World

The tattered insider histories of our possible future ambassadors

On April 20, President Joe Biden remarked that the police murder of George Floyd "ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism" in American policing, and he called for action at all levels of government "to ensure that Black and brown people or anyone… [doesn't] fear the interactions with law enforcement."

One week later, the Washington Post reported that Biden will likely nominate former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who personally helped cover up the police murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014, as ambassador to Japan.

It's a particularly egregious example of the longstanding practice of presidents doling out cushy ambassadorships to old friends, high-dollar donors, or political allies, especially those deemed too toxic for more powerful posts in the Cabinet (as Emanuel has been) or executive branch agencies. Being the ambassador to a wealthy nation allied with the U.S., while still carrying some responsibilities, is often more or less a multiyear vacation on the government's dime.

Most presidents reserve about 50 ambassadorships for this "political selection" process, with the rest going to career foreign service officers. Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, upped the corruption factor. During his last days in office in January, 83 ambassadors, or 43.5 percent of all U.S. ambassadors, were his handpicked allies.

But Biden has been slower than most presidents to dole out the diplomatic goodies, which has bred consternation among the donor class: a Daily Beast report in February quoted an anonymous Democratic donor, fuming, "It's bullshit. The number of asks over the course of the campaign… and they can't even remember to make a phone call to the people who kept the lights on."

Now, according to the Washington Post, Biden is finally getting around to scratching the backs of his friends and allies. This carries weight in D.C. gossip circles, given how well-connected Biden is there. So who made the cut?

Emanuel, as mentioned earlier, will likely attract the most interest, and for good reason. I've written previously about how his persona of a hard-edged political shark is mostly built on bluster and failed strategies. He's done favors at every turn for both Wall Street and the police state, actors whom Biden and his party are belatedly recognizing are rightly despised by their voter base.

One of the least-known names on the list is Mark Gitenstein, one of Biden's former Senate aides whom he once called "my best personal friend." In 2008, Gitenstein had been favored to lead the powerful Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice, but the nonprofit consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen successfully shot him down for his long history of corporate lobbying on the very judicial issues that the office oversees.

Instead, Gitenstein was made ambassador to Romania, where he was a loyal ally of Traian Băsescu, the anti-democratic and fervently pro-capitalist president of Romania at the time. As Romanian historian Florin Abraham wrote, Băsescu rewarded Gitenstein with a lucrative seat on the "Property Fund," which holds stock in Romania's most profitable companies. Gitenstein then swung into the corporate law offices of Mayer Brown, where the company website quoted him as saying, "Commercial opportunities abound in Romania and throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and my experience and contacts in the region can help clients capitalize on them." He'll be able to further flesh out his European Rolodex as the likely ambassador to the European Union.

There's also David Cohen, a Comcast lobbyist who hosted Biden's very first fundraiser of the 2020 election cycle. Cohen has wielded power on behalf of the telecommunications monopolist since 2002, mostly in Pennsylvania, which is how he grew close with the Scrantonian Biden. Biden is sending Cohen to Canada at the same time as his administration is bringing in anti-monopolists like Tim Wu and Lina Khan, who (like most Americans) have few kind things to say about Comcast.

Mexico, meanwhile, will welcome Ken Salazar as the ambassador to the country, a well-liked former Colorado senator who was Obama's interior secretary. While Salazar was overseeing the calamitous BP oil spill into the gulf that the U.S. and Mexico share, he was also approving new offshore oil drilling permits. He's currently a Big Oil lawyer through the offices of WilmerHale, which is the law firm representing BP in the gulf spill lawsuits.

Then there's Tom Nides, the current front-runner to be ambassador to Israel. A career investment banker, Nides personally switched the pay structure for Fannie Mae executives to incentivize short-term earnings. By 2008, Nides was a lobbyist for Morgan Stanley and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, the main lobbying consortium for Wall Street traders. His team "successfully resisted calls to break up the banks or impose caps on their size," in the words of the New Yorker, in part thanks to Nides' personal connections with powerful centrist Democrats—he was Joe Lieberman's chief of staff during the 2000 presidential campaign.

Morgan Stanley paid Nides $9 million for his services killing financial reform in 2010, but the next year he took a new job: the third-in-command in Hillary Clinton's State Department. His role focused on "economic statecraft," a euphemism for promoting American companies around the globe. Nides was also "Clinton's informal link to the Israeli government and to the pro-Israel lobby in Washington," according to the New Yorker. Consider that link formal now.

What can we take away from these names? For one, that Biden rewards those who have served him loyally, like most politicians. For another, that he doesn't want to alienate core constituencies or powerful voices in his party.

But what might be most interesting isn't the names, but the jobs for which they're being nominated. These are men—exclusively men—who have served as presidential chiefs of staff, Cabinet secretaries, and high-ranking world diplomats. They're used to being in the room when real decisions are made. Yet here they are, shunted off to the embassies of allied nations whose leaders will probably just call Biden directly if they need something. In a certain light, it looks like Biden is embarrassed by them, desperate to appease them in exchange for keeping them quiet.

Emanuel, Nides, and the rest likely aren't complaining about their new roles. But the fact that this is what they got—and not, say, a Cabinet secretary position, as Emanuel, in particular, hoped for—perhaps speaks to a change in how the old Washington wheeling and dealing is perceived. Biden may be a swamp creature, but his White House knows that the public is angry and that the policies and preferences of men like these are to blame for it. To hold on to his own power, Biden appears to be shedding those who came up around him. It just turns out that the price of that is the public paying for years of sake and sushi for someone who helped cover up the murder of a teenager.

Max Moran is a research director for the personnel team at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)'s Revolving Door Project, which aims to increase scrutiny on executive branch appointments.

This article was produced in partnership by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Joe Biden faces the return of a recurring nightmare

Many of us have had a recurring nightmare. You know the one. In a fog between sleeping and waking, you're trying desperately to escape from something awful, some looming threat, but you feel paralyzed. Then, with great relief, you suddenly wake up, covered in sweat. The next night, or the next week, though, that same dream returns.

For politicians of Joe Biden's generation that recurring nightmare was Saigon, 1975. Communist tanks ripping through the streets as friendly forces flee. Thousands of terrified Vietnamese allies pounding at the U.S. Embassy's gates. Helicopters plucking Americans and Vietnamese from rooftops and disgorging them on Navy ships. Sailors on those ships, now filled with refugees, shoving those million-dollar helicopters into the sea. The greatest power on Earth sent into the most dismal of defeats.

Back then, everyone in official Washington tried to avoid that nightmare. The White House had already negotiated a peace treaty with the North Vietnamese in 1973 to provide a "decent interval" between Washington's withdrawal and the fall of the South Vietnamese capital. As defeat loomed in April 1975, Congress refused to fund any more fighting. A first-term senator then, Biden himself said, "The United States has no obligation to evacuate one, or 100,001, South Vietnamese." Yet it happened anyway. Within weeks, Saigon fell and some 135,000 Vietnamese fled, producing scenes of desperation seared into the conscience of a generation.

Now, as president, by ordering a five-month withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by this September 11th, Biden seems eager to avoid the return of an Afghan version of that very nightmare. Yet that "decent interval" between America's retreat and the Taliban's future triumph could well prove indecently short.

The Taliban's fighters have already captured much of the countryside, reducing control of the American-backed Afghan government in Kabul, the capital, to less than a third of all rural districts. Since February, those guerrillas have threatened the country's major provincial capitals — Kandahar, Kunduz, Helmand, and Baghlan — drawing the noose ever tighter around those key government bastions. In many provinces, as the New York Times reported recently, the police presence has already collapsed and the Afghan army seems close behind.

If such trends continue, the Taliban will soon be primed for an attack on Kabul, where U.S. airpower would prove nearly useless in street-to-street fighting. Unless the Afghan government were to surrender or somehow persuade the Taliban to share power, the fight for Kabul, whenever it finally occurs, could prove to be far bloodier than the fall of Saigon — a twenty-first-century nightmare of mass flight, devastating destruction, and horrific casualties.

With America's nearly 20-year pacification effort there poised at the brink of defeat, isn't it time to ask the question that everyone in official Washington seeks to avoid: How and why did Washington lose its longest war?

First, we need to get rid of the simplistic answer, left over from the Vietnam War, that the U.S. somehow didn't try hard enough. In South Vietnam, a 10-year war, 58,000 American dead, 254,000 South Vietnamese combat deaths, millions of Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian civilian deaths, and a trillion dollars in expenditures seem sufficient in the "we tried" category. Similarly, in Afghanistan, almost 20 years of fighting, 2,442 American war dead, 69,000 Afghan troop losses, and costs of more than $2.2 trillion should spare Washington from any charges of cutting and running.

The answer to that critical question lies instead at the juncture of global strategy and gritty local realities on the ground in the opium fields of Afghanistan. During the first two decades of what would actually be a 40-year involvement with that country, a precise alignment of the global and the local gave the U.S. two great victories — first, over the Soviet Union in 1989; then, over the Taliban, which governed much of the country in 2001.

During the nearly 20 years of U.S. occupation that followed, however, Washington mismanaged global, regional, and local politics in ways that doomed its pacification effort to certain defeat. As the countryside slipped out of its control and Taliban guerrillas multiplied after 2004, Washington tried everything — a trillion-dollar aid program, a 100,000 troop "surge," a multi-billion-dollar drug war — but none of it worked. Even now, in the midst of a retreat in defeat, official Washington has no clear idea why it ultimately lost this 40-year conflict.

Secret War (Drug War)

Just four years after the North Vietnamese army rolled into Saigon driving Soviet-made tanks and trucks, Washington decided to even the score by giving Moscow its own Vietnam in Afghanistan. When the Red Army occupied Kabul in December 1979, President Jimmy Carter's national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, crafted a grand strategy for a CIA covert war that would inflict a humiliating defeat on the Soviet Union.

Building upon an old U.S. alliance with Pakistan, the CIA worked through that country's Inter Service Intelligence agency (ISI) to deliver millions, then billions of dollars in arms to Afghanistan's anti-Soviet guerrillas, known as the mujahideen, whose Islamic faith made them formidable fighters. As a master of geopolitics, Brzezinski forged a near-perfect strategic alignment among the U.S., Pakistan, and China for a surrogate conflict against the Soviets. Locked into a bitter rivalry with its neighbor India that erupted in periodic border wars, Pakistan was desperate to please Washington, particularly since, ominously enough, India had only recently tested its first nuclear bomb.

Throughout the long years of the Cold War, Washington was Pakistan's main ally, providing ample military aid and tilting its diplomacy to favor that country over India. To shelter beneath the U.S. nuclear umbrella, the Pakistanis were, in turn, willing to risk Moscow's ire by serving as the springboard for the CIA's secret war on the Red Army in Afghanistan.

Beneath that grand strategy, there was a grittier reality taking shape on the ground in that country. While the mujahideen commanders welcomed the CIA's arms shipments, they also needed funds to sustain their fighters and soon turned to poppy growing and opium trafficking for that. As Washington's secret war entered its sixth year, a New York Times correspondent travelling through southern Afghanistan discovered a proliferation of poppy fields that was transforming that arid terrain into the world's main source of illicit narcotics. "We must grow and sell opium to fight our holy war against the Russian nonbelievers," one rebel leader told the reporter.

In fact, caravans carrying CIA arms into Afghanistan often returned to Pakistan loaded with opium — sometimes, reported the New York Times, "with the assent of Pakistani or American intelligence officers who supported the resistance." During the decade of the CIA's secret war there, Afghanistan's annual opium harvest soared from a modest 100 tons to a massive 2,000 tons. To process the raw opium into heroin, illicit laboratories opened in the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands that, by 1984, supplied a staggering 60% of the U.S. market and 80% of the European one. Inside Pakistan, the number of heroin addicts surged from almost none at all in 1979 to nearly 1.5 million by 1985.

By 1988, there were an estimated 100 to 200 heroin refineries in the area around the Khyber Pass inside Pakistan operating under the purview of the ISI. Further south, an Islamist warlord named Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the CIA's favored Afghan "asset," controlled several heroin refineries that processed much of the opium harvest from the country's southern provinces. In May 1990, as that secret war was ending, the Washington Post reported that American officials had failed to investigate drug dealing by Hekmatyar and his protectors in Pakistan's ISI largely "because U.S. narcotics policy in Afghanistan has been subordinated to the war against Soviet influence there."

Charles Cogan, director of the CIA's Afghan operation, later spoke frankly about the Agency's priorities. "We didn't really have the resources or the time to devote to an investigation of the drug trade," he told an interviewer. "I don't think that we need to apologize for this… There was fallout in term of drugs, yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan."

There was also another kind of real fallout from that secret war, though Cogan didn't mention it. While it was hosting the CIA's covert operation, Pakistan played upon Washington's dependence and its absorption in its Cold War battle against the Soviets to develop ample fissionable material by 1987 for its own nuclear bomb and, a decade later, to carry out a successful nuclear test that stunned India and sent strategic shockwaves across South Asia.

Simultaneously, Pakistan was also turning Afghanistan into a virtual client state. For three years following the Soviet retreat in 1989, the CIA and Pakistan's ISI continued to collaborate in backing a bid by Hekmatyar to capture Kabul, providing him with enough firepower to shell the capital and slaughter some 50,000 of its residents. When that failed, from the millions of Afghan refugees inside their borders, the Pakistanis alone formed a new force that came to be called the Taliban — sound familiar? — and armed them to seize Kabul successfully in 1996.

The Invasion of Afghanistan

In the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, when Washington decided to invade Afghanistan, the same alignment of global strategy and gritty local realities assured it another stunning victory, this time over the Taliban who then ruled most of the country. Although its nuclear arms now lessened its dependence on Washington, Pakistan was still willing to serve as a springboard for the CIA's mobilization of Afghan regional warlords who, in combination with massive U.S. bombing, soon swept the Taliban out of power.

Although American air power readily smashed its armed forces — seemingly, then, beyond repair — that theocratic regime's real weakness lay in its gross mismanagement of the country's opium harvest. After taking power in 1996, the Taliban had first doubled the country's opium crop to an unprecedented 4,600 tons, sustaining the economy while providing 75% of the world's heroin. Four years later, however, the regime's ruling mullahs used their formidable coercive powers to make a bid for international recognition at the U.N. by slashing the country's opium harvest to a mere 185 tons. That decision would plunge millions of farmers into misery and, in the process, reduce the regime to a hollow shell that shattered with the first American bombs.

While the U.S. bombing campaign raged through October 2001, the CIA shipped $70 million in bundled bills into Afghanistan to mobilize its old coalition of tribal warlords for the fight against the Taliban. President George W. Bush would later celebrate that expenditure as one of history's biggest "bargains."

Almost from the start of what became a 20-year American occupation, however, the once-perfect alignment of global and local factors started to break apart for Washington. Even as the Taliban retreated in chaos and consternation, those bargain-basement warlords captured the countryside and promptly presided over a revived opium harvest that climbed to 3,600 tons by 2003, or an extraordinary 62% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). Four years later, the drug harvest would reach a staggering 8,200 tons — generating 53% of the country's GDP, 93% of the world's illicit heroin, and, above all, ample funds for a revival of… yes, you guessed it, the Taliban's guerrilla army.

Stunned by the realization that its client regime in Kabul was losing control of the countryside to the once-again opium-funded Taliban, the Bush White House launched a $7-billion drug war that soon sank into a cesspool of corruption and complex tribal politics. By 2009, the Taliban guerrillas were expanding so rapidly that the new Obama administration opted for a "surge" of 100,000 U.S. troops there.

By attacking the guerrillas but failing to eradicate the opium harvest that funded their deployment every spring, Obama's surge soon suffered a defeat foretold. Amid a rapid drawdown of those troops to meet the surge's use-by date of December 2014 (as Obama had promised), the Taliban launched the first of its annual fighting-season offensives that slowly wrested control of significant parts of the countryside from the Afghan military and police.

By 2017, the opium harvest had climbed to a new record of 9,000 tons, providing about 60% of the funding for the Taliban's relentless advance. Recognizing the centrality of the drug trade in sustaining the insurgency, the U.S. command dispatched F-22 fighters and B-52 bombers to attack the Taliban's labs in the country's heroin heartland. In effect, it was deploying billion-dollar aircraft to destroy what turned out to be 10 mud huts, depriving the Taliban of just $2,800 in tax revenues. To anyone paying attention, the absurd asymmetry of that operation revealed that the U.S. military was being decisively outmaneuvered and defeated by the grittiest of local Afghan realities.

At the same time, the geopolitical side of the Afghan equation was turning decisively against the American war effort. With Pakistan moving ever closer to China as a counterweight to its rival India and U.S.-China relations becoming hostile, Washington grew increasingly irritated with Islamabad. At a summit meeting in late 2017, President Trump and India's Prime Minister Modi joined with their Australian and Japanese counterparts to form "the Quad" (known more formally as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), an incipient alliance aimed at checking China's expansion that soon gained substance through joint naval maneuvers in the Indian Ocean.

Within weeks of that meeting, Trump would trash Washington's 60-year alliance with Pakistan with a single New Year's Day tweet claiming that country had repaid years of generous U.S. aid with "nothing but lies & deceit." Almost immediately, Washington announced suspension of its military aid to Pakistan until Islamabad took "decisive action" against the Taliban and its militant allies.

With Washington's delicate alignment of global and local forces now fatally misaligned, both Trump's capitulation at peace talks with the Taliban in 2020 and Biden's coming retreat in defeat were preordained. Without access to landlocked Afghanistan from Pakistan, U.S. surveillance drones and fighter-bombers now potentially face a 2,400-mile flight from the nearest bases in the Persian Gulf — too far for effective use of airpower to shape events on the ground (though America's commanders are already searching desperately for air bases in countries far nearer to Afghanistan to use).

Lessons of Defeat

Unlike a simple victory, this defeat offers layers of meaning for those with the patience to plumb its lessons. During a government investigation of what went wrong back in 2015, Douglas Lute, an Army general who directed Afghan war policy for the Bush and Obama administrations, observed: "We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn't know what we were doing." With American troops now shaking the dust of Afghanistan's arid soil off their boots, future U.S. military operations in that part of the globe are likely to shift offshore as the Navy joins the rest of the Quad's flotilla in a bid to check China's advance in the Indian Ocean.

Beyond the closed circles of official Washington, this dismal outcome has more disturbing lessons. The many Afghans who believed in America's democratic promises will join a growing line of abandoned allies, stretching back to the Vietnam era and including, more recently, Kurds, Iraqis, and Somalis, among others. Once the full costs of Washington's withdrawal from Afghanistan become apparent, the debacle may, not surprisingly, discourage potential future allies from trusting Washington's word or judgment.

Much as the fall of Saigon made the American people wary of such interventions for more than a decade, so a possible catastrophe in Kabul will likely (one might even say, hopefully) produce a long-term aversion in this country to such future interventions. Just as Saigon, 1975, became the nightmare Americans wished to avoid for at least a decade, so Kabul, 2022, could become an unsettling recurrence that only deepens an American crisis of confidence at home.

When the Red Army's last tanks finally crossed the Friendship Bridge and left Afghanistan in February 1989, that defeat helped precipitate the complete collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its empire within a mere three years. The impact of the coming U.S. retreat in Afghanistan will undoubtedly be far less dramatic. Still, it will be deeply significant. Such a retreat after so many years, with the enemy if not at the gates, then closing in on them, is a clear sign that imperial Washington has reached the very limits of what even the most powerful military on earth can do.

Or put another way, there should be no mistake after those nearly 20 years in Afghanistan. Victory is no longer in the American bloodstream (a lesson that Vietnam somehow did not bring home), though drugs are. The loss of the ultimate drug war was a special kind of imperial disaster, giving withdrawal more than one meaning in 2021. So, it won't be surprising if the departure from that country under such conditions is a signal to allies and enemies alike that Washington hasn't a hope of ordering the world as it wishes anymore and that its once-formidable global hegemony is truly waning.

Copyright 2021 Alfred W. McCoy

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel Frostlands (the second in the Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Alfred W. McCoy, a TomDispatch regular, is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author most recently of In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power (Dispatch Books). His latest book (to be published in October by Dispatch Books) is To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change.

As India gasps to breathe, Modi abdicates responsibility

The COVID-19 pandemic continues its brutal march across India. Figures of new infections reached 355,828 on May 3—which accounted for more than 62 percent of the world's new infections on that day. As hospitals run out of beds, ICU capacity, and even oxygen, these factors have been contributing to the already skyrocketing death toll in the country. Dead bodies in mortuaries, crematoria and burial grounds speak of the awful toll of the pandemic.

India's daily numbers of COVID-19 cases have outstripped infection rates in other countries like the United States and Brazil. The end of the surge is nowhere in sight as more states and cities slip into the grip of the pandemic. The new confirmed cases are rising quite steeply in states like Karnataka, Bihar and West Bengal even as numbers in cities like Mumbai and Delhi are beginning to flatten. What is more worrying is that the positivity rates are rising quite steeply, indicating that the actual number of infected people is even higher.

After the first wave subsided in December 2020, the BJP-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared victory against the pandemic. Perhaps it truly believed in its own propaganda. At any rate, it was busy, chest-thumping on its great success. At the World Economic Forum in January, Modi said, "In a country which is home to 18 percent of the world population, that country has saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively." The BJP's National Office Bearers meeting in February applauded the Modi government's performance in keeping the first wave of the virus under check. "The party unequivocally hails its leadership for introducing India to the world as a proud and victorious nation in the fight against COVID," said a press release issued by the BJP. This pyrrhic victory and these vainglorious claims are doubly painful as India grapples with a second wave that makes the first wave seem like a trailer.

The BJP was focusing on how to convert this so-called success into electoral victory in state elections when the second wave struck. As the numbers began to rise, the BJP decided that if it could not control the pandemic, it would try to control the narrative. It went on the offensive, with its troll army amplifying the message that the state governments have failed; people are to be blamed for abandoning the safety norms of masks and social distancing; everyone is to be blamed but the Modi government. This, notwithstanding the central government's signal of a return to normalcy by holding public rallies, election campaigns and huge religious gatherings such as the Kumbh Mela. If people did relax their adherence to the COVID-19 norms, they were only following the example of the leaders—Modi and others—on the dais during political rallies and roadshows, who appeared maskless while addressing large crowds during these events.

The first COVID-19 wave in India peaked around mid-September in 2020, touching nearly 100,000 new infections per day. It had gone down to about 10,000 by mid-February. This period should have been used to strengthen the public health system: increasing the numbers of hospital beds and ICU facilities, stepping up oxygen production and building a supply chain for delivery of medical oxygen. Tragically, the central government, which has centralized all powers under the Disaster Management Act, refused to prepare itself, or the states, or the public, for this second wave.

The worst failing in the current crisis is the lack of oxygen supply. When the lungs of patients are affected due to the virus, the most important medicine is oxygen. This shortage of oxygen has added to the rising death toll, as patients requiring oxygen are unable to get admissions in hospitals; they are dying as hospitals run out of oxygen; and oxygen cylinders are not available for home treatment. During the last week of April, several hospitals in Delhi reported that they had only a few hours of oxygen left. Failed oxygen supply has resulted in the deaths of patients in various hospitals, even in elite hospitals in the capital. If this is the situation in the nation's capital, and that too in elite hospitals, one can only imagine the plight of hospitals elsewhere in small towns and rural India.

That is the core of the current crisis. The major reason for deaths during a pandemic is when the number of serious patients outstrips the availability of hospital beds and the supply of oxygen. That is when fatalities start mounting. This is the case now in India.

In the first wave in India, the spread was limited to a few states, and to certain densely populated areas. This time, it is spreading across almost all states, and affecting a much larger cross-section of people.

Why didn't the government prepare for a rise of this magnitude? This government is, unfortunately, completely centralized; only the prime minister and his trusted lieutenant, Amit Shah, the home minister, can act. The other ministers are harnessed only to dismiss any criticism, even constructive criticism—from former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for example. Modi's sights were set on winning the elections in the east, particularly West Bengal where the BJP recently faced a decisive defeat. Modi continued to hold political rallies and only stopped when he realized the poor optics of being in electioneering mode amid a major pandemic. By then it was too late, and his poor handling of the situation on the ground led to his party's defeat in the West Bengal elections.

The central government has also failed to ensure a smooth vaccination rollout and has provided misleading information about vaccinations, which might not address the immediate crisis, but will help with controlling any future waves that may follow by creating herd immunity. The government's announcement about having vaccinated 157 million people as of May 3 is misleading. While 157 million vaccine doses have been given, only about 27 million people have received the two required doses as of May 3.

At the beginning of April, states such as Maharashtra, Delhi and Punjab were complaining about their vaccine supplies running low. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan dismissed these complaints by states as politicizing their "failures to control the spread of pandemic." The figures of vaccinations, however, reflect a different reality than the one claimed by the health minister and show that the number of vaccine doses given per day has indeed fallen drastically in mid-April in comparison to what it was in early April.

With the vaccine supply still constrained, the Modi government has failed to explain why it is now proposing that everyone above the age of 18 be vaccinated under the third phase of its vaccination drive. No explanation has been offered, nor a plan announced on how the country will ramp up its production and delivery to meet the expanded target.

The central government has mostly abandoned its responsibility to ensure that vaccines are available for the entire population, after its initial push to inoculate health workers and people above the age of 45. The government said that it will continue to provide 50 percent of the country's vaccine production to states and union territories for free under the third phase of the National Vaccine Strategy. The rest of the 50 percent will, however, have to be acquired by the state governments and the private hospitals from the two vaccine suppliers in India—Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech. The center has also removed all price controls on vaccines, creating a competition for scarce vaccines among the states, which will ultimately benefit the private suppliers. Instead of a well-thought-out plan to increase vaccine production, distribute it centrally and vaccinate all the people, this appears to be a cynical exercise in abandoning the central government's responsibility and shifting the blame to the state governments for failing to vaccinate the people.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology (NIV), in collaboration with Bharat Biotech, had developed Covaxin. There is no reason why ICMR-NIV should not have given licenses to other vaccine manufacturers, including half a dozen public sector units that are idling today, to ramp up production of this vaccine. Instead, the Modi government granted the rights to produce the vaccine, which was created with public-sector technology and public money to Bharat Biotech only. And no explanation has been given about why the Modi government refused to take issue with the United States on its denial to provide vital supplies for the production of vaccines in India until it reached the current crisis.

The Modi government believes in centralizing all political power in its hands and letting the "free market," led by big capital, solve the problems of the country. And if this policy fails, it can always blame the state governments, the anti-national forces and, finally, the opposition for its own failures.

This article was produced in partnership by Newsclick and Globetrotter. Prabir Purkayastha is the founding editor of Newsclick.in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.

Here's how to force Biden to cut the Pentagon's budget

Imagine this scenario:

A month before the vote on the federal budget, progressives in Congress declared, "We've studied President Biden's proposed $753 billion military budget, an increase of $13 billion from Trump's already inflated budget, and we can't, in good conscience, support this."

Now that would be a show stopper, particularly if they added, "So we have decided to stand united, arm in arm, as a block of NO votes on any federal budget resolution that fails to reduce military spending by 10-30 percent. We stand united against a federal budget resolution that includes upwards of $30 billion for new nuclear weapons slated to ultimately cost nearly $2 trillion. We stand united in demanding the $50 billion earmarked to maintain all 800 overseas bases, including the new one under construction in Henoko, Okinawa, be reduced by a third because it's time we scaled back on plans for global domination."

"Ditto," they say, "for the billions the President wants for the arms-escalating US Space Force, one of Trump's worst ideas, right up there with hydroxychloroquine to cure COVID-19, and, no, we don't want to escalate our troop deployments for a military confrontation with China in the South China Sea. It's time to 'right-size' the military budget and demilitarize our foreign policy."

Progressives uniting as a block to resist out-of-control military spending would be a no-nonsense exercise of raw power reminiscent of how the right-wing Freedom Caucus challenged the traditional Republicans in the House in 2015. Without progressives on board, President Biden may not be able to secure enough votes to pass a federal budget that would then green light the reconciliation process needed for his broad domestic agenda.

For years, progressives in Congress have complained about the bloated military budget. In 2020, 93 members in the House and 23 in the Senate voted to cut the Pentagon budget by 10% and invest those funds instead in critical human needs. A House Spending Reduction Caucus, co-chaired by Representatives Barbara Lee and Mark Pocan, emerged with 22 members on board.

Meet the members of the House Defense Spending Reduction Caucus:

Barbara Lee (CA-13); Mark Pocan (WI-2); Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12); Ilhan Omar (MN-5); Raùl Grijalva (AZ-3); Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11); Jan Schakowsky(IL-9); Pramila Jayapal (WA-7); Jared Huffman (CA-2); Alan Lowenthal (CA-47); James P. McGovern (MA-2); Peter Welch (VT-at large); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14); Frank Pallone, Jr (NJ-6).; Rashida Tlaib (MI-13); Ro Khanna (CA-17); Lori Trahan (MA-3); Steve Cohen (TN-9); Ayanna Pressley (MA-7), Anna Eshoo (CA-18).

We also have the Progressive Caucus, the largest Caucus in Congress with almost 100 members in the House and Senate. Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal is all for cutting military spending. "We're in the midst of a crisis that has left millions of families unable to afford food, rent, and bills. But at the same time, we're dumping billions of dollars into a bloated Pentagon budget," she said. "Don't increase defense spending. Cut it—and invest that money into our communities."

Now is the time for these congresspeople to turn their talk into action.

Consider the context. President Biden urgently wants to move forward on his American Families Plan rolled out in his recent State of the Union address. The plan would tax the rich to invest $1.8 trillion over the next ten years in universal preschool, two years of tuition-free community college, expanded healthcare coverage and paid family medical leave.

President Biden, in the spirit of FDR, also wants to put America back to work in a $2-trillion infrastructure program that will begin to fix our decades-old broken bridges, crumbling sewer systems and rusting water pipes. This could be his legacy, a light Green New Deal to transition workers out of the dying fossil fuel industry.

But Biden won't get his infrastructure program and American Families Plan with higher taxes on the rich, almost 40% on income for corporations and those earning $400,000 or more a year, without Congress first passing a budget resolution that includes a top line for military and non-military spending. Both the budget resolution and reconciliation bill that would follow are filibuster proof and only require a simple majority in the House and Senate to pass.

Easy.

Maybe not.

To flex their muscles, Republicans may refuse to vote for a budget resolution crafted by the Democratic Party that would open the door to big spending on public goods, such as pre-kindergarten and expanded health care coverage. That means Biden would need every Democrat in the House and Senate on board to approve his budget resolution for military and non-military spending.

So how's it looking?

In the Senate, Democrat Joe Manchin from West VA, a state that went for Trump over Biden more than two-to-one, wants to scale back Biden's infrastructure proposal, but hasn't sworn to vote down a budget resolution. As for Senator Bernie Sanders, the much-loved progressive, ordinarily he might balk at a record high military budget, but if the budget resolution ushers in a reconciliation bill that lowers the age of Medicare eligibility to 60 or 55, the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee may hold his fire.

That leaves anti-war activists wondering if Senator Elizabeth Warren, a critic of the Pentagon budget and "nuclear modernization," would consider stepping up as the lone holdout in the Senate, refusing to vote for a budget that includes billions for new nuclear weapons. Perhaps with a push from outraged constituents in Massachusetts, Warren could be convinced to take this bold stand. Another potential hold out could be California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who co-chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, the committee that oversees the budgeting for nuclear weapons. In 2014, Feinstein described the US nuclear arsenal program as "unnecessarily and unsustainably large."

Over in the House, Biden needs at least 218 of the 222 Democrats to vote for the budget resolution expected to hit the floor in June or July, but what if he couldn't get to 218? What if at least five members of the House voted no—or even just threatened to vote no—because the top line for military spending was too high and the budget included new "money pit" nuclear land-based missiles to replace 450 Minute Man missiles.

The polls show most Democrats oppose "nuclear modernization"—a euphemism for a plan that is anything but modern given that 50 countries have signed on to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons making nuclear weapons illegal and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires the US pursue nuclear disarmament to avoid a catastrophic accident or intentional atomic holocaust.

Now is the time for progressive congressional luminaries such as the Squad's AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Presley to unite with Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, as well as Barbara Lee, Mark Pocan and others in the House Spending Reduction Caucus to put their feet down and stand as a block against a bloated military budget.

Will they have the courage to unite behind such a cause? Would they be willing to play hardball and gum up the works on the way to Biden's progressive domestic agenda?

Odds improve if constituents barrage them with phone calls, emails, and visible protests. Tell them that in the time of a pandemic, it makes no sense to approve a military budget that is 90 times the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Tell them that the billions saved from "right sizing" the Pentagon could provide critical funds for addressing the climate crisis. Tell them that just as we support putting an end to our endless wars, so, too, we support putting an end to our endless cycle of exponential military spending.

Call your representative, especially If you live in a congressional district represented by one of the members of the Progressive Caucus or the House Spending Reduction Caucus. Don't wait for marching orders from someone else. No time to wait. In the quiet of the COVID hour, our Congress toils away on appropriations bills and a budget resolution. The showdown is coming soon.

Get organized. Ask for meetings with your representatives or their foreign policy staffers. Be fierce; be relentless. Channel the grit of a Pentagon lobbyist.

This is the moment to demand a substantial cut in military spending that defunds new nuclear weapons.

##

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. @MedeaBenjamin

Marcy Winograd, Coordinator, CODEPINK Congress, also co-chairs the foreign policy team for Progressive Democrats of America. In 2020, she was a DNC delegate for Bernie Sanders.

@MarcyWinograd Marcy@CodePink.org

Israeli man trying to take over Palestinian home says 'If I don't steal it, someone else' will

In what Palestinian observers and advocates call a glaring example of settler colonialism in action, a video circulating on social media this week shows a Palestinian woman confronting an Israeli man who admits he is trying to steal her family's home in occupied East Jerusalem.

According to Al Jazeera, Palestinian activist Tamer Maqalda recorded the footage of the exchange between Mona al-Kurd and a man with a North American accent named Jacob, whom al-Kurd knows because his family has already stolen half of her home.

"Jacob, you know that this is not your house," al-Kurd tells the man in her backyard, who replies: "What's the problem? Why are you yelling at me?"

"I didn't do this," the man insists. "It's easy to yell at me, but I didn't do this."

Al-Kurd then pleads, "You are stealing my house!"

Jacob replies: "And if I don't steal it, someone else is going to steal it."

Al-Kurd then protests that "no one is allowed to steal it."

According to Al Jazeera, half of the al-Kurd family home was seized by Israeli settlers in 2009. Mona's twin brother Mohammed previously told the outlet that the family has been sharing the property with "squatters with Brooklyn accents" in a situation he described as "insufferable, intolerable, [and] terrible."

"They are just sitting in our home, tormenting us, harassing us, doing everything they can to not only force us to leave the second half of our home but also harassing our neighbors into leaving their homes as part of an effort to completely annihilate the presence of Palestinians from Jerusalem," Mohammed said.

Al-Kurd's home is located in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, which has been illegally occupied by Israeli forces since 1967, and where Israeli settlers have been seizing Palestinian homes with state support. Last March, an Israeli court in the occupied city ordered half a dozen families including the Al-Kurds to leave their homes so that Jewish settler colonists could take possession of them.

Dozens of other Palestinian families in the neighborhood live under the constant threat of eviction.

"The inherently unjust system of Israel's colonial courts is not considering questioning the illegal settlers' ownership and has already decided on the families' dispossession," a statement from the affected Palestinian families said, according to Al Jazeera.

The video's publication follows an April 27 report from the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch that accuses Israel of "crimes against humanity" including apartheid and persecution. It also follows the publication of videos showing rampaging mobs of far-right Israelis attacking Palestinian people and property in East Jerusalem.

The modern state of Israel was founded largely through the theft of Palestinian land and the ethnic cleansing of more than 700,000 Arabs from their homes in 1948 and 1949. Over 400 Arab villages were destroyed or abandoned, their residents—some of whom still hold the keys to their stolen homes—were never allowed to return, despite a United Nations resolution guaranteeing the right of return.

Israeli war hero and Cabinet minister Moshe Dayan acknowledged in a 1969 speech that:

We came to this country, which was already populated by Arabs, and we are establishing... a Jewish state here. Jewish villages were built in place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you, because those geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either... There is not one place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.

Hundreds of thousands more Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes during Israel's seizure of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War.

America's 'forever prisoners': Biden actually has a chance to close Guantánamo

The Guantánamo conundrum never seems to end.

Twelve years ago, I had other expectations. I envisioned a writing project that I had no doubt would be part of my future: an account of Guantánamo's last 100 days. I expected to narrate in reverse, the episodes in a book I had just published, The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo's First 100 Days, about — well, the title makes it all too obvious — the initial days at that grim offshore prison. They began on January 11, 2002, as the first hooded prisoners of the American war on terror were ushered off a plane at that American military base on the island of Cuba.

Needless to say, I never did write that book. Sadly enough, in the intervening years, there were few signs on the horizon of an imminent closing of that U.S. military prison. Weeks before my book was published in February 2009, President Barack Obama did, in fact, promise to close Guantánamo by the end of his first year in the White House. That hope began to unravel with remarkable speed. By the end of his presidency, his administration had, in fact, managed to release 197 of the prisoners held there without charges — many, including Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the subject of the film The Mauritanian, had also been tortured — but 41 remained, including the five men accused but not yet tried for plotting the 9/11 attacks. Forty remain there to this very day.

Nearly 20 years after it began, the war in Afghanistan that launched this country's Global War on Terror and the indefinite detention of prisoners in that facility offshore of American justice is now actually slated to end. President Biden recently insisted that it is indeed "time to end America's longest war" and announced that all American troops would be withdrawn from that country by September 11th, the 20th anniversary of al-Qaeda's attack on the United States.

It makes sense, of course, that the conclusion of those hostilities would indeed be tied to the closure of the now-notorious Guantánamo Bay detention facility. Unfortunately, for reasons that go back to the very origins of the war on terror, ending the Afghan part of this country's "forever wars" may not presage the release of those "forever prisoners," as New York Times reporter Carol Rosenberg so aptly labeled them years ago.

Biden and Guantánamo

Just as President Biden has a history, dating back to his years as Obama's vice-president, of wanting to curtail the American presence in Afghanistan, so he called years ago for the closure of Guantánamo. As early as June 2005, then-Senator Biden expressed his desire to shut that facility, seeing it as a stain on this country's reputation abroad.

At the time, he proposed that an independent commission take a look at Guantánamo Bay and make recommendations as to its future. "But," he said then, "I think we should end up shutting it down, moving those prisoners. Those that we have reason to keep, keep. And those we don't, let go." Sixteen years later, he has indeed put in motion an interagency review to look into that detention facility's closing. Hopefully, once he receives its report, his administration can indeed begin to shut the notorious island prison down. (And this time, it could even work.)

It's true that, in 2021, the idea of shutting the gates on Guantánamo has garnered some unprecedented mainstream support. As part of his confirmation process, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, for instance, signaled his support for its closure. And Congress, long unwilling to lend a hand, has offered some support as well. On April 16th, 24 Democratic senators signed a letter to the president calling that facility a "symbol of lawlessness and human rights abuses" that "continues to harm U.S. national security" and demanding that it be shut.

As those senators wrote,

"For nearly two decades, the offshore prison has damaged America's reputation, fueled anti-Muslim bigotry, and weakened the United States' ability to counter terrorism and fight for human rights and the rule of law around the world. In addition to the $540 million in wasted taxpayer dollars each year to maintain and operate the facility, the prison also comes at the price of justice for the victims of 9/11 and their families, who are still waiting for trials to begin."

Admittedly, the number of signatories on that letter raises many questions, including why there aren't more (and why there isn't a single Republican among them). Is it just a matter of refusing to give up old habits or does it reflect a lack of desire to address an issue long out of the headlines? Where, for example, was Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's name, not to mention those other 25 missing Democratic senatorial signatures?

And there's another disappointment lurking in its text. While those senators correctly demanded a reversal of the Trump administration's "erroneous and troubling legal positions" regarding the application of international and domestic law to Guantánamo, they failed to expand upon the larger context of that forever nightmare of imprisonment, lawlessness, and cruelty that affected the war-on-terror prisoners at Guantánamo as well as at the CIA's "black sites" around the world.

Still, that stance by those two-dozen senators is significant, since Congress has, in the past, taken such weak positions on closing the prison. As such, it provides some hope for the future.

For the rest of Congress and the rest of us, when thinking about finally putting Guantánamo in the history books, it's important to remember just what a vast deviation it proved to be from the law, justice, and the norms of this society. It's also worth thinking about the American "detainees" there in the context of what normally happens when wars end.

Prisoners of War

Defying custom and law, the American war in Afghanistan broke through norms like a battering ram through a gossamer wall. Guantánamo was created in just that context, a one-of-a-kind institution for this country. Now, so many years later, it's poised to break through yet another norm.

Usually, at the end of hostilities, battlefield detainees are let go. As Geneva Convention III, the law governing the detention and treatment of prisoners of war, asserts: "Prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities."

That custom of releasing prisoners has, in practice, pertained not only to those held on or near the battlefield but even to those detained far from the conflict. Before the Geneva Conventions were created, the custom of releasing such prisoners was already in place in the United States. Notably, during World War II, the U.S. held 425,000 mostly German prisoners in more than 500 camps in this country. When the war ended, however, they were released and the vast majority of them were returned to their home countries.

When it comes to the closure of Guantánamo, however, we can't count on such an ending. Two war-on-terror realities stand in the way of linking the coming end of hostilities in Afghanistan to the shutting down of that prison. First, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that Congress passed right after the 9/11 attacks was not geographically defined or limited to the war in Afghanistan. It focused on but was not confined to two groups, the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as well as anyone else who had contributed to the attacks of 9/11. As such, it was used as well to authorize military engagements — and the capture of prisoners — outside Afghanistan. Since 2001, in fact, it has been cited to authorize the use of force in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. Of the 780 prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay at one time or another, more than a third came from Afghanistan; the remaining two-thirds were from 48 other countries.

A second potential loophole exists when it comes to the release of prisoners as that war ends. The administration of George W. Bush rejected the very notion that those held at Guantánamo were prisoners of war, no matter how or where they had been captured. As non-state actors, according to that administration, they were exempted from prisoner of war status, which is why they were deliberately labeled "detainees."

Little wonder then that, despite Secretary of Defense Austin's position on Guantánamo, as the New York Times recently reported, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby "argued that there was no direct link between its future and the coming end to what he called the 'mission' in Afghanistan."

In fact, even if that congressional authorization for war and the opening of Guantánamo on which it was based never were solely linked to the conflict in Afghanistan, it's time, almost two decades later, to put an end to that quagmire of a prison camp and the staggering exceptions that it's woven into this country's laws and norms since 2002.

A "Forever Prison"?

The closing of Guantánamo would finally signal an end to the otherwise endless proliferation of exceptions to the laws of war as well as to U.S. domestic and military legal codes. As early as June 2004, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor flagged the possibility that a system of indefinite detention at Guantánamo could create a permanent state of endless legal exceptionalism.

She wrote an opinion that month in a habeas corpus case for the release of a Guantánamo detainee, the dual U.S.-Saudi citizen Yaser Hamdi, warning that the prospect of turning that military prison into a never-ending exception to wartime detention and its laws posed dangers all its own. As she put it, "We understand Congress' grant of authority for the use of 'necessary and appropriate force' to include the authority to detain for the duration of the relevant conflict, and our understanding is based on longstanding law-of-war principles." She also acknowledged that, "If the practical circumstances of a given conflict are entirely unlike those of the conflicts that informed the development of the law of war, that [the] understanding [of release upon the end of hostilities] may unravel. But," she concluded, "that is not the situation we face as of this date."

Sadly enough, 17 years later, it turns out that the detention authority may be poised to outlive the use of force. Guantánamo has become an American institution at the cost of $13 million per prisoner annually. The system of offshore injustice has, by now, become part and parcel of the American system of justice — our very own "forever prison."

The difficulty of closing Guantánamo has shown that once you move outside the laws and norms of this country in a significant way, the return to normalcy becomes ever more problematic — and the longer the exception, the harder such a restoration will be. Remember that, before his presidency was over, George W. Bush went on record acknowledging his preference for closing Guantánamo. Obama made it a goal of his presidency from the outset. Biden, with less fanfare and the lessons of their failures in mind, faces the challenge of finally closing America's forever prison.

With all that in mind, let me offer you a positive twist on this seemingly never-ending situation. I won't be surprised if, in fact, President Biden actually does manage to close Guantánamo. He may not do so as a result of the withdrawal of all American forces from Afghanistan, but because he seems to have a genuine urge to shut the books on the war on terror, or at least the chapter of it initiated on 9/11.

And if he were also to shut down that prison, in the spirit of that letter from the Democratic senators, it would be because of Guantánamo's gross violations of American laws and norms. While the letter did not go so far as to name the larger war-on-terror sins of the past, it did at least draw attention directly to the wrongfulness of indefinite detention as a system created expressly to evade the law — and one that brought ill-repute to the United States globally.

That closure should certainly happen under President Biden. After all, any other course is not only legally unacceptable, but risks perpetuating the idea that this country continues to distrust the principles of law, human rights, and due process – indeed, the very fundamentals of a democratic system.

Copyright 2021 Karen Greenberg

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel Frostlands (the second in the Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law and author of the forthcoming Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of Democracy from the War on Terror to Donald Trump (Princeton University Press, August). Julia Tedesco helped with research for this piece.

New report reveals Trump's DOJ targeted academics who exposed the Bolivian coup regime

Evo Morales' 13 years as president of Bolivia came to an end when, in 2019, he was removed from power via a coup. According to reporters Ken Klippenstein and Ryan Grim, e-mails that have been obtained by The Intercept and were sent during former President Donald Trump's final months in office "add new evidence to support Bolivian allegations that the United States was implicated in its 2019 coup."

"The e-mails reveal the Justice Department's involvement in the Bolivian coup regime's criminal investigation into alleged voter fraud, which has not previously been reported," Klippenstein and Grim explain. "The inquiry targeted a pair of respected MIT researchers about their work for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in which they broadly refuted suspicions that Bolivia's socialist party had rigged the election."

The reporters add, "The short-lived coup regime reached power following a clear script: In the weeks leading up to the Bolivian presidential election in October 2019, the opposition pumped endless propaganda through social media and television networks, warning that incumbent President Evo Morales would exploit widespread fraud to win reelection."

Morales first came to power in the mid-2000s following the Cochabamba Water Rebellion. Cochabamba, Bolivia's third largest city, was rocked by huge demonstrations when its water system was privatized and many Bolivians could no longer afford their water bills — and Morales was a major supporter of the revolt. When Morales was elected in 2005 and sworn into office in early 2006, Bolivia went from having a conservative president to having a socialist president.

In 2019, Morales sought a fourth term. But Klippenstein and Grim note that he "faced intense opposition, often framed in explicitly racist terms, from a Frankenstein coalition of right-wing Bolivians of European descent and supporters of former President Carlos Mesa, once a member of Bolivia's left revolutionary party who had become hostile to Morales' social democratic government."

After the election, Klippenstein and Grim note, Morales "had won by 10.6 points." But his opponents claimed election fraud.

"In fact, it would be statisticians who repudiated the coup," the reporters explain. "Researchers at MIT, commissioned by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, took a closer look at the data and evidence behind the allegations and concluded what many other independent observers had already found: The fraud claims were bogus, according to a statistical analysis conducted by Jack R. Williams and John Curiel of MIT's Election Data and Science Lab. The fallout from the MIT researchers' analysis, which was published by the Washington Post in February 2020, was considerable. In a stunning reversal, the New York Times published an article on the findings, saying that it 'cast doubt on Bolivian election fraud.'"

The MIT researchers were contacted by the U.S. Department of Justice during Trump's final months in office.

According to Klippenstein and Grim, "Trial attorney Angela George identified herself as an attorney at the Justice Department's Office of International Affairs, or OIA, and said she had 'received a formal request from Paraguay' for assistance in an ongoing criminal investigation. Curiel told her she had the wrong researcher, as he had not worked on any Paraguayan election study, and she told him that Bolivia was the one she had meant."

Morales fled Bolivia following the coup but has since returned to the South American country from exile.

Democratic senator under fire for invoking Jan. 6 attack to justify 'vaccine apartheid'

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons is facing backlash for invoking the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to justify his opposition to a temporary waiver of coronavirus vaccine patents, a measure that would help enable generic manufacturers to ramp up global production of the life-saving shots.

Speaking last week at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Coons—a close ally of President Joe Biden—said that upholding the global intellectual property regime amid the deadly pandemic is essential to U.S. standing around the world.

"January 6th was a moment that was challenging, divisive, difficult for all of us here in Congress, and it was a wake-up call that our country is badly divided," said the Delaware senator. "All of this is a wake-up call for us that we need to have another Sputnik-like moment of reinvestment in American innovation and competitiveness. A central part of being successful in this competition is continuing with our constitutionally created protected-property right of a patent, something I've long believed in."

Watch:

Coons' remarks, reported by the Washington Post on Friday, prompted a torrent of outrage from progressives who argue that a patent waiver is an essential step toward increasing vaccine manufacturing to meet the dire needs of poor nations, which are going largely without access to shots as rich countries hoard doses and essential technology.

South Africa and India first introduced the patent waiver at the World Trade Organization in October, but rich nations—including the U.S. and the European Union—have repeatedly blocked the proposal, leaving vaccine production under the control of profit-driven pharmaceutical companies.

On Sunday, activists gathered outside of Coons' Delaware home to protest his dismissal of the patent waiver, which is backed by more than 100 countries, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Nobel Prize-winning economists, and a growing number of U.S. members of Congress.



This week, the WTO is set to consider the patent waiver proposal once more amid a global surge in coronavirus cases driven largely by a catastrophic wave in India, which has recorded more than 300,000 new infections for 12 consecutive days.

Experts fear that the deadly surge in the world's second-most populous country—which has vaccinated less than two percent of its residents—is being fueled at least in part by a highly contagious variant, heightening concerns about the emergence and spread of vaccine-resistant strains of the virus.

"We can ban all the flights we want but there is literally zero way we can keep these highly contagious variants out of our country," Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told the New York Times on Sunday. "If we want to put this pandemic behind us, we can't let the virus run wild in other parts of the world."

The threat of variants that can dodge existing vaccines has intensified the urgency behind India and South Africa's proposed patent waiver, which would remove a key legal barrier preventing manufacturers around the world from accelerating vaccine production for the developing world. According to the WHO, people in low-income countries have received just 0.3% of the total vaccine doses administered worldwide.

As staggering inequities persist, the Post reported last week that the Biden White House remains divided over whether to throw U.S. support behind the intellectual property waiver. One anonymous official involved in the discussions told the newspaper that "the people whose job it is to protect the property of U.S. businesses are up in arms that it's a bad idea."

"The people whose job is to defeat the pandemic," the official added, "are much more receptive to it."

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

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

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

So, what happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A timeline of carnage: The U.S. refuses to be at peace

Here's the strange thing in an ever-stranger world: I was born in July 1944 in the midst of a devastating world war. That war ended in August 1945 with the atomic obliteration of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by the most devastating bombs in history up to that moment, given the sweet code names "Little Boy" and "Fat Man."

I was the littlest of boys at the time. More than three-quarters of a century has passed since, on September 2, 1945, Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and General Yoshijiro Umezu signed the Instrument of Surrender on the battleship U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay, officially ending World War II. That was V-J (for Victory over Japan) Day, but in a sense for me, my whole generation, and this country, war never really ended.

The United States has been at war, or at least in armed conflicts of various sorts, often in distant lands, for more or less my entire life. Yes, for some of those years, that war was "cold" (which often meant that such carnage, regularly sponsored by the CIA, happened largely off-screen and out of sight), but war as a way of life never really ended, not to this very moment.

In fact, as the decades went by, it would become the "infrastructure" in which Americans increasingly invested their tax dollars via aircraft carriers, trillion-dollar jet fighters, drones armed with Hellfire missiles, and the creation and maintenance of hundreds of military garrisons around the globe, rather than roads, bridges, or rail lines (no less the high-speed version of the same) here at home. During those same years, the Pentagon budget would grab an ever-larger percentage of federal discretionary spending and the full-scale annual investment in what has come to be known as the national security state would rise to a staggering $1.2 trillion or more.

In a sense, future V-J Days became inconceivable. There were no longer moments, even as wars ended, when some version of peace might descend and America's vast military contingents could, as at the end of World War II, be significantly demobilized. The closest equivalent was undoubtedly the moment when the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, the Cold War officially ended, and the Washington establishment declared itself globally triumphant. But of course, the promised "peace dividend" would never be paid out as the first Gulf War with Iraq occurred that very year and the serious downsizing of the U.S. military (and the CIA) never happened.

Never-Ending War

Consider it typical that, when President Biden recently announced the official ending of the nearly 20-year-old American conflict in Afghanistan with the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops from that country by 9/11/21, it would functionally be paired with the news that the Pentagon budget was about to rise yet again from its record heights in the Trump years. "Only in America," as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and historian William Astore wrote recently, "do wars end and war budgets go up."

Of course, even the ending of that never-ending Afghan War may prove exaggerated. In fact, let's consider Afghanistan apart from the rest of this country's war-making history for a moment. After all, if I had told you in 1978 that, of the 42 years to follow, the U.S. would be involved in war in a single country for 30 of them and asked you to identify it, I can guarantee that Afghanistan wouldn't have been your pick. And yet so it's been. From 1979 to 1989, there was the CIA-backed Islamist extremist war against the Soviet army there (to the tune of billions and billions of dollars). And yet the obvious lesson the Russians learned from that adventure, as their military limped home in defeat and the Soviet Union imploded not long after — that Afghanistan is indeed the "graveyard of empires" — clearly had no impact in Washington.

Or how do you explain the 19-plus years of warfare there that followed the 9/11 attacks, themselves committed by a small Islamist outfit, al-Qaeda, born as an American ally in that first Afghan War? Only recently, the invaluable Costs of War Project estimated that America's second Afghan War has cost this country almost $2.3 trillion (not including the price of lifetime care for its vets) and has left at least 241,000 people dead, including 2,442 American service members. In 1978, after the disaster of the Vietnam War, had I assured you that such a never-ending failure of a conflict was in our future, you would undoubtedly have laughed in my face.

And yet, three decades later, the U.S. military high command still seems not faintly to have grasped the lesson that we "taught" the Russians and then experienced ourselves. As a result, according to recent reports, they have uniformly opposed President Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from that country by the 20th anniversary of 9/11. In fact, it's not even clear that, by September 11, 2021, if the president's proposal goes according to plan, that war will have truly ended. After all, the same military commanders and intelligence chiefs seem intent on organizing long-distance versions of that conflict or, as the New York Times put it, are determined to "fight from afar" there. They are evidently even considering establishing new bases in neighboring lands to do so.

America's "forever wars" — once known as the Global War on Terror and, when the administration of George W. Bush launched it, proudly aimed at 60 countries — do seem to be slowly winding down. Unfortunately, other kinds of potential wars, especially new cold wars with China and Russia (involving new kinds of high-tech weaponry) only seem to be gearing up.

War in Our Time

In these years, one key to so much of this is the fact that, as the Vietnam War began winding down in 1973, the draft was ended and war itself became a "voluntary" activity for Americans. In other words, it became ever easier not only to not protest American war-making, but to pay no attention to it or to the changing military that went with it. And that military was indeed altering and growing in remarkable ways.

In the years that followed, for instance, the elite Green Berets of the Vietnam era would be incorporated into an ever more expansive set of Special Operations forces, up to 70,000 of them (larger, that is, than the armed forces of many countries). Those special operators would functionally become a second, more secretive American military embedded inside the larger force and largely freed from citizen oversight of any sort. In 2020, as Nick Turse reported, they would be stationed in a staggering 154 countries around the planet, often involved in semi-secret conflicts "in the shadows" that Americans would pay remarkably little attention to.

Since the Vietnam War, which roiled the politics of this nation and was protested in the streets of this country by an antiwar movement that came to include significant numbers of active-duty soldiers and veterans, war has played a remarkably recessive role in American life. Yes, there have been the endless thank-yous offered by citizens and corporations to "the troops." But that's where the attentiveness stops, while both political parties, year after endless year, remain remarkably supportive of a growing Pentagon budget and the industrial (that is, weapons-making) part of the military-industrial complex. War, American-style, may be forever, but — despite, for instance, the militarization of this country's police and the way in which those wars came home to the Capitol last January 6th — it remains a remarkably distant reality for most Americans.

One explanation: though the U.S. has, as I've said, been functionally at war since 1941, there were just two times when this country felt war directly — on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and on September 11, 2001, when 19 mostly Saudi hijackers in commercial jets struck New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

And yet, in another sense, war has been and remains us. Let's just consider some of that war-making for a moment. If you're of a certain age, you can certainly call to mind the big wars: Korea (1950-1953), Vietnam (1954-1975) — and don't forget the brutal bloodlettings in neighboring Laos and Cambodia as well — that first Gulf War of 1991, and the disastrous second one, the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Then, of course, there was that Global War on Terror that began soon after September 11, 2001, with the invasion of Afghanistan, only to spread to much of the rest of the Greater Middle East, and to significant parts of Africa. In March, for instance, the first 12 American special-ops trainers arrived in embattled Mozambique, just one more small extension of an already widespread American anti-Islamist terror role (now failing) across much of that continent.

And then, of course, there were the smaller conflicts (though not necessarily so to the people in the countries involved) that we've now generally forgotten about, the ones that I had to search my fading brain to recall. I mean, who today thinks much about President John F. Kennedy's April 1961 CIA disaster at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba; or President Lyndon Johnson's sending of 22,000 U.S. troops to the Dominican Republic in 1965 to "restore order"; or President Ronald Reagan's version of "aggressive self-defense" by U.S. Marines sent to Lebanon who, in October 1983, were attacked in their barracks by a suicide bomber, killing 241 of them; or the anti-Cuban invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada that same month in which 19 Americans were killed and 116 wounded?

And then, define and categorize them as you will, there were the CIA's endless militarized attempts (sometimes with the help of the U.S. military) to intervene in the affairs of other countries, ranging from taking the nationalist side against Mao Zedong's communist forces in China from 1945 to 1949 to stoking a small ongoing conflict in Tibet in the 1950s and early 1960s, and overthrowing the governments of Guatemala and Iran, among other places. There were an estimated 72 such interventions from 1947 to 1989, many warlike in nature. There were, for instance, the proxy conflicts in Central America, first in Nicaragua against the Sandinistas and then in El Salvador, bloody events even if few U.S. soldiers or CIA agents died in them. No, these were hardly "wars," as traditionally defined, not all of them, though they did sometimes involve military coups and the like, but they were generally carnage-producing in the countries they were in. And that only begins to suggest the range of this country's militarized interventions in the post-1945 era, as journalist William Blum's "A Brief History of Interventions" makes all too clear.

Whenever you look for the equivalent of a warless American moment, some reality trips you up. For instance, perhaps you had in mind the brief period between when the Red Army limped home in defeat from Afghanistan in 1989 and the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, that moment when Washington politicians, initially shocked that the Cold War had ended so unexpectedly, declared themselves triumphant on Planet Earth. That brief period might almost have passed for "peace," American-style, if the U.S. military under President George H. W. Bush hadn't, in fact, invaded Panama ("Operation Just Cause") as 1989 ended to get rid of its autocratic leader Manuel Noriega (a former CIA asset, by the way). Up to 3,000 Panamanians (including many civilians) died along with 23 American troops in that episode.

And then, of course, in January 1991 the First Gulf War began. It would result in perhaps 8,000 to 10,000 Iraqi deaths and "only" a few hundred deaths among the U.S.-led coalition of forces. Air strikes against Iraq would follow in the years to come. And let's not forget that even Europe wasn't exempt since, in 1999, during the presidency of Bill Clinton, the U.S. Air Force launched a destructive 10-week bombing campaign against the Serbs in the former Yugoslavia.

And all of this remains a distinctly incomplete list, especially in this century when something like 200,000 U.S. troops have regularly been stationed abroad and U.S. Special Operations forces have deployed to staggering numbers of countries, while American drones regularly attacked "terrorists" in nation after nation and American presidents quite literally became assassins-in-chief. To this day, what scholar and former CIA consultant Chalmers Johnson called an American "empire of bases" — a historically unprecedented 800 or more of them — across much of the planet remains untouched and, at any moment, there could be more to come from the country whose military budget at least equals those of the next 10 (yes, that's 10!) countries combined, including China and Russia.

A Timeline of Carnage

The last three-quarters of this somewhat truncated post-World War II American Century have, in effect, been a timeline of carnage, though few in this country would notice or acknowledge that. After all, since 1945, Americans have only once been "at war" at home, when almost 3,000 civilians died in an attack meant to provoke — well, something like the war on terror that also become a war of terror and a spreader of terror movements in our world.

As journalist William Arkin recently argued, the U.S. has created a permanent war state meant to facilitate "endless war." As he writes, at this very moment, our nation "is killing or bombing in perhaps 10 different countries," possibly more, and there's nothing remarkably out of the ordinary about that in our recent past.

The question that Americans seldom even think to ask is this: What if the U.S. were to begin to dismantle its empire of bases, repurpose so many of those militarized taxpayer dollars to our domestic needs, abandon this country's focus on permanent war, and forsake the Pentagon as our holy church? What if, even briefly, the wars, conflicts, plots, killings, drone assassinations, all of it stopped?

What would our world actually be like if you simply declared peace and came home?

Copyright 2021 Tom Engelhardt

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel Frostlands (the second in the Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Tom Engelhardt created and runs the website TomDispatch.com. He is also a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a highly praised history of American triumphalism in the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. A fellow of the Type Media Center, his sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War.

The COVID crisis in India declare a 'crime against humanity'

With Covid-19 cases soaring in India, acclaimed author and activist Arundhati Roy wrote Wednesday that her country is witnessing "an outright crime against humanity" as outside observers fear the crisis could hamper global efforts to rein in the pandemic.

As of Thursday, India now has the second highest number of total cases in the world—over 18 million—since the pandemic began, but a surge in recent weeks has made it into a global hot spot for daily infections and deaths.

So far, there have been over 204,000 official Covid-19 related deaths, but the true toll is likely far higher.

"I do not know of a single family that has not seen at least one of its members infected. We are seeing hundreds of thousands of new cases every day and many more deaths," Pankaj Anand, humanitarian and program director with Oxfam India, said in a statement Thursday.

"The health infrastructure in India is bursting at the seams," said Anand, "and there are widespread reports of shortages of oxygen and other medical supplies in large cities."

According to the Associated Press: "India has set a daily global record for seven of the past eight days, with a seven-day moving average of nearly 350,000 infections. Daily deaths have nearly tripled in the past three weeks, reflecting the intensity of the latest surge."

Headlines over the past few days—like "Round-the-clock mass cremations" and "Covid cases cross 18 million, gravediggers work round the clock"—put the crisis in bleak terms.

The crisis is clear to Jyot Jeet, chairperson of the Delhi-based organization Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, which provides free medical care and has been providing cremation services amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Day in and day out, we are surrounded by the smell of burning flesh, and the sounds of crying families," he told NBC News.

The far-right government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come under fire for its response to the pandemic.

In an op-ed published Wednesday at the Guardian, Roy wryly described Modi as being "busy, busy, busy" with other matters like "Destroying the last vestiges of democracy," construction of "massive prison complexes," and watching as "hundreds of thousands of farmers [were] beaten and teargassed."

"The crisis-generating machine that we call our government is incapable of leading us out of this disaster," she wrote. From the op-ed:

The number of Covid-protocol funerals from graveyards and crematoriums in small towns and cities suggest a death toll up to 30 times higher than the official count. Doctors who are working outside the metropolitan areas can tell you how it is. [...]
The precise numbers that make up India's Covid graph are like the wall that was built in Ahmedabad to hide the slums [former U.S. President] Donald Trump would drive past on his way to the "Namaste Trump" event that Modi hosted for him in February 2020. Grim as those numbers are, they give you a picture of the India-that-matters, but certainly not the India that is. In the India that is, people are expected to vote as Hindus, but die as disposables.[...]
The system hasn't collapsed. The government has failed. Perhaps "failed" is an inaccurate word, because what we are witnessing is not criminal negligence, but an outright crime against humanity. Virologists predict that the number of cases in India will grow exponentially to more than 500,000 a day. They predict the death of many hundreds of thousands in the coming months, perhaps more. My friends and I have agreed to call each other every day just to mark ourselves present, like roll call in our school classrooms. We speak to those we love in tears, and with trepidation, not knowing if we will ever see each other again. We write, we work, not knowing if we will live to finish what we started. Not knowing what horror and humiliation awaits us. The indignity of it all. That is what breaks us.

Writing in TIME on Thursday, Naina Bajekal gave a similar picture of devastation.

"India's crisis has blown well past the scale of anything seen elsewhere during the pandemic," wrote Bajekal. "Hospitals across the country are running out of oxygen supplies, ventilators, and beds. Indians are rushing to buy drugs like remdesivir, causing prices to surge, while labs struggle to process growing backlogs of Covid-19 tests."

Blame was also put at the feet of the Modi government, with Bajekal noting that "experts say the current crisis could have been avoided if the government had acted earlier."

Rather than intensifying public-health messaging and ramping up interventions like banning mass gatherings and encouraging mask wearing, Modi and his officials did the opposite. They held mass rallies ahead of elections and promoted the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage that drew millions of worshippers to a single town—an event Jha predicts will end up "one of the biggest superspreader events in the history of humanity." On April 17, after India had overtaken Brazil to become the second worst-hit country in the world, Modi told a rally in West Bengal that he was "elated" to see such a large crowd.

The surging number of cases in India spells doom far beyond its owns borders.

As CNN reports:

The more the virus spreads, the more chances it has to mutate and create variants that could eventually resist current vaccines, threatening to undermine other countries' progress in containing the pandemic, experts warn.
"If we don't help in India, I worry about an explosion of cases" around the world, said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. That's why India's Covid outbreak is a global problem that needs a coordinated response. [...]
If the Indian outbreak can't be contained and spreads to neighboring countries with low vaccine supplies and weak health systems, experts warn the world risks replicating scenes witnessed in India—especially if newer, potentially more contagious variants are allowed to take hold.

That possible scenario drew concern from John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"What is happening in India cannot be ignored by our continent," Nkengasong told reporters Thursday. "We do not have enough healthcare workers, we do not have enough oxygen."

Despite the fact that India is the world's top vaccine producer overall, just 2% of its population has been provided access to the Covid-19 vaccines thus far.

The Biden administration pledged this week to send India key medical aide—including oxygen, testing kits, and stockpiles of AstraZeneca vaccine supplies, but progressive U.S. lawmakers and outside groups say the White House must go further.

Public health advocates say the U.S. must stop vaccine hoarding, donate more supplies to WHO-led initiatives, and end its opposition to an India- and South Africa-led—and widely backed—push for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rules at the World Trade Organization to allow for a massive boost in the production of coronavirus vaccines.

As WHO spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris said Thursday, "What's happening in India can happen anywhere else," and the virus "can rip through a population if you let it."

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