Sonali Kolhatkar

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.

The government chooses the health of businesses over human lives

Los Angeles, California, is now considered one of the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the nation. LA mayor Eric Garcetti assessed grimly that there is one new infection every six seconds and a death every 10 minutes from the virus. Hospitals are turning away ambulances, and health facilities in LA County are quite literally running out of oxygen. But last spring, as the pandemic was first declared, the city was an early adopter of mandated mask wearing and benefitted from California enacting the first statewide shelter-in-place order that helped curb the worst spread of the virus. So, what happened?

There is a possibility that the deadly surge in cases may be a result of a new, more transmissible strain of the virus circulating in the area. But more likely the spread is the result of the message that authorities are sending of a premature return to normalcy. As social media platforms are filled with angry Angelenos blaming and shaming one another for brazenly vacationing and flouting social distancing guidelines, in truth, the burst of infections is the price that officials are willing to pay for ensuring that corporate profits are protected.

California's latest shelter-in-place order is quite different from its first one. Whereas in March 2020 the state ordered all non-essential businesses to remain closed, in early December, at the peak of the holiday shopping season, all retail stores were allowed to remain open, even as outdoor parks were closed. So outraged were Californians by the obvious double standards that state officials caved and reopened parks—instead of shutting down retail stores.

Predictably, infections at malls soared as shoppers, eager to salvage Christmas, rubbed elbows with one another in their rush to fulfill holiday wishes. After all, authorities had okayed such actions, so they must be safe, right? Rather than enact strict rules to prevent such congregating, some Californians rightfully terrified of the disease simply blamed the shoppers. Even LA County health services director Dr. Christina Ghaly told the Los Angeles Times, "If you're still out there shopping for your loved ones for this holiday season… then you are missing the gravity of the situation that is affecting hospitals across LA County. Though they may seem benign, these actions are extremely high-risk." LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said to Angelenos, "stay home," but has refused to consider shutting down non-essential businesses.

In other words, officials kept retail stores open but then chastised residents for shopping. There are two ways to interpret the muddled messaging. If authorities are allowing all businesses to remain open, surely it must be safe to frequent them. Or, authorities are being driven by financial stakes, not public health, so surely it is not possible to trust them.

Hollywood is another exercise in contradictions. While new films and TV shows were not considered essential last year, production has now resumed. Why? Simply put, "there is too much money at stake," in the words of one TV producer. State and local authorities have the power to stop production in the interest of public health, but rather than exercise that power, they asked companies to volunteer to halt their projects. Now that the virus has spread so far and has caused so much suffering and death, even Hollywood has decided maybe it is not a good idea to continue filming. But is it too late?

American society is ruled by the right of businesses to make money above all else. And while for a few months in 2020 it seemed as though we prioritized public health and well-being by shutting down large swaths of the country and passing the modest CARES Act, that did not last. Lost in the horrifying surge of cases and mounting death toll is the stark fact that authorities have chosen to sacrifice human life at the altar of corporate profits. By their logic, if anyone is to blame, it is the individual American who has brought the disease upon themselves by simply making the wrong choices. It is the American way.

Take John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, an elite grocery chain favored by wealthy and health-conscious Americans. According to Mackey, there is no need for health care services. "The best solution is to change the way people eat, the way they live, the lifestyle, and diet," he said in a recent interview. He added, "There's no reason why people shouldn't be healthy and have a longer health span. A bunch of drugs is not going to solve the problem." Tell that to the seemingly healthy people among us who contract dangerous diseases like cancer and need the kind of chemotherapy drugs that do precisely that—help "solve the problem" of cancer.

Mackey's logic is consistent with that of the new pro-business "shelter-in-place" orders in California, which effectively send the message that if you catch COVID-19, it is your fault, not the fault of the indoor mall that was allowed to remain open.

Businesses do need to continue operating if they want to make money. But large corporations have amassed so much wealth through the Republican Party's tax giveaways that surely those in non-essential industries can survive for a year or two while remaining closed and dip into their assets without threatening their bottom line.

The situation is of course far different for small businesses that operate on razor-thin margins and are easily plunged into bankruptcy with just a few months of forced closures. But surely the world's richest government can pay such businesses to remain closed so that they can reopen safely once the danger is over. European nations have paid workers to stay at home—an obvious solution to curbing the virus.

An NBC News article compared the U.S. response to other nations, making the point that "unlike Western Europe and Canada, the U.S. is asking citizens to face the COVID-19 pandemic without any additional financial cushion from the government." One epidemiologist told the outlet, "I know multiple industries have been lobbying governors to stay open because closing means a huge loss of income to business owners and employees, even if it would be the best thing to do from a public health perspective."

Indeed, California has allowed businesses to remain open in part because of a dangerous decline in tax revenues and a lack of federal government funding to states to make up for pandemic-related losses. Again, authorities have chosen the sink-or-swim approach to business and public health. Why pay people to stay at home and remain safe when those individuals can simply risk their lives in the service of profit? After all, it is the same logic that has driven the relentless shredding of the pre-pandemic safety net programs for economically struggling Americans.

There is much hand wringing, blaming and shaming the individual, and general confusion over why COVID-19 is continuing to claim so many lives. But to understand the real reason for the ever-increasing death toll, look no further than the American way of leaving citizens to fend for themselves in the service of capitalism.

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.

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

India's farmers are revolting against Modi's government

India's farmers are revolting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government in a mass movement that has drawn international attention. The world's largest democracy is witnessing a collective groundswell of protest as hundreds of thousands of farmers, largely from the states of Punjab and Haryana, have laid siege to the outskirts of the capital of New Delhi, determined to occupy the edges of the city until Modi reverses unpopular new laws that they say are anti-farmer.

About half of India's workers depend on the agricultural industry, and the government has long had in place regulations to protect farmworkers, acting as a middleman between farmers and buyers of their produce. Now those protections have been upended. In September 2020, Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pushed three deregulatory bills through Parliament amid chaos and even some opposition from within his own party.

Amandeep Sandhu, author of Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines, has been closely following the farmers' protests. In an interview, he explained to me that the first of the three bills scrapped the Essential Commodities Act, a 1955 law that stabilized food prices by preventing traders from hoarding supplies. According to Sandhu, "now traders can stockpile as much food as they want and can play the markets as they wish." Two-thirds of India's population of 1.3 billion rely on subsidized food rations, which Sandhu says are now endangered.

Another of the deregulatory laws would leave farmers to negotiate directly with buyers without government intervention to set basic minimum prices. Although this theoretically could result in farmers being able to demand higher prices, during years when there is a surplus of crops and subsequent plummeting prices, farmers could be financially destroyed. In short, the new laws are designed to subject hundreds of millions of poor farmers to the whims and demands of the market.

Modi's third controversial law centers on contract farming and enables corporate buyers to directly hire small farmers to produce specific crops. But Sandhu explained that it also protects corporations from liabilities. "If a small farmer has entered into a contract with a corporation and the corporation reneges on the contract, the farmer cannot go to court."

Even before these new laws were put in place, India's farmers were being pushed to the brink. Millions are in debt as banks refuse to lend to the cash-strapped workers, driving them to illegal lenders that charge exorbitant interest rates. Farmer suicides in India have been on the rise, exacerbated by the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic this year.

According to Sandhu, "for many decades farmers have been protesting against the 'green revolution' model of agriculture," which emphasizes an increase in productivity above all else including farmer livelihoods. Writing for CNN.com, Simran Jeet Singh and Gunisha Kaur explained, "Just as some medications are tested on humans of developing countries before being accepted in developed nations, the Green Revolution was an agricultural experiment tested out on the fields of Punjab."

In further unleashing market forces on farmers through his new laws, Modi may have gone too far. "These very farmers are the BJP's core constituency," said Sandhu. "These are the ones who got the government elected in the first place."

Offering a stark contrast with struggling farmers are wealthy Indian elites who have seen their riches multiply each year. A 2018 report found that the wealth of the richest 831 Indians amounted to a quarter of India's gross domestic product. Chief among them is Mukesh Ambani, Asia's richest man, who has launched dozens of new businesses in the agricultural sector in just the last few months. India's second wealthiest person is Gautam Adani, and both men are considered close political allies of Modi. Protesting farmers say Modi's controversial farm bills were written to benefit the likes of Ambani and Adani. Earlier in the protests, farmers burned effigies of the prime minister and his billionaire buddies.

Modi has claimed that deregulation will bring wealth and prosperity to farmers and that objections to the laws are purely political. Because most of India's left-wing parties and prominent political figures from the opposition Congress Party have expressed support for farmers, the BJP-led government claims that farmers are being misled into believing the laws are bad for their bottom line. But one farmer from Punjab told Al Jazeera, "There is no politics in it, we feel the laws are going to benefit corporates and not poor farmers like us."

Modi has implored the farmers occupying the edges of Delhi to go home, claiming that the new laws are written to benefit them and are a "gift." He has offered to amend the laws as a compromise, but the farmers are standing firm, saying nothing less than a complete repeal of the laws will be satisfactory. India's former economic adviser Kaushik Basu agrees with them. Basu, who also served as chief economist of the World Bank and is currently a professor of economics at Cornell University, said the bills were "flawed" and "detrimental to farmers." He explained, "Our agriculture regulation needs change but the new laws will end up serving corporate interests more than farmers."

The new laws impact farmers' control over what to grow, whom to sell to, what prices they can rely on, and whether or not their crops will have buyers—all presented in the form of an unsolicited "gift" from a government that for years has ignored their plight. It's no wonder they are rebelling.

Solidarity with Indian farmers is high across the nation. In late November, nearly a dozen trade unions launched a massive general strike, bringing the nation to a standstill for a day. More than 250 million people are estimated to have participated, making it the world's largest protest in history. The farmers called for a second strike a week later and remain on the outskirts of New Delhi, blocking five major highways and saying they aren't leaving anytime soon. Sandhu shared that "farmers from Punjab and Haryana came with rations of their own for six months to one year and are willing to stick it out. The farmers who are coming from longer distances will be fed by those who are already there."

Indian agriculture affects the rest of the world, with a large percentage of the global spice market originating from Indian farms. Exported staples such as rice and milk and even cotton used by the apparel industry could be impacted by the new laws.

Diaspora Indians are now speaking out. Thousands of Indian origin residents of Britain rallied in London, declaring, "We stand with farmers of Punjab." Canadian Indians protested in various cities, with many saying they still had family who farmed in India. In California—home to a large population of Punjabi Indian Americans, many of whom are farmers themselves—a massive car rally in Silicon Valley called attention to the farmers' demands. And in Seattle, Councilmember Kshama Sawant of the Socialist Alternative Party sponsored a resolution to express solidarity with Indian farmers.

For now, a stalemate remains with the government and farmers facing off against one another, refusing to back down. Sawant had perhaps the most eloquent framing of what's at stake, saying, "Indian farmers are facing the same exploitation by the billionaire class that farmers and workers are facing worldwide."

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 to cure America’s vaccine paranoia

The end is in sight, we are told. The cavalry has arrived in the form of safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 on the verge of approval and being manufactured for widespread distribution. The stock market has surged in response to every pharmaceutical company's press release of its latest successful clinical trial. Americans are expecting an end to this traumatic chapter of our history and are ready to turn the page on the year 2020.

Except that if the United States has led the world in per capita infections and deaths because of deep skepticism from an intransigent population toward even the mildest of safety precautions, do we expect the same people refusing to wear a face mask to take not one, but two doses of a brand-new vaccine? We may have safe and effective vaccines soon enough, but through a cruelly ironic twist of our nation's perverted political climate, society may simply refuse to save itself.

Several key segments of the American population have varied reasons for vaccine skepticism. Among Black and brown communities, there is a deep-seated and justifiable mistrust due to historical government-sanctioned medical abuse that is reflected in new polls about the COVID-19 vaccine. On the American left, mistrust of large pharmaceutical companies putting profits above the public health—again justifiable—is driving cynicism about the motives of private corporations that have had piles of taxpayer cash thrown at them.

Among liberal elites, the growing popularity of "clean eating," "wellness," and taking personal responsibility for one's health through expensive diets and rigorous exercise regimes has seeded an insidious movement that strives for purity as a pathway to well-being and health. Part of that movement includes prizing natural remedies over chemical ones, including for such life-threatening diseases as cancer. It has also fueled the idea that medications including vaccines are "dangerous" contaminants to our bodies. Quack doctors like Andrew Wakefield, celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, and political figures like Robert Kennedy Jr. have caused serious damage to trust in vaccine safety. Before the pandemic, one of the biggest fears among public health experts was the resurgence of measles fueled by falling vaccination rates.

On the right, a similar vaccine skepticism has emerged as anti-vaccination activists court conservatives as allies, creating an unlikely coalition. Republican Senator Ron Johnson went as far as inviting an anti-vaccine doctor to testify before a Senate committee recently. Also prevalent is the notion that "herd immunity"—which is a term used to describe the threshold of safety that vaccines achieve if enough people take them—can be achieved simply by enough people catching the disease. President Donald Trump has been one of the chief proponents of this thoroughly debunked idea.

Scientists have estimated that at least two-thirds of the population need to be vaccinated in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. In August, less than half of the population was willing to take a vaccine—an unsurprising number considering the widespread mistrust of vaccines in general. Republicans are more skeptical than Democrats, which is also not surprising given that a majority of GOP voters still support Trump—a president whose relentless lies and science skepticism form the basis of his leadership. A nation so steeped in misinformation that it ushered in a charlatan to take power for four long years is naturally susceptible to suspicion of vaccines.

Some of the fear stems from disbelief that an effective vaccine could be produced in such a short period of time. Indeed, past efforts at developing effective vaccines have taken many years. In that context, the federal government's "Operation Warp Speed" vaccine project has sparked fear. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained, "People don't understand that, because when they hear 'Operation Warp Speed,' they think, 'Oh, my God, they're jumping over all these steps and they're going to put us at risk.'" But in fact, decades of critical medical research formed the foundation upon which companies like Pfizer and Moderna have developed the mRNA type of vaccines that have thus far exceeded scientists' expectations in clinical trials. Fauci explained, "The speed is a reflection of years of work that went before."

There is another insidious obstacle to a vaccination program. We live in a nation enamored by libertarian ideals. The concept of collective action to protect the common good flies in the face of "individual liberty" and the Ayn-Rand-inspired notions that each American is solely responsible for their own happiness and well-being. This idea forms the basis of our health care system—or lack thereof. The coronavirus pandemic hit the United States at a time when we have no publicly funded universal health care system to speak of. The U.S. government's message to Americans is essentially that, unless you fall below the poverty line, have a disability, or are over the age of 65, you are on your own to seek health insurance and health care wherever you can find it. Once the novel coronavirus entered the picture, the frailties of this disjointed, disorganized, profit-based, and frankly cruel system were exposed like never before in recent memory.

Now, this same flawed system is expected to undertake a mass vaccination program to a skeptical public while at the same time struggling to treat ever-growing numbers of COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization.

True herd immunity can only be achieved when enough of the population has been inoculated that vulnerable populations (infants, adults with vaccine allergies and elderly people) are protected. Vaccines don't just protect the individuals who take them; they offer collective safeguards for society as a whole. A population that has been conditioned to think about health as a solely individual concern has been hard-pressed to swallow such an idea. Think about the obstinate mask-refusers among us.

As a journalist, every time I address vaccine skepticism on my broadcast program, I receive vitriolic hate mail claiming that I am a shill for "big pharma" or simply too stupid to see the light. But we cannot let misinformation, fear, and individualistic thinking discourage reporting on this issue. In some ways, vaccines have become a victim of their own success. Because we have lived (until this year) in a world relatively free of preventable but horrific diseases like smallpox and rubella—achieved through mass vaccination—many Americans have taken for granted the quality of life made possible through inoculation efforts.

The good news is that new polls show growing support for vaccination amidst an unfathomable rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths. According to one new survey, 63 percent of Americans are now willing to get vaccinated—close to the minimum threshold that could curb the spread of the disease. Outreach and education efforts on accepting vaccinations in Black and Latino communities that have been hardest hit by the disease are underway. Unfortunately, the vaccine refusers among us will likely continue to benefit from living in a largely vaccinated community, mooching off of the herd immunity they refuse to contribute to.

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

The end of the pandemic is in sight — but there's one huge hurdle left

The end is in sight, we are told. The cavalry has arrived in the form of safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 on the verge of approval and being manufactured for widespread distribution. The stock market has surged in response to every pharmaceutical company's press release of its latest successful clinical trial. Americans are expecting an end to this traumatic chapter of our history and are ready to turn the page on the year 2020.

Except that if the United States has led the world in per capita infections and deaths because of deep skepticism from an intransigent population toward even the mildest of safety precautions, do we expect the same people refusing to wear a face mask to take not one, but two doses of a brand-new vaccine? We may have safe and effective vaccines soon enough, but through a cruelly ironic twist of our nation's perverted political climate, society may simply refuse to save itself.

Several key segments of the American population have varied reasons for vaccine skepticism. Among Black and brown communities, there is a deep-seated and justifiable mistrust due to historical government-sanctioned medical abuse that is reflected in new polls about the COVID-19 vaccine. On the American left, mistrust of large pharmaceutical companies putting profits above the public health—again justifiable—is driving cynicism about the motives of private corporations that have had piles of taxpayer cash thrown at them.

Among liberal elites, the growing popularity of "clean eating," "wellness," and taking personal responsibility for one's health through expensive diets and rigorous exercise regimes has seeded an insidious movement that strives for purity as a pathway to well-being and health. Part of that movement includes prizing natural remedies over chemical ones, including for such life-threatening diseases as cancer. It has also fueled the idea that medications including vaccines are "dangerous" contaminants to our bodies. Quack doctors like Andrew Wakefield, celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, and political figures like Robert Kennedy Jr. have caused serious damage to trust in vaccine safety. Before the pandemic, one of the biggest fears among public health experts was the resurgence of measles fueled by falling vaccination rates.

On the right, a similar vaccine skepticism has emerged as anti-vaccination activists court conservatives as allies, creating an unlikely coalition. Republican Senator Ron Johnson went as far as inviting an anti-vaccine doctor to testify before a Senate committee recently. Also prevalent is the notion that "herd immunity"—which is a term used to describe the threshold of safety that vaccines achieve if enough people take them—can be achieved simply by enough people catching the disease. President Donald Trump has been one of the chief proponents of this thoroughly debunked idea.

Scientists have estimated that at least two-thirds of the population need to be vaccinated in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. In August, less than half of the population was willing to take a vaccine—an unsurprising number considering the widespread mistrust of vaccines in general. Republicans are more skeptical than Democrats, which is also not surprising given that a majority of GOP voters still support Trump—a president whose relentless lies and science skepticism form the basis of his leadership. A nation so steeped in misinformation that it ushered in a charlatan to take power for four long years is naturally susceptible to suspicion of vaccines.

Some of the fear stems from disbelief that an effective vaccine could be produced in such a short period of time. Indeed, past efforts at developing effective vaccines have taken many years. In that context, the federal government's "Operation Warp Speed" vaccine project has sparked fear. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained, "People don't understand that, because when they hear 'Operation Warp Speed,' they think, 'Oh, my God, they're jumping over all these steps and they're going to put us at risk.'" But in fact, decades of critical medical research formed the foundation upon which companies like Pfizer and Moderna have developed the mRNA type of vaccines that have thus far exceeded scientists' expectations in clinical trials. Fauci explained, "The speed is a reflection of years of work that went before."

There is another insidious obstacle to a vaccination program. We live in a nation enamored by libertarian ideals. The concept of collective action to protect the common good flies in the face of "individual liberty" and the Ayn-Rand-inspired notions that each American is solely responsible for their own happiness and well-being. This idea forms the basis of our health care system—or lack thereof. The coronavirus pandemic hit the United States at a time when we have no publicly funded universal health care system to speak of. The U.S. government's message to Americans is essentially that, unless you fall below the poverty line, have a disability, or are over the age of 65, you are on your own to seek health insurance and health care wherever you can find it. Once the novel coronavirus entered the picture, the frailties of this disjointed, disorganized, profit-based, and frankly cruel system were exposed like never before in recent memory.

Now, this same flawed system is expected to undertake a mass vaccination program to a skeptical public while at the same time struggling to treat ever-growing numbers of COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization.

True herd immunity can only be achieved when enough of the population has been inoculated that vulnerable populations (infants, adults with vaccine allergies and elderly people) are protected. Vaccines don't just protect the individuals who take them; they offer collective safeguards for society as a whole. A population that has been conditioned to think about health as a solely individual concern has been hard-pressed to swallow such an idea. Think about the obstinate mask-refusers among us.

As a journalist, every time I address vaccine skepticism on my broadcast program, I receive vitriolic hate mail claiming that I am a shill for "big pharma" or simply too stupid to see the light. But we cannot let misinformation, fear, and individualistic thinking discourage reporting on this issue. In some ways, vaccines have become a victim of their own success. Because we have lived (until this year) in a world relatively free of preventable but horrific diseases like smallpox and rubella—achieved through mass vaccination—many Americans have taken for granted the quality of life made possible through inoculation efforts.

The good news is that new polls show growing support for vaccination amidst an unfathomable rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths. According to one new survey, 63 percent of Americans are now willing to get vaccinated—close to the minimum threshold that could curb the spread of the disease. Outreach and education efforts on accepting vaccinations in Black and Latino communities that have been hardest hit by the disease are underway. Unfortunately, the vaccine refusers among us will likely continue to benefit from living in a largely vaccinated community, mooching off of the herd immunity they refuse to contribute to.

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.

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

Why Joe Biden should unilaterally forgive billions in student debt

There is an easy option available to President-elect Joe Biden to ease the economic suffering of Americans on the first day he takes office, and that is to cancel outstanding federal government student loans. Senator Elizabeth Warren made the case during a recent Senate Banking Committee hearing, saying that, "All on his own, President-elect Biden will have the ability to administratively cancel billions of dollars in student loan debt using the authority that Congress has already given to the Secretary of Education." She added, "This is the single most effective economic stimulus that is available through executive action."

She's right. About 45 million Americans have a whopping $1.6 trillion of student loan debts, and a significant number have made no progress in paying them off. After home mortgages, student loans are the second most common debt in the United States. There is no mystery as to why this is the case. While the cost of higher education has risen, wages have simply not kept up, and debt has slowly ballooned. The burden of debt repayment has held people back from buying homes, moving out of their parents' homes, having children, pursuing further education, starting businesses, and more. In other words, it has dragged down lives and the economy.

Senator Warren asked Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, "If people who, instead of spending that money in the economy, are spending that money by sending money back to the federal government on their student loan payments. That is a problem for the economy, is it not?"

Cody Hounanian, program director of the group Student Debt Crisis, explained to me in an interview that federal government loan debts are "around 80 percent of the federal student loan market." The rest is held by private institutions. While Biden does not have the authority on his own to address private loan debt, he could, with the stroke of a pen, cancel federal government loans. Indeed, it may be the easiest and most effective economic stimulus plan available to him using his executive authority. Hounanian said, "The President of the United States, no matter who it is, including Donald Trump, has the authority right now to cancel student loan debt using executive action. This is a power written into the Higher Education Act."

Canceling federal student loans is a racial justice issue as well. The existing racial wealth gap is exacerbated by student debt. One report estimated that racial inequities in student loans are even higher than expected with Black graduates owing nearly two times the amount that white graduates owe. According to Hounanian, "debt cancelation is a civil rights issue. It is an important equalizer."

During his campaign, Biden endorsed canceling $10,000 per person of student loan debt. Yet, as soon as he won the election, Biden called on Congress to take up the matter. Zack Friedman writes in an article for Forbes, "Biden is deferring to Congress to pass relevant legislation on student loans, rather than act unilaterally as president."

At a time when partisan gridlock in Congress has blocked most progressive legislation from even getting a hearing, Biden's suggestion is naïve at best. Even Trump understood the seriousness of the issue when he used his executive power (for once in a positive manner) to extend until the end of the year student loan payment relief that was included in the CARES Act.

Biden is being flanked to the left by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as well. Schumer—not known as a champion of progressive causes—has joined forces with Senator Warren to demand that Biden cancel $50,000 per person of student loans through executive action. If Biden is shy about using his executive authority in the wake of the Trump presidency, the nation is in deep trouble.

"This is an opportunity for Joe Biden to have his FDR moment," said Hounanian. His organization Student Debt Crisis has been working on this issue for years and is part of a large coalition of hundreds of organizations calling on Biden to do the right thing. A petition launched earlier this year to cancel student loans has garnered more than 1.3 million signatures. Advocacy groups are optimistic that this may be the closest they have come in years to realizing their goal of eliminating student loan debt.

And yet the voices of opposition are already pressuring Biden to do the wrong thing. Fox Business in a laughably hypocritical piece claimed that canceling student loan debt was regressive and would disproportionately benefit wealthier Americans. The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, in a typically patronizing tone claimed that loan forgiveness "rewards fiscal irresponsibility," failing of course to apply those same standards to tax breaks for wealthy Americans or taxpayer-funded subsidies for corporations. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called the idea of debt forgiveness an "insidious notion of government gift-giving," simultaneously refusing to see the economic benefits by her department's policies to wealthy Americans as "gift-giving."

DeVos also claimed that forgiving student loans was "unfair" to those who did not go to college or those who managed to pay off their loans. In other words, all should suffer because some suffered. This is the conservative logic gleefully invoked to preserve any unfair status quo that maintains wealth inequality. Imagine applying that logic to, say, the 2017 tax reform bill. Why should corporations and wealthy Americans get tax breaks that their predecessors or earlier counterparts did not obtain?

Thankfully, most Americans do not espouse the elitist views of out-of-touch billionaires who have waged class war on the nation for decades. A recent Pew poll found that an overwhelming majority supports federal government action to address the student debt crisis.

Biden has already made it clear that on the issue of student debt forgiveness, he falls on the side of ordinary Americans and not on the side of Fox Business or DeVos. What he appears unclear on is how best to achieve his goal of easing the burden of student loans. If his presidency does not seize the moment and use its clear authority to realize his stated goals,—if he instead defers to an unrealistic legislative path—then his campaign promises will rightly be viewed as disingenuous.

As the global pandemic was unfolding in the United States, Biden rightly said, "In this moment of crisis, we should be sending federal resources to those who need it most. It's not just good economics—it's the right thing to do."

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.

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

Will Biden ensure my family is reunited?

Millions of Americans are celebrating Donald Trump's election loss. But for some of us, it's also deeply personal. To my family, Trump's loss means the possibility of reunification. My parents, who are Indian citizens living in the United Arab Emirates, have been waiting to spend their golden years with their daughter and grandchildren—a reward for decades of hard work that helped finance American college education for three daughters. But because of Trump, they remain alone and separated from me.

In April 2020, just as I was putting together the final stages of an arduous sponsorship application for my parents to obtain legal residency, President Trump signed an executive order upending our lives. Under cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, he enacted a 60-day suspension of most immigrant visas including those that enable citizens to sponsor their non-citizen parents. Two months later, Trump added more visa categories to the ban and extended it until the end of the year.

Although the authority to change immigration laws lies with Congress, Trump managed to push through many aspects of an anti-immigrant wish list he has been touting for years. Americans like me suddenly have no access to the same rule that first lady Melania Trump used to sponsor her parents from Slovenia.

While the horrifying cases of family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border have justifiably drawn public indignation, the spectrum of separation is broader than most Americans realize. According to the advocacy group Value Our Families, Trump's green card ban affects people like my parents who are being sponsored by their adult U.S. citizen children, as well as the spouses and children of green card holders, and the children and siblings of U.S. citizens. An estimated 358,000 people attempting to immigrate through available legal processes are affected.

But Trump's green card ban is just one aspect of a mind-numbingly difficult-to-navigate immigration system. Conservatives who have for years excoriated outsiders to "get in line" and "follow the rules" have little idea of how difficult it is to immigrate. For nearly 30 years, I experienced firsthand the onerous complexity of a system designed to frustrate. I first entered the United States at the age of 16 on an F-1 visa for undergraduate study at the University of Texas at Austin. Over nearly a decade of F-1 visa renewals and nerve-racking work permit applications (at one point immigration officials lost my paperwork, threatening my status in the country), I studied, graduated, and worked.

But my work permit was temporary, and once I completed my education, there were few avenues to remain in the country I had grown to love. Eventually, I applied for a green card because I married a man lucky enough to be a U.S. citizen. After waiting the requisite five years, I applied for citizenship and dutifully jumped through myriad and expensive hoops, only to be caught in the Bush administration's post 9-11 anti-immigrant dragnet that delayed citizenship for thousands of people seeking naturalization. Three long years passed. It wasn't until I became a lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the federal government that I was finally afforded my rights.

Today I face yet another obstacle. My family's hopes are now pinned on President-elect Joe Biden—will he do the right thing to ensure my family can be together?

The good news is that there is a starting point for President-elect Biden. My congressional representative Judy Chu (D-CA) has introduced the Reuniting Families Act in the House, a bill that would, among other things, reduce the backlog of family-based visa petitions. The process for a U.S. citizen to sponsor a family member has always been arduous, expensive, and inordinately lengthy, but under Trump, the number of visas being processed fell dramatically (even before he enacted his green card bans), increasing the size of an already-formidable backlog. Chu's bill would address the backlog by increasing the number of available visas.

The bill would also address how undocumented families are kept apart, indicating rightly that there is little difference in the pain felt by my family's separation and that of someone who is here without papers. And it would broaden categories of sponsorship that enable families to be together.

As we wait for Biden to take the reins of government and do the right thing, my family will remain separated. Meanwhile, each day I can see from my backyard the newly built home, financed through the savings of my foreign-born parents, that sits empty and waiting for them.

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.

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

Democrats — and the U.S. — won’t have a future if Biden adopts a centrist agenda

President-elect Joe Biden has called the November 2020 U.S. election a "battle for the soul of the nation." In offering himself up as a contrast to President Donald Trump, Biden made a clear distinction between his political agenda and statesman-like behavior, and that of Trump. Ultimately, millions more Americans chose Biden over Trump and gave him a larger mandate than any other presidential candidate in American history. Biden's victory was possible in large part due to an alliance between Bernie Sanders–backing progressives and the centrist liberals who longed for a return to the Obama years. Now begins a battle for the soul of Joe Biden.

For years, the two major parties had tacked toward the center when running candidates for president. It seemed logical to assume every four years that most American voters would prefer someone who tried to appeal to the mass of voters in the middle rather than one end of the political spectrum. But since Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party has shifted further and further to the right, culminating in Donald Trump's extremist right-wing presidency—a "reign of terror" that looks like none other in history. To keep up, Democrats moved to the right as well, hoping eventually they would catch up to a now-mythical centrist majority that would ensure their electoral victories. Instead, Americans were becoming disillusioned with politics and simply not participating. In 2016, there were three blocs of eligible voters: those who voted for Trump, those who voted for Clinton, and those who didn't vote. While Trump's share was the smallest of the three, the latter was the largest grouping.

After three years of watching Trump's disastrous presidency unfold, progressives worked hard alongside liberals and even anti-Trump Republicans this past year to convince disillusioned American voters that everything was at stake in 2020 and that the future of the nation depended on their participation. Voter turnout surged all over the nation, but it grew particularly in swing states among those demographics who identify as progressive—such as young people of color.

For example, in Philadelphia, whose Democratic votes helped deliver the critically important state of Pennsylvania for Biden, a young Black organizer with the Working Families Party named Nicolas O'Rourke wrote, "As usual, the Democratic Party played to a mythical swing voter while taking Black and brown voters for granted." He explained, "It was up to our progressive movement to street canvass Philadelphia's early vote centers and distribute water and face masks and answer voters' questions."

Although Biden clearly and decisively won the presidency—notwithstanding pandemic-related delays to casting and counting votes—his party did not win much beyond the White House. Democrats lost seats in the House of Representatives and failed to win an outright Senate majority as they had hoped. The centrists wasted no time in blaming progressives for those losses. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in an interview with the New York Times countered with cold hard facts: "Every single candidate that co-sponsored Medicare for All in a swing district kept their seat. We also know that co-sponsoring the Green New Deal was not a sinker." Indeed, the ranks of young progressives of color in Congress increased.

While one can indeed counter that it is easier to run as a staunch progressive for lower office in densely populated diverse urban centers than it is to run for president of the entire nation, Trump proved that even with a narrow agenda and forceful populist rhetoric, it is possible to win a national election. Indeed, Biden won voters all across the nation by running on a platform that was deeply influenced by progressives.

Now, Biden's task is to make sure that the Democratic Party's political future is assured in two years at the 2022 midterm elections, and just as importantly in four years, as Trump has already considered launching a new White House bid for 2024. More importantly, he needs to ensure that millions of Americans do not fall through the financial fissures wrought by the devastating pandemic, that climate catastrophe can be avoided, that the torture of immigrants can end, that devastating wars are terminated and more.

He can protect both his party's political future and his people's well-being by moving decisively to the left, not to the right (which is often erroneously labeled "the center"). It is progressive policies like Medicare for All, raising the minimum wage, taxing the wealthy and corporations, adopting the Green New Deal, legalizing immigration, and ending wars that are actually popular. But forceful red-baiting propaganda unleashed by right-wing forces have scared centrist Democrats like Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), whose explanation of her party's down-ballot losses was the use of the word "socialism." Spanberger lashed out against progressives, saying, "We need to not ever use the word 'socialist' or 'socialism' ever again." But Biden did not use those words during his campaign, except to unequivocally denounce the idea of "socialism." He reveled in the fact that he beat the socialist candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the primary elections. None of the down-ballot candidates explicitly identifying as socialists lost their races, and in fact, the left did quite well on election night.

The fact is that Republicans will say and do anything to win elections and label Democrats "socialist," whether or not it is true. Allowing the extremist right wing to dictate the direction of the Democratic Party simply gives Trump and his backers the leverage that they can and will use to crush liberals and progressives alike.

Biden and Democrats can and should thread the needle by proudly adopting progressive and popular policies and brushing off accusations of being socialist without taking the bait. If Medicare for All is socialist, then so is 'Medicare for Some,' which is what we currently have. If raising the minimum wage is socialist, then Florida voters just proudly claimed the mantle in deed while denouncing it in word. The Green New Deal is as socialist as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's original plan for which it is named. If ending war is considered socialist, then so is Trump, who pledged to bring troops home. It is not difficult to make the case for progressive policies simply because they are popular. The only case to be made against tacking left is through fearmongering propaganda, which Republicans are adept at.

Will Biden do what needs to be done to ensure his party and nation's future? Among the first items on his agenda appear to be reversing many of Trump's worst executive orders. This is an easy and uncontroversial first step. But Biden faces serious pressure to veer rightward. He appears to be bending to Republican power in forming his Cabinet. According to an Axios report, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) "would work with Biden on centrist nominees but no 'radical progressives' or ones who are controversial with conservatives." Conservative and centrist media pundits have warned Biden repeatedly that he would need to tack to the right. They cite Biden's talk of "unity" as a reason to justify landing in the center.

But voter concerns do fit not neat geometrical shapes where the right and left can be folded into a middle ground that means rejecting both ends of the spectrum. The middle ground can be centered on a rejection of cruelty, abuse, corruption, corporate greed, war, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and dishonesty. The middle ground can be centered on popular policies that directly benefit people. In other words, Biden needs to reshape himself into a left-wing populist, and he can do so without explicitly labeling himself as such. The future of the nation and planet depend on it.

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.

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

How the coronavirus exposed the flaws of the childcare economy

The U.S. government's Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that childcare workers in the nation have a median salary of just over $24,000 a year—below the poverty line for a family of four. The segment of our nation's workforce that attends to the basic needs of our children is shockingly underpaid, and now during the coronavirus pandemic, left even farther behind as childcare centers are forced to downsize or close. At the same time, billionaires have minted money during our time of national crisis. The fortunes of the wealthiest have increased by a quarter over the past several months, proving once more that the economy is rigged to benefit the already-rich.

It is no coincidence that an industry dominated by women, particularly women of color (40 percent of childcare workers are women of color—twice their population representation) is in dire straits. The vast majority of childcare workers do not have health insurance. Many are self-employed and, even before the pandemic, operated on razor-thin margins to stay financially afloat. While the cost of operating a childcare center is fixed, children age out quickly, making revenues extremely unstable. According to the Wall Street Journal, "The businesses have little in the way of collateral. Banks are rarely interested in lending to them, beyond costly credit cards, making it difficult to ride out rough patches."

In other words, childcare is not a lucrative business in spite of its crucial nature, and while the cost of childcare for parents is often far too high, the cost of operating even a bare-bones childcare business is also too high.

Once the pandemic hit, many childcare providers simply lost clients as lockdowns required families to remain at home. According to one survey conducted in April 2020, "60% of programs [were] fully closed and not providing care to any children" at that time. While some workplaces were able to transition to remote environments, by its nature, childcare work was not able to adapt to this "new normal." While many workers like grocery store employees, nurses, and delivery drivers were deemed "essential" to society and continued working, they needed care for their out-of-school children. Suddenly American women providing childcare found themselves out of work, while women in other industries had no access to the care their children required.

Millions of parents, mostly mothers, have already left the workforce to care for their children during the pandemic. The U.S. Census Bureau in August 2020 found that nearly 20 percent of "working-age adults said the reason they were not working was because COVID-19 disrupted their childcare arrangements." Additionally, "women ages 25-44 [were] almost three times as likely as men to not be working due to childcare demands."

Melissa Boteach of the National Women's Law Center told Politico, "the parents who are not going to be able to go back to work or who are going to have to give up their careers or jobs for less pay—because they can't find the child care to cover the hours that they need—are disproportionately going to be women and women of color." In other words, women of color are disproportionately impacted on both ends of the childcare equation—both as providers and as customers who rely on these services.

As I prepared for an interview with Wendoly Marte, director of economic justice at Community Change Action, about the crisis of childcare, I fielded texts from my seven-year-old son who could not find an extension cord for the tablet that he uses for school. My child was in the room next to the home-studio that I work out of and knows never to disturb me during interviews. But he was desperate to turn his device on so he wouldn't miss his next lesson. I found myself for the umpteenth time wishing I didn't have to work so I could be more present for my children during a time of deep uncertainty. But I also remembered how much I loved my job and continued to speak with Marte, who explained that I was not alone. "I think a lot of parents have had to make really hard choices over the last few months as they tried to balance working from home and caring for their children," said Marte, who helps to organize childcare workers and amplify their voices in government.

Like millions of American women, I find myself constantly worrying about the state of my children's mental health during the pandemic. Isolated from their peers and forced to learn through screens and Zoom chats, they are coping as best as they can. I am terrified of the long-term impacts on them and yet unable to leave a job on which my family depends to help pay the mortgage and purchase necessities, and at the same time resenting the fact that I have to even consider leaving a job that I love and that I have invested years of my life in.

The pandemic has highlighted, in Marte's words, the need for "a system that is truly universal and equitable and that takes into account the perspective of parents, the children, and the childcare providers." She articulated that "we're going to need a serious public investment in a bold solution that actually matches the scale of the crisis."

There was a crisis in childcare even before the pandemic. More than a year ago, the Center for American Progress explained that "Whether due to high cost, limited availability, or inconvenient program hours, child care challenges are driving parents out of the workforce at an alarming rate," and that, "in 2016 alone, an estimated 2 million parents made career sacrifices due to problems with child care." Add to that a public health crisis that has no end in sight, and the U.S.'s childcare industry could collapse entirely under the weight of multiple pressures.

While the federal government made available small business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program earlier this year, the Bipartisan Policy Center concluded that the program did not work for childcare businesses and only about half of applicants ever received the government-backed loans. While the federal government's "Childcare and Development Fund" provides some measure of support through block grants, according to Marte it is not nearly enough and "the money ran out very quickly."

In late July, House Democrats passed the Childcare Is Essential Act, which Marte's group has supported. The bill creates a $50 billion fund to buttress the reeling industry. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made clear that he is far more interested in remaking the judicial system to benefit conservatives than ushering in financial aid bills for ordinary Americans.

President Donald Trump and his allies have expressed an eagerness to return to normal that is not couched in reality as a third wave of coronavirus infections threatens to derail the economy once more. Without direct federal government intervention to save the childcare industry, the future is frighteningly precarious for women, and especially women of color.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has shrewdly outlined a plan for what his campaign calls a "caregiving economy," promising to "[e]nsure access to high-quality, affordable child care and offer universal preschool to three-and four-year olds through greater investment, expanded tax credits, and sliding-scale subsidies." The ambitious $775 billion plan is a start, and Biden will need to be held to his promises if he wins the White House.

When the coronavirus upended the economy, the crisis of childcare that had been brewing for years exploded and revealed the truly barbaric nature of a society that leaves human needs to the whims of "market forces." There is no better symbol of a society's future potential than the well-being of its children, and judging by that, we are in deep trouble.

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.

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

In Trump’s America, there is death before due process

The federal government's killing of Michael Reinoehl exactly two months before the November 3 presidential race ought to have been one of the most high-profile election issues being discussed in America. Instead, it has been almost forgotten save for some media outlets starting to question the official narrative of his death. The little-known self-proclaimed "antifa" activist was killed by federal agents on September 3. Officers claimed that he had fired shots at them before being gunned down. But a week after his killing, the Washington Post found that "the wanted man wasn't obviously armed."

The Thurston County sheriff in Lacey, Washington, where the suspect was killed, released a public statement saying his investigation team "can confirm… that Mr. Reinoehl pointed the handgun that he had in his possession at the officers at the time of the shooting." The U.S. Marshals Service whose forces were the ones that shot Reinoehl released a similar statement claiming that the fugitive task force that had been sent to his location "attempted to peacefully arrest him," but, after being shot at, "Task force members responded to the threat and struck the suspect who was pronounced dead at the scene."

News outlets took the official statements at their word and dutifully reported the incident as one where a suspected killer opened fire on officers and was fatally shot in the course of his arrest. In other words, there was "nothing to see here." But according to a New York Times investigation six weeks after his death, it remains unclear "whether law enforcement officers made any serious attempt to arrest Mr. Reinoehl before killing him."

According to nearly two dozen witnesses that the New York Times spoke to, "all but one said they did not hear officers identify themselves or give any commands before opening fire." Even though Reinoehl was armed at the time of his death, his handgun was found in his pocket and an AR-style rifle in a bag in his car, suggesting he did not threaten the officers trying to arrest him as official accounts had initially claimed.

Reinoehl was wanted in connection to the fatal shooting of a Trump-supporting right-wing activist named Aaron J. Danielson during Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon. President Donald Trump ranted on Twitter on the day he was killed, "Why aren't the Portland Police ARRESTING the cold blooded killer" and adding, "Everybody knows who this thug is." Later he hailed the fatal shooting triumphantly, saying in a Fox News interview:

"We sent in the U.S. Marshals for the killer, the man who killed the young man on the street.… Two and a half days went by, and I put out [on Twitter], 'When are you going to go get him?' And the U.S. Marshals went in to get him, and they ended in a gunfight. This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. Marshals killed him. And I'll tell you something—that's the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this."

In referring to Reinoehl as a "cold blooded killer" and "violent criminal" even though at the time of his death he was a suspect, Trump made clear that in his America, "law and order" means you are guilty before being proven so and can be targeted for extrajudicial assassination if those in power decide you deserve it. Such shocking words coming from any other head of state in the world would trigger instant condemnations from the U.S. State Department. Speaking to his supporters, Trump boasted of the "great job" that U.S. Marshals did in Portland, adding meaningfully, "you know what I mean."

Attorney General William Barr, who appears to have no understanding of how the nation's system of criminal justice is supposed to work, released a statement praising the federal troops' actions and echoing Trump's words in more official-sounding language. Barr called Reinoehl, "a dangerous fugitive, admitted Antifa member, and suspected murderer," and said before any investigation into the killing was complete that "[w]hen Reinoehl attempted to escape arrest and produced a firearm, he was shot and killed by law enforcement officers." In doing so, Barr too justified this extrajudicial assassination as Trump did and went as far as calling the whole incident, "a significant accomplishment in the ongoing effort to restore law and order to Portland and other cities." He applauded "the fugitive task force team that located Reinoehl and prevented him from escaping justice."

To Barr, the top law enforcement official in the nation, "justice" meant death, rather than arrest followed by charges and a fair trial. To Barr and Trump, the constant drumbeat of "law and order" is essentially a promise to fatally punish those perceived as enemies of the government.

In addition to the Washington Post and the New York Times, several other media outlets have corroborated that Reinoehl's killing appeared unjustified. Rolling Stone characterizes one eyewitness's account of the scene as "a violent ambush" that "resembled an execution." Oregon Public Broadcasting in collaboration with ProPublica spoke to witnesses who said that the officers shot him without warning and "looked less like law enforcement officers than members of a right-wing militia."

In a VICE News interview released just after his death, Reinoehl can be seen claiming that he acted in self-defense in Portland—just as an attorney for Kyle Rittenhouse, the Trump-supporting armed suspect in the Kenosha, Wisconsin, killing of two Black Lives Matter activists, said. With Reinoehl dead at the hands of U.S. Marshals, we will never know the truth.

Instead, Reinoehl now serves as the perfect symbol of the shadowy enemy that Trump rails against. A participant in Black Lives Matter protests, Reinoehl claimed he was "100% ANTIFA all the way." The president's promise to designate "ANTIFA" (which is an ideology, not an organization) as "a Terrorist Organization" has fed into dangerous notions designed to create panic among his base. It has raised the specter of "violent mobs" terrorizing communities that only swift government action of the sort aimed at Reinoehl can quell.

But who are the "violent mobs" really? In Trump's world, armed self-defense is acceptable only for white supremacists who support him, not for the left-wing activists they routinely threaten and hurt. Since protests began earlier this year, according to NPR, "Right-wing extremists are turning cars into weapons, with reports of at least 50 vehicle-ramming incidents" at protests against police brutality. Conservative news outlets including Fox News and the Daily Caller have encouraged such attacks. Even the Department of Homeland Security's latest threat assessment identifies, "racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists—specifically white supremacist extremists," as "the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland" among what the agency designates as "Domestic Violent Extremists" or DVEs.

As if to underscore the threat, more than a dozen white men were just arrested (without being harmed) in connection with a kidnapping plot aimed at Michigan's Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The governor, who is among several women who have faced Trump's online ire, said, "I do believe that there are still serious threats that groups like this group, these domestic terrorists, are finding comfort and support in the rhetoric coming out of Republican leadership in the White House to our state house."

In Trump's America, white nationalist armed vigilante men reign supreme while those of us speaking out against fascism are symbolized by Reinoehl—and like him will be not be considered innocent until proven guilty. We will never know whether or not Reinoehl was guilty of murdering Danielson, as he was not given a chance to stand trial. In Trump's America, there will be no law, only order. To Trump, "[t]here has to be retribution," rather than due process. Among the many issues at stake in the November 3 election, this ought to be a central concern.

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.

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

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