Human Rights

Dr. Birx admits the truth about Trump's crime against humanity

Is playing politics with a deadly pandemic a crime against humanity? The Brazilian Senate thinks so, and has backed a report calling for charges against President Jair Bolsonaro over his handling of COVID-19.

The committee that prepared the report had originally called for Bolsonaro to be charged with genocide and mass homicide against the indigenous people of Brazil as well but those charges were removed by the larger Senate before the vote. Whether the crimes against humanity charges will be sent to the International Criminal Court for investigation and adjudication is unknown. If they are, it will be a first.

The 1,300-page report also calls for eight other charges against Bolsonaro, including misuse of public funds and spreading fake news about the pandemic as well as falsification of documents and incitement to crime, which they referred to Brazil's top prosecutor, an ally of the president who is unlikely to prosecute.

Brazil's death toll is huge — second only to the United States — with over 600,000 deaths and counting. That nation's first wave was monstrous, with mass graves and overwhelming hospital overload. When the second hit, medical facilities were so ill-prepared that they ran out of oxygen. Bolsonaro's response has been to tell people to "stop whining" about "the little flu." He refused necessary lockdown measures from the beginning and relentlessly pushed snake oil cures like hydroxychloroquine. He has disparaged vaccines, masks and other public health measures.

Brazil is a signatory to the International Criminal Court so it could theoretically agree to hear the case should it be forwarded to them. The law seems pretty straightforward, according to this analysis by Jen Kirby at Vox:

A crime against humanity exists "when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack." "other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health."

Kirby spoke with David Scheffer, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, who told her that the "catchall nature" of the last part of the statute was deliberate:

It is obvious that other types of assaults on your civilian population are going to emerge in the future, and you have to provide for that in the statute. It's hard to think of a better example than intentional mismanagement of a Covid-19 pandemic or some other pathogen. And so I would argue that, yes, that's fair game.

Bolsonaro defiantly says that he is guilty of "absolutely nothing" despite his decisions to allow the virus to spread through the country in pursuit of "herd immunity" which basically translated to "let 'er rip." And he has continued to spread disinformation. Just this week, Facebook and Youtube removed a video in which the Brazilian president falsely claimed a link between COVID-19 vaccines and AIDS.

You will no doubt recall that Bolsonaro and Donald Trump were great friends and kindred spirits during Trump's term. They saw eye to eye on many things, but perhaps on nothing so much as the proper response to the pandemic.

In March of 2020, as the virus was starting to spread quickly, the Brazilian leader visited Trump's private club, Mar-a-Lago, and that became one of the earliest Trump super-spreading events when Bolsonaro's press secretary tested positive for the virus after meeting with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others. Bolsonaro came away from the meeting inspired by Trump, telling his health minister "that life was normal at Mar-a-Lago, everything was cured, and that hydroxychloroquine was the medicine that was supposed to be used. From that time on, it was very hard to get him to take the science seriously."

We all saw the similarities between Bolsonaro and Trump's reaction to the pandemic in real-time.

They both downplayed the virus and were obsessively concerned with the economic fallout, leading them to lean on scientists to fudge the numbers. Both of them were constantly out in public exposing themselves and others to the virus and they each recommended unscientific cure-alls while ignoring the public health recommendations that actually mitigated the worst of the virus. Trump really wanted to take credit for the vaccines, but has been forced to downplay that achievement due to skepticism among his followers, while Bolsonaro just comes right out and says they don't work. Their record in the pandemic is astonishingly similar.

Here in the U.S., the task of investigating what happened with the pandemic has fallen to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which has kept a pretty low profile these last few months. But on Tuesday they took the testimony of Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump's COVID-19 coordinator. According to the New York Times, Birx reiterated her earlier shocking claim that at least 130,000 lives were unnecessarily lost because the administration refused to do everything it could to ensure the nation followed the public health recommendations to mitigate the spread of the disease.

But in her testimony this week she also said that as the pandemic wore on into the summer and fall, the administration became distracted by the presidential campaign and pretty much lost interest in the crisis. In other words, a lot of people died so that Donald Trump could get elected.

When asked if she felt Trump did everything he could to save lives, Birx replied, "no."

She also complained about the malign influence of Dr. Scott Atlas, the radiologist who caught Trump's eye on Fox News and was brought in to push the idea that the country should seek "herd immunity," just as Bolsonaro had tried to do in Brazil. Birx testified that Atlas even brought to the White House the three physicians who later authored the "Great Barrington Declaration," which called for deliberately hastening herd immunity. Trump was all in:

Bolsonaro and members of his family are under fire for corruption as well and there is a good chance he may face jail time as well as a tough re-election campaign next year. And then there is the little matter of the crimes against humanity charges that could be before the International Criminal Court.

His good friend and inspiration, Donald Trump, is in a similar situation — although he has three more years to try to make everyone forget his terrible response to the pandemic. Trump needn't worry about the ICC, of course. The U.S. isn't a signatory. The powers that be thought signing on to it might result in U.S. troops being accused of war crimes. I doubt they anticipated that a U.S. president might be accused of facilitating the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own citizens. Donald Trump has always been a very lucky guy in that way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How ethnic and religious divides in Afghanistan are contributing to violence against minorities

by Abdulkader Sinno, Indiana University

Close to a hundred Afghan Shiite Muslims were killed in attacks on mosques in October 2021. One such attack took place on Oct. 15, when a group of suicide bombers detonated explosives at a mosque in Kandahar. Just over a week before that, at least 46 people were killed in another suicide bomber attack in northern Afghanistan. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Ethnicity and religion are key to understanding the politics and conflicts of today's Afghanistan. My research on Afghan affairs can explain how they have created fault lines that have influenced Afghanistan's politics since 1978.

Afghanistan's four largest ethnic groups

The largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, estimated at around 45% of the population and mostly concentrated in the south and east of the country, are the Sunni Muslim Pashtun.

The Pashtun population is split in half by the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Durand Line, and has a long history of challenging state authority and the legitimacy of official borders in both countries. Until recently, when Pakistan built a fence on the border, Pashtun tribesmen and fighters crossed the border as if it did not exist.

The Pashtun are often characterized as being fiercely independent and protective of their land, honor, traditions and faith. The first time Pashtun fighters defeated an invading superpower was when they destroyed a British army sent to colonize Afghanistan in what is known as the First Anglo-Afghan War, which lasted from 1838 to 1942.

The Pashtun tribes' and clans' martial prowess makes them very influential in the politics of Afghanistan. Except for two short-lived exceptions, in 1929 and between 1992 and 1994, only Pashtun leaders have ruled Afghanistan since 1750.

The second-largest ethnic group in Afghanistan are the Tajiks, a term that refers to ethnic Tajiks as well as to other Sunni Muslim Persian speakers. The Tajiks, who constitute some 30% of the Afghan population and are mostly concentrated in the northeast and west, have generally been accepted by Pashtuns as part of the fabric of life in Afghanistan, perhaps because of their common adherence to Sunni Islam.

The third-largest Sunni Muslim group are the Uzbeks and the closely related Turkmen in the north of the country, who form around 10% of the population.

The Hazara – around 15% of the Afghan population – traditionally lived in the rough mountainous terrain in the center of Afghanistan, an area in which they historically sought shelter from Pashtun tribesmen who disapproved of their adherence to the Shiite sect of Islam. The Hazara have historically been some of the poorest and most marginalized people in Afghanistan.

Communist government and Soviet occupation

Most Afghans hardly reacted when a faction of Afghanistan's communist party took power in April 1978, because the Afghan government had traditionally played a very limited role outside of the larger cities.

They did, however, rise in impromptu revolts when the communists sent their activists to conservative villages to teach Afghan children Marxist dogma. When the Soviets invaded in 1979, resistance spread to much of Afghanistan. Mujahideen – the Muslim warriors defending their land – from all ethnic groups played a role in resisting the Soviet military.

Later, a brutish Uzbek communist militia leader named Abdul Rashid Dostum eliminated most Uzbek Mujahideen, and most Hazara Mujahideen parties made a tacit agreement with the Soviets to reduce hostilities. Most Pashtuns and Tajiks, however, continued to resist until the Soviet withdrawal and the collapse of the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul.

The Soviets promoted minority interests and gender equality in areas of Afghanistan they controlled, which led the larger cities they controlled to evolve culturally to a point that made city life unrecognizably alien to many rural Afghans.

The withdrawal of the Soviet Red Army in February 1989 led to the cessation of U.S. aid to the Mujahideen parties, which turned Mujahideen field commanders, whose loyalty to party leaders was based on their ability to distribute financial and military resources, into militarized independent local leaders. Similarly, the regime's militias and units also became independent after its collapse in April 1992.

Afghanistan, particularly the Pashtun areas, became fragmented, with hundreds of local leaders and warlords fighting over territory, drug production, smuggling routes and populations to tax. While many local leaders cared about the welfare of their kith and kin, some were warlords who abused fellow Afghans.

The first Taliban era

In 1994, a group of previous Pashtun Mujahideen formed the Taliban and managed to control most of Afghanistan, including Kabul, by the time the U.S. invaded in late 2001.

The Taliban's rise was fueled by rural Pashtun support for its agenda of ending warlord-generated insecurity, bringing back Pashtun prominence and recreating traditional Pashtun village life – as they imagined it to have been. The Taliban's conservative views reflected the values of a large section of the public they governed in the south and east of the country.

The conservative rural Taliban, traumatized by decades of war, encountered an alien cultural environment when they took over Kabul. They reacted forcefully, limited urban women's access to education and labor and imposed strict limitations on dress, appearance and public behavior.

Afghans in urban areas, particularly women, and members of Afghan minorities did not by and large share the parochial Taliban understanding of their common faith. They were undermined, threatened or punished when they attempted to challenge Taliban restrictions. The Shiite Hazara, in particular, were subjected to brutal retaliatory attacks when they resisted Taliban rule.

The US occupation

The U.S. military invaded Afghanistan and allied with minority local leaders and some Pashtun warlords to oust the Taliban. These warlords ended up filling most key posts in the regime the U.S.-led coalition established in Kabul.

For warlords from all backgrounds, it appeared to be a golden age. The rest of the Afghan population, even more so in Pashtun areas than in others, went back to suffering from warlords' predatory behavior.

In 2004, three years after the U.S. occupation began, the mostly Pashtun Taliban reorganized as an insurgent force to fight the U.S.-led occupation and the regime it established in Afghanistan.

Enterprising urban youths, including women, from historically disadvantaged minorities, particularly the Shiite Hazara, took advantage of aid, education programs and foreign-driven employment opportunities to advance. In contrast, the rural Pashtun, who suffered the brunt of the warfare between the Taliban and U.S.-led coalition, were set back economically and hardly benefited from investments in health and education.

One of the byproducts of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan was the development of a local branch of the Islamic State, the Islamic State-Khorasan (an Arabic name for the region). The organization was formed by defectors from the Taliban who felt that their leadership was too soft on the Americans. This group has engaged in attacks on Shiite civilians, whom it considers to be heretics and agents of Shiite Iran. It was responsible for attacks on U.S. troops such as the August 2021 attack on the Kabul airport. It is also antagonistic toward the Taliban.

The return of Taliban

The return of the Taliban to Kabul after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in August 2021 is a return to a rural Pashtun order. Most Taliban leaders are rural Pashtuns who received their education in conservative madrassas in Afghanistan or Pashtun areas of Pakistan. Only three of the 24 members of the Taliban interim government are not Pashtuns – they are Tajiks.

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And the Taliban are running the country the way they imagine life in Pashtun villages used to be before Afghanistan sank into perpetual war in 1979. The Taliban movement caters to the sensibilities of conservative rural Pashtun Muslims. Their understanding of Islam is not necessarily shared by other Afghans, religious as they may be.

In the meantime, the Islamic State group is conducting massive terrorist attacks on Shiite mosques, a tactic that originated with the Iraqi branch of the organization. One aim of the Islamic State's attacks, I believe, is to drive recruitment that has weakened over the past years by appealing to anti-Shiite sentiment among the Pashtun, particularly after the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban successes on the battlefield.The Conversation

Abdulkader Sinno, Associate Professor of Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies, Indiana University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

'The State’s gambit has worked': Justice Sotomayor decries the court's refusal to lift the Texas abortion ban

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a lone dissent on Friday as her colleagues once again refused to block the Texas abortion ban, even under a request from the Department of Justice.

The court did agree to take up the matter for oral arguments swiftly. On Monday, Nov. 1, the court will hear from both sides in the case on the question of whether the U.S. administration can intervene and temporarily block the law from going into effect as the cases proceed.

But Sotomayor, as she has previously, argued that the court should have issued an injunction blocking the abortion ban from being enforced immediately. The law is already having massive effects on the constitutionally protected right to obtain an abortion in Texas, she argued, and yet a majority of the justices is allowing the state to use procedural loopholes to undermine the court's own ruling precedents.

"The State's gambit has worked," she wrote. "The impact is catastrophic."

To circumvent existing law protecting the right to get an abortion, Texas legislators enacted a scheme the prohibits abortion after six weeks — well before a pregnancy may have even been detected — but outsources enforcement to the courts and citizens. The ban, known as S.B. 8, allows anyone to sue those who assist in an abortion for $10,000. Because of this unique enforcement mechanism, a majority of the Supreme Court's conservative justices have said that the issues are too complex to warrant an immediate injunction against the law.

This decision, Sotomayor argued, is a betrayal of the court's authority — and it is having the practical effect of infringing on the rights of people seeking abortions. She explained:

On a human level, the District Court relied on credible declarations that described the threat of liability under S. B. 8 as "nothing short of agonizing" for abortion care providers. ... Providers are "seriously concerned that even providing abortions in compliance with S. B. 8 will draw lawsuits from anti-abortion vigilantes or others seeking financial gain." ... Patients are "devastated" to learn they cannot access care, and the "turmoil" caused by the Act leaves them "panicked, both for themselves and their loved ones." ... Even among the few women who are able to receive abortion services in Texas, S. B. 8 pushes patients "to make a decision about their abortion before they are truly ready to do so."
To be sure, the court agreed, "[p]regnant people from Texas are scared and are frantically trying to get appointments" in other States. ... The court found, however, that many patients are unable to seek out-of-state care based on financial constraints, dangerous family situations, immigration status, or other reasons. Id., at *42. These individuals "are being forced to carry their pregnancy to term against their will or to seek ways to end their pregnancies on their own." ...
The court also found that patients who are able to leave Texas have encountered restrictions and backlogs exacerbated by S. B. 8, citing evidence of the Act's "stunning" and "crushing" impacts on clinics in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. ... An Oklahoma provider, for example, reported a "staggering 646% increase of Texan patients per day," occupying between 50% and 75% of capacity. ... A Kansas clinic similarly reported that about half of its patients now come from Texas. Id., at *44. The District Court found that this "constant stream of Texas patients has created backlogs that in some places prevent residents from accessing abortion services in their own communities.

"I cannot capture the totality of this harm in these pages," she continued. "But as these excerpts illustrate, the State (empowered by this Court's inaction) has so thoroughly chilled the exercise of the right recognized in Roe as to nearly suspend it within its borders and strain access to it in other States."

Most legal observers expect that the court is well on its way to formally overturning Roe and Casey, the precedents recognizing a right to get an abortion, or to so drastically alter the interpretation of this right that they may as well have been overturned. But it's widely believed the court will use an upcoming case about a Missippi abortion law if it truly does intend to make major changes to its precedent. It's much less clear how the court will handle the Texas case after oral arguments.

Millions were evacuated during disasters last year – another growing cost of climate change

by Jane McAdam AO, UNSW

As world leaders prepare for the COP26 climate talks next month, it's worth recalling a sobering line from the royal commission's report into the 2019-20 Australian bushfires: “what was unprecedented is now our future".

The bushfires saw the largest peacetime evacuation of Australians from their homes, with at least 65,000 people displaced. As climate change amplifies the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, evacuations are likely to become increasingly common – and costly – in human and economic terms.

Numbers of displaced people on the rise

Globally, the displacement of people due to the impacts of disasters and climate change is now at a record high.

In 2020, nearly 31 million people were displaced within their own countries because of disasters, at least a third of which resulted from government-led evacuations. And people in poorer countries are six times more likely to be evacuated than those in wealthier countries, according to some estimates.

Already, close to 90% of the world's refugees come from countries that are the most affected by climate change – and the least able to adapt.

Evacuations are an important life-saving emergency response – a temporary measure to move people to safety in the face of imminent harm. Under human rights law, states are obligated to protect people from threats to life, including the adverse effects of disasters and climate change.

At times, this may include an obligation to evacuate people at risk.

However, without careful planning and oversight, evacuations can also constitute arbitrary displacement. They can uproot “significant numbers" of people for prolonged periods of time. And they can expose people to other types of risks and vulnerabilities, and erode human rights.

For example, in 2020, wildfires and flooding exacerbated the existing humanitarian crisis in Syria, prompting the evacuation of thousands of already internally displaced persons who were forced to move yet again.

Too little support after disasters

Unfortunately, the “rescue" paradigm that characterises the way we typically think about evacuations means such risks are too often overlooked. As a result, national responses may fail to appreciate the scale of internal displacement triggered by evacuations, or to identify it at all.

In practice, this may mean there is insufficient support for those who are displaced, and little accountability by the relevant government authorities. Moving people out of harm's way during a disaster may be one element of an effective government response. Ensuring people can return, safely and with dignity, however, is crucial to economic and social recovery.

This is particularly prescient given that evacuations can create significant economic and social disruption.

For instance, the cost of a year's temporary housing for Australia's 2019–20 bushfire evacuees amounted to A$60–72 million. Each day of lost work cost A$705 per person.

Such costs are amplified in the Asia-Pacific region, which accounted for 80% of global disaster-related displacement from 2008–18.

Small island states are particularly affected by disasters and the impacts of climate change. For instance, large proportions of Vanuatu's population were displaced by Cyclone Pam in 2015 and by Cyclone Harold just five years later.

According to a UN forecast, such countries could face average annual disaster-related losses equivalent to nearly 4% of their GDPs. The impact on the long-term prosperity, stability and security of individuals and communities cannot be overstated.

The point is that with greater investment in disaster risk reduction and planning, many of these outcomes could be avoided.

Currently, the amount of money allocated in development assistance to prepare for disaster risks is “miniscule" compared to aid funding for post-disaster responses.

This is clearly is the wrong way around – especially when the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction estimates each dollar spent on preparation could have a 60-fold return.

What leaders at COP26 need to do

The ABC television's miniseries Fires shows that people's decisions about whether to stay or go in an emergency are not simple. People are influenced not only by their perceptions of the risk of harm, but also by the desire to protect relatives, property and animals, or a belief that they can withstand the disaster.

Well-planned, evidence-based strategies are important when an emergency requires rapid decision-making, often in changing conditions and with limited resources to hand. If lines of authority are unclear, or there is insufficient attention to detail during the planning process, evacuation efforts may be hampered further, putting lives and property at greater risk.

It is essential for policymakers to recognise that a government's “life-saving" response to a disaster, such as an evacuation, can itself generate significant human and financial costs. Governments need to incorporate principles from human rights law into their response plans to help protect people from foreseeable risks and to enhance their rights, well-being and recovery.

Climate change is only going to exacerbate increasingly extreme weather events that force people from their homes. At next month's climate talks, leaders must agree on climate change mitigation targets and adaptation policies that avert the need to evacuate people in the first place.

However, achieving change on the ground will require a far more linked-up and integrated approach to climate change, disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and mobility. This includes systematically implementing the recommendations not only of the Paris Agreement, but other international agreements focused on these goals.

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Biden is fueling the flames of paranoia about immigrants that Trump stoked before him

The news that Biden's administration is to provide legal support for unaccompanied migrant children in several American cities will doubtless be welcomed. The federal initiative is said to provide attorneys to represent children facing deportation proceedings after having entered the country on their own at the southern border.

But when examining United States border policy holistically, the move doesn't go nearly far enough. It's a drop in the ocean when considering the escalating humanitarian crisis — and it is a crisis — that exists as a result of US border policies, foreign policy and influence.

First, the way to deal with a surge in unaccompanied minors is not to buttress legal provisions. The sensible and humane thing would be to allow passage for their parents and guardians to safely enter the country in order to have their asylum claims processed together as families. The sanctity of families should be protected at all costs.

While many Democrats might choose to blame the migration crisis on the Trump era, that's too easy. Biden's administration has the power to rescind Title 42 whenever it wishes. Yet Title 42 remains in place despite Biden promising to break from such policies, and in the face of demands from the UN and countless other humanitarian groups demanding its removal. Furthermore, with the availability of vaccines, covid is no longer an excuse to maintain racist border policies.

In recent days, four United Nations agencies have warned against the dangers of deporting Haitians arriving at the border back to Haiti. Instability in the island nation is serious. Experts highlight food shortages, gang violence and political turmoil in the wake of the assassination of a former president. Haiti still suffers from the after-effects of its most recent earthquake. The US special envoy there resigned, citing the treatment of Haitians at the southern border.

The people of Haiti, mired in poverty, hostage to the terror, kidnappings, robberies and massacres of armed gangs and suffering under a corrupt government with gang alliances, simply cannot support the forced infusion of thousands of returned migrants lacking food, shelter, and money without additional, avoidable human tragedy.

If the conditions outlined by Daniel Foote and UN agencies don't justify the chance to safely claim asylum, then what does?

There's a reason, too, why many are characterizing the treatment of Haitian migrants as anti-Black. From Afghans to Canadian border crossers, other migrants are treated better. The Biden administration's border policies break the president's campaign promises. They arguably also break domestic and international law. They are self-evidently morally repugnant, enforced with barbarity. The real reason that such policies exist is, of course, to satisfy America's insatiable unwarranted paranoia over so-called border security.

The flames of that paranoia were stoked for sure by the former president. But rather than extinguish those flames, Biden's administration is doing the equivalent of throwing chip fat into the fire. While politicians repeat endless talking points about enforcing law and safety regarding the border, the reality is that America's border policies, like the UK, ought to represent a source of national shame. But they don't. They've become mainstream political currency.

By supporting such policies, flag wavers and so-called respectable people are consigning vulnerable people to a death sentence. Deporting people back to places like Haiti could mean exactly that. Such privilege and racism are the opposite of democracy.

What certainly is a cornerstone of democracy, however, is protest.

And that's what demonstrators did recently, outside the home of Alejandro Mayorkas, demanding Biden's administration make good on promises to undo damage already done. They want an end to Title 42, the rule allowing the deportation of people suspected of having covid.

It's clear by now that relentless pressure must be applied to force the right thing. As it stands, human rights and human dignity remain buzzwords repeated by President Biden and his predecessors. Decent democrats and Democrats need to rally and demand that Biden's administration reverse the inhumane border policies.

It's tiring having to constantly argue that Black people are humans deserving of fair treatment under the law. One day, Haitian kids will grow up, becoming our future. What do we tell them to explain their treatment and that of their parents? That it was the law, a government policy? That democracy was a nice idea, applicable to some?

Disenfranchising felons has disturbing roots in the ancient practice of 'civil death'

This week Democrats are making a renewed push for passing voting rights legislation. The bill includes reforms to limit partisan gerrymandering and address campaign finance reform. While it is a needed protection for voting rights after the Voting Rights Act was gutted in 2013, there are a number of important issues it doesn't touch that we should consider at the state level before the 2022 election.

While criminal justice reform remains an important political issue, felon enfranchisement and incarcerated voting don't get as much attention. Some states, however, are beginning to address the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people at least. After years of individually restoring voting rights, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam restored voting rights for all formerly incarcerated individuals not currently in jail in March 2021. In 2018, Florida, which had one of the worst felon disenfranchisement laws in the country, passed a ballot measure with 65 percent support to automatically restore the voting rights of 1.4 million formerly incarcerated people. Unfortunately, Republican legislators are still trying to use court fines to prevent them from voting but many were able to vote for the first time in years in 2020. Unfortunately, there has been almost no effort to support voting rights for people who are currently incarcerated.

While felony disenfranchisement has long been accepted, the legal justifications are far from conclusive. Disenfranchising those with a felony record has its roots in "civil death" as a criminal punishment dating back to ancient Athens, Rome, and medieval Europe. However, since only elites had civil rights, this punishment was only applied to elites historically. This punishment could result in a complete loss of citizenship rights, which could include the loss of the right to serve in the Roman legion, living outside the protection of law in medieval Europe, the loss of all property and of course suffrage.

The concept of civil death carried over to Britain and then the colonies with British common law. Punishment in this period was often physical with the stocks, public whipping and even branding particularly for lower classes. Civil death remained a punishment only for those who were elite enough to participate in civil society.

The 19th-century rise of the penitentiary changed the societal response to crime. Foucault suggested this was a change from enacting punishment on the body to enacting it on the mind. The purpose of imprisonment was to restrain freedom of movement in order to encourage silent religious contemplation and improve a person to become a better, more productive citizen of a democracy.

The Constitution left specific suffrage rules up to the states and says nothing about criminal or incarcerated voting rights. Kentucky was the first state in 1792 to establish criminal disenfranchisement by excluding those convicted of "bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" from voting. Vermont followed in 1793 and Ohio in 1802. Between 1812 and 1821, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, Connecticut, Alabama, Missouri and New York all passed criminal disenfranchisement laws mostly applying to high crimes or "infamous" crimes. Other states continued to pass laws that disallowed criminals from voting until the Civil War.

The contemporary form of felon disenfranchisement that applies to many more crimes than "infamous ones" was an attempt to disenfranchise Black voters during Jim Crow. Jim Crow laws criminalized Black people, which increased the number who became felons, and the new felony disenfranchisement laws expanded the crimes that would cause one to lose their right to vote. Alabama passed the first such expanded criminal disenfranchisement law in 1901. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to correct the racially discriminatory voting laws that kept Black people from voting, but did little to address felony disenfranchisement.

Relevant Constitutional case law on felony disenfranchisement began in 1966 with Otsuka v. Hite. The California Supreme Court ruled that the phrase "infamous crimes" should only disenfranchise those "deemed to constitute a threat to the integrity of the elective process." If followed, this precedent would actually serve to restore voting rights to many formerly incarcerated people.

Usually the state has to prove a "compelling interest" in order to limit voting rights, but the court has generally found criminal disenfranchisement to be an exception. The Ninth Circuit addressed this specifically in Dillenburg v. Kramer in 1972 by acknowledging that Constitutional justifications on this subject have been vague and courts have been hard pressed to specifically define the state's interest in disenfranchising those who have been convicted of a crime. While the court agreed that historically, felon disenfranchisement had been ruled constitutional, they also left the door open to the law evolving by writing that "the constitutional concepts of equal protection are not immutably frozen like insects trapped in Devonian amber."

Unfortunately, courts went in a different direction and two years later the Supreme Court ruled that criminals were exempt from Equal Protection Clause protections in Richardson v. Ramirez. They overturned the lower California court which ruled that felon disenfranchisement violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Richardson has become the controlling precedent to justify felon disenfranchisement and it was decided in the post Civil Rights backlash against criminal justice reform that fed mass incarceration.

Whatever the legal justification, disenfranchising currently or formerly incarcerated people serves no governmental interest. The initial reasoning for the penitentiary as a form of punishment was explicitly to turn criminals into good citizens, which suggests the need for incarcerated voting rights to achieve this. Additionally, isolation and a strict focus on punishment tends to increase recidivism rates while education and a connection to the outside world decreases them.

Allowing incarcerated people to vote would also address a phenomenon called "prison gerrymandering," in which inmates are counted in the census for population purposes where the prison is located but not allowed to vote. Many states house their prisons in rural, predominantly white, areas while the prisons are disproportionately filled with urban people of color. Therefore, this practice gives outsized voting power to rural white areas by counting people who can't vote in those areas.

Two states, Maine and Vermont, have unrestricted voting rights for felons and even allow incarcerated people to vote from jail, though there is little effort to encourage these people to vote. Twenty-one states reinstate voting rights immediately upon release and 16 more reinstate voting rights after people have completed their prison term as well as parole or probation. In 11 states people risk losing their votes indefinitely or require a governor's pardon for their rights to be restored. Since the constitutional justifications are similar for incarcerated disenfranchisement, it's logical to consider real universal suffrage for all citizens, incarcerated or not, with the consideration of felon enfranchisement. Unlike early forms of "civil death," criminals don't lose their citizenship upon conviction, and again, penitentiary justifications include rehabilitation through good citizenship.

Previous legal arguments to justified felon enfranchisement have often relied on the Voting Rights Act to argue that felony disenfranchisement is racially motivated (or at least has a racial impact). Many legal scholars also suggest that criminals shouldn't be exempt from the state needing a "compelling interest" to disenfranchise them. Another fruitful argument could lie in the number of felonies leading to disenfranchisement being too broad. With our democracy under siege we should use all these legal arguments to restore voting rights to as many people as possible at the state level.

New report finds Charleston prosecutors treat Black and white men equally. Really?

How many former prosecutors does it take to give a white elected prosecutor in the Deep South a glowing reference on racial equality? A couple—so long as they convince Big Philanthropy funders that they are doing more than handing out undeserved positive PR.

That is what happened when Justice Innovation Lab, a New Venture Fund-backed nonprofit started by former federal prosecutor Jared Fishman, endeavored to study case outcomes from the Charleston, South Carolina, Solicitor's Office according to race.

As explained on the organization's website, Charleston is dear to Fishman. He prosecuted Michael Slager, the white police officer who in 2015 shot and killed Walter Scott, a Black man. He also seems to be on good terms with Charleston Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, the city's top prosecutor. Fishman says the two "worked together to secure justice in the case," when what transpired is that he locked the cop into a federal plea deal after Wilson failed to secure a conviction at the state level. (She even used her opening statement in court to victim-blame Scott.)

Teaming up with Prosecutorial Performance Indicators, another data-oriented think tank staffed by another former prosecutor (Melba Pearson, who ran as a reformist candidate for Miami-Dade County, Florida, State Attorney in 2020), the Justice Innovation Lab published a report this month: "Disparity and Prosecution in Charleston, SC."

Its major conclusion is that Black and white men face essentially the same treatment from Solicitor Wilson and her prosecutors, though Black people are arrested at five times the rate of white people. When discussing the report, the local press has even used the bold phrase "equality in court."

To come to this conclusion, researchers gathered data on various aspects of cases where prosecutors are in control, such as dismissals, plea negotiations and more.

While this is all well and good, the report is bound to create unduly generous depictions of the reality of Charleston's local prosecutor corps. Data is only as good as the metrics selected by researchers, and although this report is slated to be the first of a series, it does not address the very real ways trials are stacked against Black people in the city.

Setting aside the way Solicitor Wilson handled the Slager case, Black people basically cannot serve on juries in Charleston. Professors from Michigan State University College of Law found in 2016 that Wilson's prosecutors strike Black people without cause at least six times more often than white people.

These sorts of facts can cause Black people to plead guilty even when they know they did not commit the crime. The report doesn't weigh in on that phenomenon one way or the other, only acknowledging racial disparities in arrest rates and how that may translate to harsher sentences for Black men due to longer rap sheets. But the real risk of Black people pleading guilty regardless of guilt should not shock anyone. After all, how are they going to get a fair trial when accused in front of a jury that is all white or close to it, in a city economically reliant on a tourism industry that includes the romanticization of plantations and other remnants of slavery?

In his review of Carissa Byrne Hessick's Punishment Without Trial, a new book about the problems with plea bargaining, Washington University law professor Daniel Harawa recalls a conversation in the book between Hessick and Damian Mills, a Black man wrongfully convicted of murder and later exonerated in North Carolina. Hessick asked Mills if he regretted pleading guilty despite his innocence. Mills said he only regretted not getting a better plea deal.

While this surprised Hessick, Harawa, who is Black, said he understood. The people who ran law enforcement in the county were white. Prosecutors in North Carolina, like in Charleston, South Carolina, have long practiced how to avoid placing Black people on juries. When considering his decision, Mills may have also been exposed to recent cases, like one where a Black teen was sentenced to death.

The stories of people who plead guilty to crimes they have not committed, fearing a far heavier sentence if they go to trial, are left untold. They don't get reported on unless the people convicted are later exonerated, and work to exonerate the wrongfully convicted disproportionately focuses on the most serious criminal cases, like rape and murder. When the stakes of a conviction are lower, there may be less motivation from the convicted person to fight it, as well as less interest from the well-resourced nonprofits that could help.

That should cause us to question what it means when, for example, the Justice Innovation Lab reports that gun crime cases against Black defendants in Charleston are dismissed 26.3 percent of the time, while those against white defendants are dismissed only 23.5 percent of the time.

Perhaps the evidence in the proportionately smaller number of cases against white people is simply so airtight that dismissals are rare. And perhaps the evidence against Black people in the same cases is more often weaker, but prosecutors know most will plead guilty anyway, rather than go to trial, because they know the system is stacked against them.

In such scenarios, the right thing for Solicitor Wilson to do would be to dismiss more gun cases, and scrutinize police claims against Black people more closely. But the information provided by the Justice Innovation Lab does nothing to prompt such actions. It is actually unclear whether the philanthropy-funded work here has any purpose besides patting Solicitor Wilson on the back and keeping the world "exactly the way it is."

This article was originally published by Filter, a magazine covering drug use, drug policy and human rights. Follow Filter on Facebook or Twitter.

‘Male chauvinist pig’ was the ultimate feminist insult during the 1960s — and they are ‘alive and kicking’ in 2021: historian

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the term "male chauvinist pig" was the ultimate insult from feminists. It isn't a term that is used a lot among modern-day feminists and Millennials. But Texas Tech history professor Julie Willett, in an article for Mother Jones' November/December issue, stresses that "male chauvinist pigs" are alive and well in 2021.

"It would be hard to deny today that the male chauvinist pig is still alive and kicking, running amok in his own filth," Willett argues. "The election of Donald Trump and his 'grab 'em by the pussy' regime mixed misogyny, mockery, and race privilege with delight. (Former New York Gov.) Andrew Cuomo's domineering behavior in politics echoed his sexually belittling actions in private. Both were proud of being jerks, personally and professionally, and both got called 'male chauvinist pigs.'"

The term "male chauvinist pig" had a lot of bite during the Gloria Steinem/Betty Friedan era of feminism. And the Archie Bunker character on Norman Lear's 1970s sitcom "All in the Family" was a textbook example of a fictional "male chauvinist pig" in pop culture.

Willett, author of the book "The Male Chauvinist Pig: A History," discusses the origins of the term, noting that before the 1960s, racists were sometimes described as "White chauvinists" — and 1960s-era feminists applied the "chauvinist" concept to women's rights.

"In the 1960s, as feminists — many of them red-diaper babies — created their own networks, they adopted the language to name patriarchy," Willett recalls. "Pig was an obvious addition, an old insult for those holding corrupt power. Its historical links to racialized policing perhaps led to 'pig' as a moniker for White police terror."

Willett notes that while the Black Panthers, during the 1960s, used the "pig" concept to attack racists, feminists applied it to sexists.

"Huey Newton of the Black Panther Party said…. 'pig' was chosen to show 'grotesque qualities' and create a 'detestable' picture 'that takes away the image of omnipotence' of the White power structure," Willett notes. "The male chauvinist pig thus captured feminist fury as intertwined with other movements on the left: against nationalism, against racism, against capitalism and against cops. As activist Robin Morgan explained in the underground newspaper Rat in 1968, women wanted to target 'all the good old American values.' The insult did just that."

Willett adds, however, that some men — for example, the late far-right talk radio host Rush Limbaugh — considered it a badge of honor to be called a "male chauvinist pig."

"This embrace of what was meant to be derogatory rendered the real complaints of women unserious," Willett observes. "By the 1990s, Rush Limbaugh proudly called himself a pig. He could take a joke; why couldn't the women he called 'feminazis?' Cuomo, similarly, dismissed his female accusers as humorless, allowing him to frame his own actions as benign. Cuomo's political demise may indicate that this tactic no longer works, that the chauvinist pig has been put in his place. But then again, they say Trump could run in 2024."

A star’s trek to space obscures deadly desert treks below

"Star Trek" was in the news this week, as actor William Shatner, who played "Captain Kirk" in the classic 1960s TV program, blasted into space at the age of 90 as one of billionaire Jeff Bezos' latest Blue Origin space tourists. In this remote region of west Texas, mere miles from Bezos' gilded launch pad, a trek of another kind takes place every day, as migrants, many fleeing violence, the climate crisis and poverty attempt the difficult journey from Mexico to the U.S. While the spacecraft lifted its privileged passengers aloft, lost lives littered the Chihuahuan Desert floor far below. Travel by foot under the blazing hot sun is difficult through the sand, rock and cacti, made harder by the militarized enforcement of the broken U.S. immigration system.

Thousands of migrants have died attempting this journey. Armando Alejo Hernandez was last heard from in early May. Armando's disappearance in the desert has been addressed in this column before, also with a reference to the Blue Origin space facility in nearby Van Horn, Texas. In July, the heat of the desert was at its deadliest, and Jeff Bezos was locked in what has been dubbed "the billionaire's space race" with Richard Branson, who flew with a small crew aboard his own spaceship to achieve a few minutes of suborbital weightlessness.

Their brief trips received international acclaim. If only the media scrum would linger, and focus their cameras on the more perilous journeys of these earthbound desert travelers.

Armando spent a decade in the United States, working and building a family, with two sons who were U.S. citizens by birth. Armando, though, never obtained legal documentation, and was deported in 2016. His older son, Derek, speaking on the Democracy Now! news hour, described the genesis of Armando's fateful trip last May:

"Not having him around was tough on me, because I grew up, pretty much my whole childhood…all the time with my dad," Derek explained. "So, we were on the phone one day, and I asked him if he could come back, because I just wanted him around… I didn't get to see him for four years."

Alexis Corona was in a small group of migrants traveling north with Armando. He recently told Telemundo TV, "Armando said he couldn't walk anymore, and he wanted to see if he could be rescued…From where he stayed, maybe eight or nine miles ahead, the
rest of us were caught by immigration agents. We explained where Armando was, that he couldn't walk anymore, that he didn't have enough water or food. The reaction was, 'Well, if he stayed behind, he'll just have to stay there.'"

Derek was communicating with his father at that time. Armando sent
recorded voice messages to his son, describing his clothing, that he had no water and felt he couldn't go on. He sent a photo with a building high on a mountain in front of him. The photo clearly shows a U.S. government radar installation, placing Armando along the southern slope of Eagle Peak, in Hudspeth County, not far from El Paso.

Border Patrol agent Alex Jara, interviewed for the documentary "Missing in Brooks County," admitted, "We don't call them people anymore. We call them 'bodies.' Because if you start calling them people, then it starts getting to you."

Brooks County is home to one of the inland Customs and Border Protection checkpoints, which drives migrants lacking documentation off of Brooks County's single main roadway and into the desert to avoid capture.

"The increase of migration has begun since the beginning of the Biden administration," Eddie Canales, the director of the South Texas Human Rights Center, based in Brooks County, said on Democracy Now! "I have families here, representatives from different countries right now, that are still searching for their missing loved ones… the number has increased. There have been 99 recoveries of bodies and skeletal remains in Brooks County alone this year."

Average temperatures in the desert are cooler at this time of year, but unguided travel through the harsh environment is still perilous. Many more will needlessly die. Immigrant rights activists are pressuring the White House and Congress to ensure that a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents is included in the Build Back Better bill. The overall bill is being blocked by conservative Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema, of another border state, Arizona, home to the equally dangerous Sonoran Desert.

It is fine to gaze heavenward, to reach for the stars, inspired by the green-card-holding, Canadian actor William Shatner. But the crises that engulf us now will not be solved by spaceshots, but by people pulling together here on earth, with feet firmly planted on the ground.

'Weapon of war': Cori Bush decries unregulated use of tear gas on US civilians

Following a call by Rep. Cori Bush to investigate the use of tear gas on civilians by law enforcement, the House Oversight Committee on Thursday released a memo showing that the federal government has never determined the unregulated chemical to be safe for use on humans—despite the fact that manufacturers earn millions of dollars per year providing tear gas to police departments across the country.

Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who chair the Oversight Committee's panels on economic and consumer policy and civil rights liberties, respectively, released the memo decrying "a complete void in the regulation of tear gas, a weapon that is banned in war yet commonly used against U.S. citizens."

The memo comes more than a year after the killing of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin sparked nationwide racial justice protests, where tear gas and other violent crowd control methods were frequently deployed by law enforcement agencies.

"Tear gas is not an inconvenience, it is a weapon of war," said Bush (D-Mo.), who led civil rights demonstrations near St. Louis following the police killing of Michael Brown in 2014, in a statement Thursday. "I know what it's like to have tear gas fired at me—my eyes, skin, and lungs burning in the fog of that horrific weapon—and to desperately search for something to relieve the terrible pain."

"For too long, tear gas has been abused by law enforcement," the congresswoman added.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), also a member of the Oversight Committee's civil rights panel, said the widespread use of tear gas shows that "the current design of our law enforcement is militarized."

According to the two subcommittees' investigation:

  • The U.S. has not conducted epidemiological research to determine the safety of tear gas when used on humans;
  • Tear gas manufacturers acknowledge that tear gas is dangerous and that "injury and/or damage can be expected"; and
  • Despite knowing the safety risks, manufacturers defer to law enforcement agencies regarding the use of tear gas and "some law enforcement associations eschew strict standards for tear gas use."

The subcommittees noted that widespread use of tear gas against protesters in the U.S.—including at one protest in June 2020 in Washington, D.C., where former Attorney General William Barr reportedly directed authorities to remove demonstrators, leading to the use of force—persists despite the United Nations' ban on tear gas in conflict zones.

Raskin and Krishnamoorthi requested information from multiple federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Justice regarding efforts to regulate tear gas, studies on the effects of the chemical on human health, and "the feasibility of establishing universal standards for tear gas products."

Each agency responded briefly, confirming they do not "regulate tear gas" and are "not aware of any activities or actions regarding tear gas."

The memo notes that what little research has been done on tear gas was largely conducted around 1950 and only included animals and young men in good health.

As Common Dreams reported earlier this year, one recent survey by Kaiser Permanente Northwest found that hundreds of people exposed to tear gas at protests in Portland last year experienced changes in their menstrual cycles including intense cramping, blood clots, and abnormally long periods.

Despite those findings, which were made public in April, the federal government has made no moves toward regulating the use of tear gas against civilians.

In contrast, the subcommittees pointed out that "in a 2014 study focused on U.S. Army recruits, scientists found that even young, healthy individuals developed a high risk of acute respiratory illness after exposure to tear gas. As a result, the Army immediately limited exposure concentrations and exposure times."

The investigation also found that three manufacturers of tear gas—Pacem, Combined Systems, and Safariland—generated more than $13 million in revenue between January 2018 and June 2021, selling the product to police departments and corrections facilities.

"Tear gas is dangerous, and despite this, manufacturers have continued to profit off its sale, and law enforcement agencies have had free rein to use it against protesters across the country," said Bush. "This unregulated, violent, and deadly chemical weapon can cause long-lasting health damage to activists, including asthma, respiratory failure, and even death. It is past time our nation reckoned with its ongoing history of racial, social, economic, and environmental violence."

In addition to this year's survey showing widespread menstrual changes in people exposed to tear gas, a 2017 study published in BMC Public Health regarding the use of chemical irritants including tear gas and pepper spray showed that out of 5,910 people exposed around the globe, two died from the exposure and more than five dozen suffered permanent disabilities.

Exposing people engaged in civil disobedience to such potential outcomes, said Bush, violates Americans' First Amendment rights.

"For protest to truly be a right," said the congresswoman, "we must ensure that we are never again met with weapons of war on our streets."

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