic) lazy [it] is [a] direct result of your raising." It is a long-simmering idea among conservatives that Americans who depend on their government are simply lazy.

Generally, white conservatives have reserved the word "lazy" for people of color who are victims of systemic racial discrimination. Indeed, the weather-related blackouts in Texas impacted the residents of minority neighborhoods disproportionately. Boyd and those who share his views would likely assume this must have been a direct result of their laziness.

Hours after writing his screed, Boyd announced his resignation and apologized. But he qualified his apology by saying that he never meant to imply that the helpless elderly were the lazy ones—just everyone else. "I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout," he wrote in a manner that suggested he was "sorry, not sorry."

Most Republicans are not as overt as Boyd in their faith in social Darwinism. Take Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who instead of openly blaming Texans for their own suffering instead decided to blame climate-mitigating policies and renewable energy programs like wind power. Speaking on Fox News, Abbott railed against the "Green New Deal," claiming that a reliance on wind turbines was disastrous because the state's wind-generated power "thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis." For good measure, he added, "It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary."

The conservative Wall Street Journal, which has long been hostile to tackling climate change through renewable energy, repeated this claim in an editorial blaming "stricter emissions regulation" and the loss of coal-powered plants for widespread misery in the snow-blanketed South.

In fact, millions of Texans are going without power because of the Republican emphasis on cheap power over reliable power. Seeing electricity generation as a profit-making enterprise rather than the fulfillment of a public need, GOP policies in Texas have made the state vulnerable to such mass outages. Moreover, plenty of wintry areas successfully run wind turbines when properly prepared to do so. And, Abbott did not see fit to point out that harsh winter temperatures lead to frozen natural gas pipelines—the real culprit in the outages.

Even as a majority of Texans now believe that climate change is really happening, their governor in late January vowed to "protect the oil and gas industry from any type of hostile attack from Washington." Apparently protecting Texans from the ravages of the fossil fuel industry is not in his purview. This is hardly surprising given how much fossil fuel industry contributions have ensured Abbott's loyalty to oil and gas interests.

The conservative mindset can be counted on to prioritize private interests over public ones. In a Republican utopia, the rich are noble and deserving of basic necessities, comforts, and life itself. If they have rigged the system to benefit themselves, it means they are smart, not conniving. In the future that Republicans promise, "Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish (sic)," as per Boyd's post. In other words, our lives are expendable, and if we die, it is because we deserve it and were simply not smart enough to survive.

This was utterly predictable. Republicans have used this same approach on health care—think of all the Republican governors who backed lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act and opted their states out of the federal government's Medicaid program even though a majority of Americans support Obamacare. Even more Americans support the government nationalizing health care, but Republicans warn that if the program is expanded from Medicare for those over 65 to all Americans, it will suddenly become "socialism" and thus "evil." Their solution for health care is the status quo of a deregulated "Wild West" private insurance market.

Republicans have offered a similar approach to the coronavirus pandemic where any public safety standards set by the government are anathema to "personal freedoms," even though a majority of Americans support such precautions. It is also how Republicans have approached poverty and rising inequality: by opposing a federal government increase to the minimum wage even though most Americans want a floor of $15 an hour.

Interestingly, Republicans believe strongly in the idea of "big government" when it comes to regulating their pet social issues such as harsh anti-immigrant measures and attacks on abortion. (Meanwhile, most Americans support a pathway to legalization for the undocumented and a majority supports reproductive choice.)

As Americans are subject to the brutal impacts of inevitable climate change, we face a clear choice: strong government intervention to save our lives, or a "survival of the fittest" dystopia that contemporary conservatism promises. The Texas debacle is a preview of what is to come if the free-marketeers have their way while the climate changes. The nation's conservative party went from insisting that climate change does not exist (it is a "hoax!") to shrugging their shoulders and telling us, as Boyd did, that we're on our own when the consequences hit.

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.

Amazon is fighting hard to stop warehouse workers from unionizing

Thousands of warehouse workers at an Amazon plant in Bessemer, Alabama, are at the center of a potentially game-changing union vote taking place right now. On February 8, the warehouse workers were sent ballots by mail to decide over the next seven weeks if they want to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Just getting to this point was a major victory considering the aggressive union busting by the world's largest retailer and the fact that employees are working during a pandemic. If workers vote affirmatively, they would have the first unionized Amazon workplace in the United States.

Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the RWDSU, described to me in an interview the shocking details of what he calls "the most aggressive anti-union effort I've ever seen," aimed at the 5,800-strong workforce. "They are doing everything they possibly can," he said. The company has been "bombarding people with propaganda throughout the warehouse. There are signs and banners and posters everywhere, even in the bathroom stalls."

According to Appelbaum, the company is also texting its workers throughout the course of the day urging a "no" vote and pulling people into "captive-audience" meetings. Unsurprisingly, Amazon is resorting to the most commonly told lie about unions: that it will cost workers more money to be in a union than not. One poster pasted on the wall of the warehouse claims, "you already know the union would charge you almost $500 a year in dues." But Alabama is a "right-to-work" state where workers cannot be compelled to join a union if they are hired into a union shop, nor can they be required to pay dues.

Complementing its heavy-handed in-person union-busting efforts is a slick website that the company created,, where photos of happy workers giving thumbs-up signs create a veneer of contentment at the company. On its site, Amazon innocently offers its version of "facts" about a union that include scare-mongering reminders of how joining a union would give no guarantee of job security or better wages and benefits—with no mention of how Amazon certainly does not guarantee those things either.

On the company's own list of "Global Human Rights Principles," Amazon states, "We respect freedom of association and our employees' right to join, form, or not to join a labor union or other lawful organization of their own selection, without fear of reprisal, intimidation, or harassment."

But in a page out of Donald Trump and the Republicans' playbook, the company tried to insist that even in the middle of a deadly pandemic, the union vote must be "conducted manually, in-person, making it easy for associates to verify and cast their vote in close proximity to their workplace." The National Labor Relations Board rejected Amazon's appeal for a one-day physical election.

Ballots were mailed out to workers on February 8, and the union and its advocates are shrewdly using the seven-week-long voting period to campaign and encourage workers to vote "yes." But Amazon is also continuing its efforts at countering the RWDSU. Organizers in Bessemer had taken to engaging the workers while they stopped at a red light upon leaving the Amazon warehouse. But the company, according to Appelbaum, "had the city change the traffic light so our organizers wouldn't be able to speak to them." (A statement from Bessemer city denies the claim.)

So aggressive are Amazon's anti-union tactics that 50 members of Congress sent the company a warning letter saying, "We ask that you stop these strong-arm tactics immediately and allow your employees freely to exercise their right to organize a union." Even the company's own investors are so shocked by the tactics that more than 70 of them signed on to a letter urging Amazon to remain "neutral" in the vote.

The path to this union vote was paved by staggeringly high inequality that worsened during the pandemic as workers were stripped of their insultingly low hazard-bonus of $2 an hour while the company reaped massive gains over the past year. CEO and soon-to-be "Executive Chair" of Amazon, Jeff Bezos is the world's second-richest man. He is now worth a mind-boggling $188 billion and saw his wealth increase by $75 billion, over the past year alone—the same time period that about 20,000 of his workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bezos' announcement that he was moving into a new role at the company came on the same day that the Federal Trade Commission announced Amazon had stolen nearly $62 million in tips from drivers working for its "Flex" program. Appelbaum speculated that "what Bezos was trying to do was to create a distraction just like Trump would do," and that "instead of focusing on the $62 million they stole from their drivers, people would talk about the fact that Bezos was getting a new title."

Appelbaum sees the historic union vote in Bessemer as more than just a labor struggle. "Eighty-five percent of the people who work at the facility are African American. We see this being as much a civil rights struggle as a labor struggle," he said. Indeed, conditions at the warehouse are so shocking that they sound like a modern-day, technologically enabled incarnation of slavery. "People were being dehumanized and mistreated by Amazon," said the union president. He explained, "people get their assignments from a robot, they're disciplined by an app on their phone, and they're fired by text message. Every motion they make is being surveilled."

Union advocates are countering Amazon's combative anti-union efforts with their own information war. In addition to organizers talking to the warehouse workers in Bessemer every chance they get, an informational website shares data from various studies about the dangerous working conditions in Amazon facilities. The site reminds workers that unions are able to win contracts where workers can only be fired for "just cause" and not on the whim of managers; that complaints against the company can be filed via formal grievances; and that wages and benefits are negotiated collectively.

As a proud union member of SAG-AFTRA, my colleagues and I at KPFK Pacifica Radio have benefited regularly from such protections even against a small nonprofit public radio station struggling to make ends meet. When faced with a ruthless for-profit corporation that has built its empire on the backs of a nonunionized workforce, Amazon's workers are on the front lines of those who most need the protections a union can provide.

"This election is the most important union election in many, many years because it's not just about this one Amazon facility in Alabama," said Appelbaum. "This election is really about the future of work, what the world is going to look like going forward. Amazon is transforming industry after industry, and they're also transforming the nature of work," he said. Indeed, the level to which Amazon has fought against unionization at just one warehouse in Alabama is an indication of how important it is to the company that its workers remain powerless.

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.

How Joe Biden is proving he won't hesitate to use his power to undo Trump's damage

On day one of his presidency, Joe Biden signed numerous executive orders to undo his predecessor's "deeply inhumane" anti-immigrant policies. These included reversing the "Muslim ban," ensuring non-citizens are counted in the census, pulling back on the harsh deportation priorities of the past four years, and cutting off funds to Donald Trump's most vaunted border wall with Mexico. For many among us who feared that Biden would hesitate to use his presidential power to undo Trump's damage, these actions offer immediate vindication of the idea that there is indeed a difference to the lives of marginalized human beings between having a Democrat versus a Republican in the White House.

Anticipating Biden's executive actions on immigration, the Trump administration created some potentially difficult hurdles to Biden's agenda, via a series of so-called Sanctuary for Americans First Enactment (SAFE) agreements between a handful of states and the Department of Homeland Security, which signed them during Trump's final days in office. These agreements require cooperation between the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies and require a 180-day notice of intent to terminate. It was Trump's parting shot to a nation that uses and abuses immigrant labor, revenue, culture, and other benefits.

But President Biden has not restricted himself to executive actions on immigration. He has sent an outline of a comprehensive immigration bill to Congress for consideration that has as its centerpiece a pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented residents of the nation. It is a bold move but precisely the correct one in a nation reeling from four toxic years of Donald Trump. Given that Trump rode into office on the winds of anti-immigrant hate that he vigorously fanned during his campaign, it is fitting that Biden begins his term by undoing the damage by whatever means he can—legislative and executive action.

With a view to the long-term problems of immigration, Biden's proposed bill includes a mechanism for immigrants registered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to immediately apply for legal residency if they meet certain work or educational criteria. Those enrolled in the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, as well as farmworkers, will also be eligible for the same. Others in the nation without papers as of January 1, 2021, would have a five-year pathway to legal residency if they pay their taxes and pass a background check, and then have the option of pursuing citizenship three years later.

It will not be an easy task to pass such a bill. For decades, congressional failure to tackle immigration reform has stemmed from a toxic recipe that includes one-part Republican intransigence and one-part Democratic spinelessness. Those two forces have worked in tandem to ensure the nation marches ever-rightward. Democrats will need to adopt the combative and aggressive posture that Republicans do when they cut safety net programs or hand more money to billionaires.

As if on cue, Republicans denounced the bill before they had even read it. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called it "blanket amnesty," while Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas denounced it as "total amnesty." Iowa senator and top-ranking Republican Chuck Grassley echoed the same, calling it "mass amnesty," and a "nonstarter." Even Trump's former White House adviser Stephen Miller, the architect of the cruelest anti-immigrant policies of the past four years, and who by all rights ought to disappear from public view in shame, had the audacity to speak out against the bill.

When Republican critics of the Biden immigration plan use the word "amnesty" to refer to an arduous pathway to citizenship, they are already playing hardball. By characterizing the plan in these terms, they are once more playing into nativist sentiments in the American public to stoke mass resentment and imply that those breaking U.S. law will simply be forgiven without consequence. It is the same dangerous impulses that gave rise to Trump.

If anything, the word "amnesty" when used in relation to immigrants ought to be associated most directly with the GOP demigod Ronald Reagan, whose signature on a sweeping immigration bill helped nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants. In order to reconcile the cognitive dissonance on Reagan's mythical status and their racist anti-immigrant hate, conservatives turned to their favorite pastime: claiming the opposite is true. In a 2013 op-ed, Cotton claimed that Reagan considered the bill to be "the biggest mistake of his presidency." More recently, former Arizona state senator and U.S. Senate candidate Kelli Ward echoed the same, saying it was Reagan's "biggest regret." It was not.

A researcher with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative organization, wrote on the far-right website the Daily Caller that the claim of Reagan's regret is built on hearsay and concluded that "Reagan would understand that his law failed to stop illegal immigration, not because we allowed people to stay, but because we refused to allow more to come." He added, "in his farewell address, he said he wanted an America 'open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.' That doesn't sound like regret to me."

Indeed, various times over many years, Republicans have openly backed immigration reform that offered pathways to citizenship. "The reason we have Donald Trump as a nominee today is because we as Republicans have failed on this issue," said former Republican congressman Raúl Labrador, a Tea Party conservative who was one of the "gang of eight," a bipartisan group of lawmakers who came tantalizingly close to pushing through comprehensive immigration reform during President Barack Obama's second term. Even Fox News' virulently nativist host Sean Hannity said nearly a decade ago, "If people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done."

The Trump presidency revealed just what is wrought when anti-immigrant sentiment infuses the ideology of a political party. By any ethical standard, the GOP ought to have been cowed after four years of shamelessly backing a president openly seething with a hatred for nonwhites and who after fanning the flames of racism for years guided his white supremacist mob to attack the Capitol itself. But Republicans have proven over and over again that there is no depth to which they will not fall to declare self-righteous shock at the barest hint of progress if it is under Democratic leadership. Regardless of political brinkmanship, the well-being, safety and security of millions of human beings are at stake, people who are forced to exist in the margins of a society that is content with exploiting them indefinitely.

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.

Republicans knew they were making a deal with the devil — now they're paying for it

When Donald Trump ran for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 2016, many top Republicans shunned him. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) confidently explained how Trump was "not going to change the platform of the Republican Party, the views of the Republican Party… we're much more likely to change him." He even admitted, "it's pretty obvious he doesn't know a lot about the issues." McConnell alluded to Trump's racism in vague terms, saying, "I object to a whole series of things that he's said—vehemently object to them. I think all of that needs to stop… these attacks on various ethnic groups in the country."

But as soon as Trump won the Electoral College and was declared the winner of the 2016 race, McConnell set to work to ensure he could make full use of the newly elected president regardless of Trump's continued spouting off of dangerous lies and hateful claims. The Senate majority leader was happy to see the seating of ultra-conservative Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and most recently Amy Coney Barrett. He went on an unprecedented spree to remake the federal judiciary into one that is dominated by white conservative men, young enough to reshape legal decisions for a generation. He pushed through a massive tax reform bill that disproportionately benefits the wealthy, allowing almost no room for debate over it. He ensured the Senate turned into a "legislative graveyard," refusing to even consider hundreds of bills passed by the House of Representatives, thereby ensuring that most policy changes during the past four years were shaped by the president's executive action.

Three years into Trump's term, McConnell still had not had enough, relishing the power that his position in the Senate gave him to enact his conservative agenda. When the House impeached Trump in late 2019 over a clear case of corruption and abuse of power, McConnell led the 2020 Senate acquittal of Donald Trump. It matters little whether McConnell admits Trump is unfit for office a mere handful of days before the president's term ends. He used Trump for four years, subjecting the nation to a mad, would-be-dictator, unhinged and unrepentant in his relentless abuses. Senator McConnell owes the nation an explanation. Was it worth it?

Although he is the highest-ranking elected official to enable Trump, McConnell is hardly alone among his Republican colleagues to have engaged in a deal with the devil. The transformation of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) from Trump critic to sycophant is even more dramatic.

In 2016 Cruz criticized Trump more than any of his fellow lawmakers, calling Trump "a narcissist at a level I don't think this country's ever seen" and accurately saying Trump is "a pathological liar." He adeptly explained, "he doesn't know the difference between truth and lies… in a pattern that is straight out of a psychology textbook, he accuses everyone of lying." It was a stunning piece of foresight into the next four years of Trumpism. Cruz went further, saying, "Whatever lie he's telling, at that minute he believes it… the man is utterly amoral… Donald is a bully… bullies don't come from strength; they come from weakness."

Similar words were uttered often during the past four years—by Democrats, liberals, progressives, and the tiny handful of Trump's Republican critics. But once Trump held office, like McConnell, Senator Cruz saw fit to make use of the "amoral" president to suit his agenda, transforming himself into one of Trump's most ardent Senate loyalists. Seemingly forgetting his scathing and accurate critiques of Trump, Cruz became a MAGA-cheerleader, saying, "President Trump is doing what he was elected to do: disrupt the status quo… That scares the heck out of those who have controlled Washington for decades, but for millions of Americans, their confusion is great fun to watch." In return for his allegiance, Trump campaigned for Cruz in Texas during a tenuous Senate reelection battle, and Cruz returned the favor by defending him vehemently during Trump's first Senate impeachment trial.

Most recently, Cruz led the push to object to the 2020 election results. He repeatedly echoed Trump's demand to "stop the steal," a slogan that became a rallying cry at the Capitol riot in Washington, D.C., on January 6 that left at least five people dead. Now Cruz faces accusations alongside Trump of fomenting an attempted coup and encouraging the violent rioters. His aides are abandoning him, and the chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security has recommended that he be placed on the FBI's "no-fly" list. Like McConnell, Cruz owes the nation an explanation for his backing of a destructive demagogue who has left the nation and its democratic institutions battered and reeling. Has it all been worth it for the Texas senator?

Over the past two decades, Republicans have developed a well-deserved reputation for fighting by any means necessary in order to advance their agenda. They have abandoned norms, traditions and ethical standards. They have successfully retained power by rigging the rules governing elections and laid the groundwork of baseless assertions of "voter fraud" that Trump then built upon to claim he won the 2020 race. They have led a cultural shift convincing many Americans that popular progressive policies are the dangerous ideas of the "radical left," and spawned media outlets that deliver lies and propaganda to an unsuspecting base of voters.

After the Capitol riot, an unnamed senior Trump official appeared shell-shocked, saying to a reporter, "This is confirmation of so much that everyone has said for years now—things that a lot of us thought were hyperbolic. We'd say, 'Trump's not a fascist,' or 'He's not a wannabe dictator.' Now, it's like, 'Well, what do you even say in response to that now?'"

But this late-breaking realization that many Republicans are expressing publicly or feeling privately is not enough to absolve the dirty deal that they made with Trump to further their agenda. The GOP and Trump deserve one another and have maintained a symbiotic relationship that has devastated the nation. Whether leading GOP figures like McConnell try to distance themselves from Trump at this late-breaking hour, or like Cruz, remain loyal to him until the very end, is irrelevant. The party has lost credibility and is lying in a bed of its own making. They have edged us far too close to the abyss of Hitlerism, and like political parties in other nations that have flirted with or enabled fascism, Republicans need to answer for what they have done.

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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