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Watch This Number Closely to See How Seriously Biden Will Tackle Climate Pollution

Mother Jones Magazine -

Many of President Joe Biden’s promises for tackling unchecked climate pollution come down to nailing down one obscure economic metric. It’s called the social cost of carbon, and it will guide policymaking across the Biden administration for how to consider the benefits and costs of reigning in climate pollution.

In a single number, it is supposed to capture the full extent of damage to the economy and society for every additional ton of greenhouse gas pollution we add to the atmosphere. Settling on that one number is a minefield of disagreement, because it hinges on estimating generations of damages from climate change as well as the wealth of future generations. While science supports a high social cost of carbon to hasten the transition away from fossil fuels, the politics are much messier and fraught. It’s been a hotly contested issue since the Obama administration, which settled on $51 per metric ton finalized in 2016. The Obama administration used estimates of the social cost of carbon to help justify EPA rules directly targeting climate change, like reducing carbon emissions from cars and trucks, and indirectly, such as regulating mercury from power plants. An even higher figure would help to justify more aggressive action.

The social cost of carbon is so important that one of Biden’s very first executive orders was to establish a new working group to assess how to price it.  On Friday, Biden took a concrete step and restored the Obama-era calculation of $51 for every metric ton of carbon released into the atmosphere. Trump had lowered the estimate to between $1 to $7, rendering it meaningless so Trump could slash climate regulations.

The reason the social cost of carbon is necessary is precisely because the federal government doesn’t have a uniform approach to climate change, like a carbon tax. It works like a guiding post for decisions on leasing lands, public projects, and environmental regulation, and will also become a key figure used in court battles over these policies.

The Biden administration has signaled that the interim figure is temporary, until the working group submits a final number by next January. Part of their process the next year will be to incorporate newer research and the input of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Climate advocates will push for a higher figure, since most economists already agree the $51 per metric ton is the lower range of what is needed. The Obama figure, for instance, did not account for all climate impacts, such as worsening wildfire seasons and the loss of diverse ecosystems. 

An estimate from economists Nicholas Stern and Joseph Stiglitz proposed an upper range of $100. They wrote in a 2021 working paper, “It is accordingly extraordinarily important that the [social cost of carbon] be calculated correctly.” The figure is important for more than just the government, because private companies also use an internal cost of carbon for risk calculations, and may use the government’s figure as a model. The higher the cost of carbon, the more incentive there is to consider alternatives to fossil fuels. 

Environmental experts hope Biden’s interim social cost of carbon, restored Friday, is just an initial step toward a more aggressive policy next year. “The administration is taking a careful and legally sound approach in providing that a rigorous scientific process determine further updates,” Richard Revesz, director of the New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity, said in a statement. “A great deal of research suggests that these interim values are a lower bound for the damages of greenhouse gas emissions.”

A more aggressive approach by the United States couldn’t come soon enough. US pollution temporarily decreased during the pandemic, but will rise again to business-as-usual if the country doesn’t shift course. As the world’s biggest historic polluter, the United States can impact the global appetite to act. Now that the Biden administration has rejoined the Paris agreement, it will have to follow its promises with action, by submitting a new national target for reducing greenhouse pollution by 2030. Seventy-five other countries have already submitted their initial national targets for the next major climate conference, but an initial analysis from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on Friday found them to be “nowhere close” to matching what’s needed for its fast-dwindling opportunity to limit warming. 

“2021 is a make or break year to confront the global climate emergency,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a press release for the report. “The science is clear, to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C, we must cut global emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels.  Today’s interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet.”

It’s the One-Year Anniversary of Trump’s Worst Predictions on COVID-19

Mother Jones Magazine -

It’s the one-year anniversary of former President Donald Trump’s fateful remarks dismissing the COVID-19 pandemic. At a Black History Month event on February 27, 2020, Trump predicted:

And you know what?  If we were doing a bad job, we should also be criticized.  But we have done an incredible job.  We’re going to continue.  It’s going to disappear.  One day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.  And from our shores, we—you know, it could get worse before it gets better.  It could maybe go away.  We’ll see what happens.  Nobody really knows.

The fact is, the greatest experts—I’ve spoken to them all.  Nobody really knows. 

Two days after Trump’s comments, health officials in Washington State announced the first known coronavirus death in the United States (though later on the first known death was revised to February 6). Now, at the one-year mark of Trump’s denial, the United States has had more than 500,000 people die from COVID-19, roughly equal to the population of a major city like Atlanta. The toll has been worse for people of color, disproportionately taking Black, Latino, and Native American lives.

It also wasn’t true that nobody really knew what would happen. While CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield testified that same day before Congress that his agency “believes that the immediate risk of this new virus to the American public is low,” the Trump administration received warnings from top scientists and national security experts on the threat of a pandemic as early as January. Despite these warnings, the Trump administration failed to take needed steps to ensure the supply of medical supplies, issue mask mandates, and urge Americans away from large gatherings. 

Read Mother Jonescomprehensive timeline for more on Trump’s deadly denial.

GOP Congressman Skipped the Stimulus Vote to Appear at a White Nationalist Event

Mother Jones Magazine -

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz) skipped key votes in the House of Representatives, citing the “ongoing public health emergency,” to instead attend a conference hosted by white supremacists in Orlando, Florida on Friday.

Gosar, whose six siblings memorably endorsed his congressional opponent in a 2018 ad, has a long flirtation with far-right extremism. He appeared Friday at a white supremacist gathering in Orlando, America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC) organized by Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist figurehead and instigator of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Gosar has fanned the flames of the Jan. 6 insurrection himself by calling the Democrats’ win an attempted “coup” and then President-elect Joe Biden an “illegitimate usurper.” After the election, he wrote in an op-ed promoting the “Stop the Steal” rallies: “Be ready to defend the Constitution and the White House.” His past ties to the right-wing militia group Oath Keepers are already under scrutiny. In 2017, he dismissed right-wing violence in the deadly Charlottesville Unite the Right rally as the doing of George Soros, lying about how the billionaire known for backing progressive causes was actually behind the violence. “Who is he?,” Gosar said. “I think he’s from Hungary. I think he was Jewish. And I think he turned in his own people to the Nazis.” 

Just after Gosar spoke on Friday, Fuentes took the mic to call the Capitol riot “awesome” and mocked Gosar’s colleague, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), who uses a wheelchair. 

Here's another bit from the Nick Fuentes speech at AFPAC, delivered right after Rep. Paul Gosar got off the stage. Gosar's speaking at CPAC in a couple hours. Fuentes joked that he'd get a call from his lawyer afterward. pic.twitter.com/N0nX0maXrZ

— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) February 27, 2021

The keynote by Nick Fuentes at AFPAC also included jokes about @CawthornforNC, Gosar’s colleague, who uses a wheelchair. Fuentes mocked how often Cawthorn says he’ll “take a stand.”

“‘I’m gonna take a stand?’ How? How are you gonna do that?”

— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) February 27, 2021

On Saturday, Gosar, at CPAC, half-heartedly tried to distance himself from the association with white supremacists, saying, “I denounce when we talk about white racism.”

Paul Gosar kicked off his CPAC panel with a muddled attempt to distance himself from the white nationalist event last night. “Before I get to that, I want to tell you — I denounce when we talk about white racism. That's not appropriate.”

— Will Sommer (@willsommer) February 27, 2021

Gosar wasn’t the only member of Congress to skip Friday’s House session. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl), like Gosar, enlisted colleagues to vote by proxy, signing letters saying, “I am unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency.” Instead, Gaetz spoke at the in-person CPAC on Friday, where the event’s thousands of attendees loosely followed policies on wearing masks.

The Republicans skipped a slate of important votes, including a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package and a public lands measure to protect 1.5 million acres of new wilderness and to protect 1,200 miles of waterways. The Republicans had their proxies oppose the bills.

Electric Vehicle Tax Credit Is a Boon for Well-Off Americans

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story was originally published by Grist and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Lauri Mueller was ready for a new car. It was 2019 and Mueller, a 56-year-old freelance motion graphics designer, had run her 20-year-old Dodge Plymouth Neon practically “into the ground.” She had spent the last few years gradually moving toward a greener lifestyle—solar panels, reusable grocery bags, even an electric snowblower—and so she wanted a car that ran off battery power. She settled on a brand-new $40,000 Nissan Leaf, a birthday present to herself, because it came with an incentive: A credit of $7,500 taken off her federal taxes.

But Mueller was in for a nasty surprise. That “tax credit” was only worth as much as she owed the federal government—and in 2019, she only owed $3,829. The car ended up costing her several thousand dollars more than she expected.

The people who benefit the most are those with the most money to spend.

Mueller isn’t alone. According to one study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, 13 percent of electric vehicle owners overestimated how much money they would get back on their purchase. And her experience points to a much larger problem with the government’s primary strategy for getting consumers to adopt EVs: The people who benefit the most are those with the most money to spend.

Electric vehicles have long been seen as crucial to moving the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels: Many Americans are too car-addicted to abandon their personal vehicles, and the country is too tethered to its highways and suburbs to make a quick switch to a full-scale European-style public transportation system. (Sorry, mass-transit advocates.) A fleet of EVs, running on clean electricity, could help slash the 28 percent of U.S. emissions that come from transportation.

Getting Americans to buy electric cars, however, has proved challenging. EVs have been around forever—the first in the U.S. dates back to 1890 — but adoption has been sluggish. Even today, electric cars still cost thousands of dollars more up-front than their gas-powered counterparts (even if they ultimately make up that difference in lowered maintenance and fuel costs), and many people are skittish about having a car that runs out of power after a couple hundred miles. Between 2011 and 2019, less than 1 percent of cars sold in the U.S. were electric.

The tax credit was supposed to help. Started under President George W. Bush and expanded in President Barack Obama’s 2009 Recovery Act, the program gives purchasers of a new EV (or plug-in hybrid) a credit when they file their taxes the following year. The amount is scaled depending on the battery size: A 16kWh battery (like that of the now-discontinued Chevy Volt) is eligible for the max amount of $7,500.

A full 7 percent of the credits were claimed by people making at least $1 million a year.

But car buyers also have to make at least $66,000 a year—and have no other significant credits—to owe enough in taxes to get the full benefit. That’s one reason why the program has overwhelmingly helped richer Americans: According to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service, 78 percent of the credits were claimed by people making at least $100,000 per year; 7 percent were claimed by people making at least $1 million a year.

“It’s starting to be an equity issue,” said Gil Tal, director of the plug-in hybrid and electric vehicle research center at the University of California, Davis. A decade ago, he said, electric cars were more of a luxury item, only purchased by the rich—but now, as cheaper models are released, the tax credit may be standing in the way of middle-income Americans who want to jump on the EV bandwagon. Those buyers might not want to take on a heavy loan while they wait for the credit to kick in, or might not know how much they are going to make in the next year.

That’s what happened to Gene Cowan, a 56-year-old graphic designer based in California, who saved up to buy a Tesla Model 3 in 2018. He expected a $7,500 federal tax credit and another $3,000 rebate from the state. But after a rough year freelancing, he owed nothing in federal income tax, and, because he had to move to Washington D.C. to take care of a sick family member, he ended up losing the California-based benefit. “It’s crazy,” he said. “Because I wasn’t rich enough, I didn’t get it. It’s nuts.”

The tax incentive is supposed to convince Americans to buy electric vehicles who wouldn’t otherwise do so—especially middle-class Americans. But the credit only tipped the scales for 17 percent of EV buyers in 2015, according to one study in the journal Energy Economics. A whopping 83 percent would have bought their new cars regardless. Other analyses have found that the credit could be responsible for more like 30 or 40 percent of sales.

For middle-income Americans, there’s at least one way to still drive an EV. Tal, the UC Davis researcher, says that drivers interested in EVs can always lease — the federal tax credit gets applied to the dealership, which offers customers a cheaper leasing rate. This approach has been pretty popular: 75 percent of electric vehicles are leased instead of bought.“If I’m high-income, I’m going to buy my Tesla or Volt and I’m willing to pay full price,” said Tamara Sheldon, an author of the Energy Economics study and a professor of economics at the University of South Carolina. “But if you’re going to give me a tax credit or rebate—I’m not going to turn it down.”

But when it comes to purchasing an EV, Jay Friedland, director of the EV advocacy group Plug in America, thinks one way to tackle the equity problem is to move the credit “to the bumper.” That is, take the $7,500 directly off the sticker price of the car. That could be harder to swing politically—it’s easier to pass a tax credit than a direct subsidy through Congress—but would allow more Americans to take full advantage of the program. (A version of this already exists in California, where residents can get up to $1,500 off a new EV at the dealership.)

If Congress let used-car buyers take the credit, that would speed EV adoption by middle-income folks.

Another option is to provide a similar credit for used electric cars. In Oregon, low- and middle-income buyers can get a $2,500 rebate on a used EV; the state is also third in the nation for EV sales and leases. If Congress opened up the $7,500 tax credit for used cars, it could speed adoption among people who don’t have the funds to purchase a brand-new electric vehicle.

All of these ideas are likely to be debated in Congress over the next few months. President Joe Biden has made boosting EVs a pillar of his campaign—during the Democratic debates he repeatedly vowed to install “500,000 charging stations” across the country—and car companies are eager for the program to get revamped. The existing credit only applies to the first 200,000 eligible vehicles sold by a given car company, and Tesla and General Motors have already maxed out their quota. (Nissan and Toyota are getting close too.)

Any new legislation would likely lift those quotas, but could also help middle-income buyers get EVs. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has floated plans for a bill that would provide cash for old, gas-guzzling cars—much like Obama’s “cash for clunkers” program—and give a boost to those buying used EVs. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Representative Peter Welch of Vermont have proposed eliminating the automaker cap for the next 10 years and applying the credits directly at the dealership. And the GREEN Act, currently sponsored by 49 Congressional representatives, would extend eligible vehicles to 600,000 per company and add in a credit for used cars.

Whatever strategy Congress adopts, many hope that it will be easier to navigate than the current system. Mueller, who loves the simple maintenance and quiet engine of her Nissan Leaf, is still frustrated by her experience with the tax credit. “If you want to incentivize people to do something, it should be straightforward,” she said. “It shouldn’t be contingent on: ‘Oh, you didn’t have that many deductions that year.’”

Biden’s Reckless Syria Bombing Is Not the Diplomacy He Promised

AntiWar.com News -

The February 25 U.S. bombing of Syria immediately puts the policies of the newly-formed Biden administration into sharp relief. Why is this administration bombing the sovereign nation of Syria? Why is it bombing "Iranian-backed militias" who pose absolutely no threat to the United States and are actually involved in fighting ISIS? If this is about … Continue reading "Biden’s Reckless Syria Bombing Is Not the Diplomacy He Promised"

The post Biden’s Reckless Syria Bombing Is Not the Diplomacy He Promised appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Power Analysis Failure

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

 

This New York Times piece (2/17/21) criticized “advocates for fossil fuels” for “trying to shift blame” for blackouts to renewables…

“No, Wind Farms Aren’t the Main Cause of the Texas Blackouts,” a New York Times headline (2/17/21) instructed readers three days after the extreme weather event that precipitated widespread infrastructure failures in the Lone Star State, failures that caused mass suffering and led to dozens of deaths. The article, by Dionne Searcey, appeared after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was called out by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (among many others) for blaming renewable energy sources for the state’s power grid collapse.

Abbott, the Times accurately reported, was “among the most prominent in a chorus of political figures” blaming renewables for the blackouts. “The talking points,” it said, “reinvigorated a long-running campaign to claim that emissions-spewing fossil fuels are too valuable a resource to give up.” It went on to explain that wind power produces only some 7% of the state’s power, and that insufficiently weatherized infrastructure across energy sources was the real problem. “That didn’t stop some Republicans from targeting green energy as a chief culprit,” the Times intoned.

Yet two days earlier, the Times itself was doing the same thing. In a piece by Clifford Krauss and energy reporter Ivan Penn headlined “Frozen Turbines and Surging Demand Prompt Rolling Blackouts in Texas” (2/15/21), no other energy sources were explicitly mentioned as “part of” the problem, even though Texas’s small renewable energy sources actually outperformed forecasts during the crisis. It seems that fossil-fuel “talking points” influenced the paper of record, as well as Texas politicians.

(The Times was hardly alone in following fossil-fuel messaging blaming renewables. Climate analyst Ketan Joshi provided extensive examples in a February 15 tweet thread.)

…but just a two days earlier, another piece in the Times (2/15/21) stressed that “part of the problem arose when wind turbines in West Texas became frozen.”

This pair of New York Times articles was illustrative of what I found when I looked at 45 articles the Times posted from February 15 to February 23. Early stories focused mostly on the impacts on people and businesses without much explicit analysis, though nonetheless inescapably suggested an analysis, one that tended to exculpate energy companies and their allies in the Texas government.

In “Winter Storm Disrupts Wide Swath of American Business,” for instance, the Times‘ Peter Eavis and Neal E. Boudette (2/16/21) reported that grid managers “have had to order rolling blackouts after many power plants were forced offline because of icy conditions and some could not get sufficient supplies of natural gas. Some wind turbines also shut down.”  This framing in effect blamed the weather rather than insufficiently weatherized infrastructure, and didn’t explain at all why natural gas supplies ran out. One additional sentence said, “At the same time, demand for electricity and natural gas has shot up because of the cold weather,” without adding that the extra demand was more than the grid could accommodate, thus prompting blackouts.

Rising anger and frustration at the infrastructure failures prompted the first Times piece (2/16/21) that gave more than a few lines to the question of why Texas’s electric grid failed. It, too, started by reflexively blaming the weather: “As a winter storm forced the state’s power grid to the brink of collapse….”

“For years, energy experts argued that the way Texas runs its electricity system invited a systematic failure,” the article, by David Montgomery, Rick Rojas, Ivan Penn and James Dobbins, said. It cited researcher Robert McCullough’s view that by dropping requirements for power producers to hold reserves, the state “simply lacked backup for extreme weather events increasingly commonplace as a result of climate change.”

This New York Times article (2/16/21) failed to examine the claim that “the state’s energy market has functioned as it was designed.”

But then the Times cited a counterpoint from the Harvard Kennedy School economist who designed the Texas energy market, and abandoned analysis by simply reporting a “he said, he said” argument. According to this William Hogan, “the state’s energy market has functioned as it was designed”:

That design relies on basic economics: When electricity demand increases, so too does the price for power. The higher prices force consumers to reduce energy use to prevent cascading failures of power plants that could leave the entire state in the dark, while encouraging power plants to generate more electricity.

Is it too much to ask that the paper of record itself assess whether supply shortages, days-long blackouts, lack of potable water, and people freezing to death in their homes is a systemic failure or a system functioning as designed?

The New York Times shrugged off this responsibility, noting simply that “the rules of economics offered little comfort” to those stuck without power.

“The steep electric bills in Texas are in part a result of the state’s uniquely unregulated energy market,” the Times (2/20/21) explained in “His Lights Stayed on During Texas’ Storm. Now He Owes $16,752.”  This article, by Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and (again) Ivan Penn, went on to repeat the same point/counterpoint, from the same sources, as the earlier one, quoting William Hogan saying, “As you get closer and closer to the bare minimum, these prices get higher and higher, which is what you want.”

But again, there’s no engagement with this view. Just another shrug about a woman who gave in to the rules of economics and said: “I finally decided the other day, if we were going to pay these high prices, we weren’t going to freeze. So I cranked [the thermostat] up to 65.”

Was it “energy independence” that Texas proponents of deregulation sought, as this New York Times headline (2/21/21) suggests—or higher profits for energy companies?

It was not until a week after the storm that the New York Times (2/21/21) ran a piece on the grid failure itself, “How Texas’ Drive for Energy Independence Set It Up for Disaster,” wherein “energy independence” should really be spelled “market fundamentalism.” The piece, credited to Clifford Krauss, Manny Fernandez, Ivan Penn and Rick Rojas, traced the current problems back to the 1999 decision to radically deregulate the Texas energy market.

“The energy industry wanted it. The people wanted it. Both parties supported it,” the Times said about that decision. It went on to say that the “prediction of lower-cost power generally came true.” No “experts argue that,” no citation; just flat-out statement of fact.

But it’s not true. A Wall Street Journal investigation (2/24/21) demonstrated this week that deregulation raised prices, not lowered them:

Those deregulated Texas residential consumers paid $28 billion more for their power since 2004 than they would have paid at the rates charged to the customers of the state’s traditional utilities.

It seems the New York Times just took the benefits of deregulation on free-market faith rather than factchecking it.

In addition to the (nonexistent) cost savings, the Times said in the same February 21 piece, “the newly deregulated system came with few safeguards and even fewer enforced rules.” “With so many cost-conscious utilities competing for budget-shopping consumers, there was little financial incentive to invest in weather protection and maintenance,” it explained:

With no [reserves] mandate, there is little incentive to invest in precautions for events, such as a Southern snowstorm, that are rare. Any company that took such precautions would put itself at a competitive disadvantage.

Dressed in the antiseptic language of economics—“little incentive to invest”—this article tries hard not to say what it is saying: that the free market cannot provide social goods. That is, absent non-market intervention (i.e., regulation), for-profit utilities simply will not develop the kind of infrastructure that is needed to address human needs that are required for survival.

This New York Times article (2/19/21) blames deaths in the freeze on “poverty, desperation and…a lack of understanding of cold-weather safety”—not on the “state’s energy market [that] functioned as it was designed.”

Texans have paid a steep price, not just in electric bills, but in suffering and lives lost, as a direct consequence of the market dogmatism that undergirds their energy system. But the way the New York Times covered the crisis obscured rather than illuminated that. Articles on the crisis that detailed the suffering and losses have avoided analysis of the causes, and articles explaining the systemic failure (such as they are) don’t delve into the human cost.

“Extreme Cold Killed Texans in Their Bedrooms, Vehicles and Backyards” (2/19/21), by Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Richard Fausset and Johnny Diaz, for instance, painted a grim picture and includes heartbreaking stories. As for analysis, this is all there was: “Coming into clearer view were the dimensions of a public health crisis exacerbated by poverty, desperation and, in some cases, a lack of understanding of cold-weather safety.” No mention of the market functioning as it was designed to, or explanation of the relationship between deregulation and the inability of the electric grid to withstand an extreme weather event of this sort. Just blaming poverty (itself a systemic failure) and the poor, who don’t spend time skiing in Aspen and therefore aren’t familiar with “cold-weather safety.”

Keeping the causes and effects of the Texas Freeze crisis in separate articles lessens the chance that readers will feel the full weight of the reality that capitalism kills. William Hogan is in fact right: The system is functioning as it was designed to. And that’s the problem. Just don’t expect the New York Times to help anyone realize it.

ACTION ALERT: You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com (Twitter: @NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your communication in the comments thread.

 

The Real Threat to Women’s Sports Isn’t Trans Athletes. It’s Sexually Predatory Coaches.

Mother Jones Magazine -

On February 26, 2021 the passage of the Equality Act in the US House of Representatives piqued conservatives into a moral panic.

The bill, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, had a terrifying potential for Republicans: the presence of trans girls in high school sports.

There was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s statement that, “This really seems like an onslaught against freedom of religion [and] for girls’ sports as well.” There was Rep. Tom McClintock’s (R-Calif.) assertion that the legislation “destroys women’s sports and renders parents powerless to protect their own children.” And there was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) tweet—in response to Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.), who has a transgender daughter—saying, “Your biological son does NOT belong in my daughters’ bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams.”

All this language of the need to “protect,” the need to root out other children from “bathrooms” and “locker rooms,” is hard to square with reality. As with the introduction of “bathroom bills,” the anti-trans argument is a red herring. It is another example of conservatives standing athwart progressive social change in the name of protecting children—long a hallmark of right-wing reactionary politics.

But it is also particularly infuriating because all this effort has been summoned on a day when actual women in sports were in the news for being harmed.

While legislators on the House floor were pontificating about the demise of women’s sports, another story was unfolding. Yesterday, John Geddert, head coach of the 2012 gold-medal women’s Olympic gymnastics team, committed suicide in Michigan. He had just been charged with human trafficking and sex crimes against girls as young as 13. (None of the members of Congress have commented on that, from what I’ve seen.)

Geddert was a longtime friend of Larry Nassar, the convicted rapist who was accused of assaulting 265 girls as young as six. His victims included Olympic gold-medal gymnasts McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Simone Biles. Nassar admitted to sexually abusing girls at the Twistars Gymnastics Club owned by Geddert.

Abusive coaches are nothing new, and it’s not only sexual abuse. In 2019, Mary Cain, the youngest American runner to make a World Championships team, accused Nike coach Alberto Salazar of physical and psychological abuse that ruined her career. A Business Insider story from last year details the psychological abuse female college athletes from a variety of sports say they experienced at the hands of their coaches. And last August, Texas Tech fired two of its women basketball coaches after accusations surfaced of physical, mental, and verbal abuse.

This abuse, of course, is not limited to women either. Among the most notorious abusers in the sports world is Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State assistant football coach who in 2012 was found guilty of sexually assaulting 10 boys. Joe Paterno, the head coach who ignored reports of Sandusky’s abuse, was fired and died of cancer months later.

As scandal after scandal emerges about the pervasive abuse of young athletes, it’s time we reevaluate our priorities. Trans athletes aren’t the problem.

Trump Briefings? Always News. Biden Briefings? Not News.

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

 

Nowadays, corporate media would have you believe they are appalled by Donald Trump: He’s a liar and a cheat who distorted our democracy and was rotten to the press. I mean, they had to cover him because he was president, but they held their nose the whole time, and now they can’t wait to get back to serious reporting on policy.

CNN (3/16/16) shows Trump’s empty podium.

The only trouble is, if you have a memory longer than a minute, you’ll recall that CBS head Les Moonves (Extra!, 4/16) declared flatly that the ad money and ratings Trump brought the network mattered much more than any harm giving him a platform might incur. “It’s a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald. Keep going.” Or maybe you remember the time that CNN, Fox and MSNBC (FAIR.org, 3/16/16) all aired an empty podium where Trump was scheduled to speak instead of Bernie Sanders actually speaking.

Or maybe you’re just paying attention. As Press Run critic Eric Boehlert (2/22/21) noted recently, just a month into Joe Biden’s term, CNN has unceremoniously stopped airing daily White House press briefings. They didn’t cover Barack Obama’s much; in the last six months of his presidency, just 3% of daily briefings aired live (Media Matters, 5/30/17). But in early 2017, the DC press corps collectively decided that every Trump utterance had to be broadcast live, even if the briefings were “built on deceits [and] designed to foil honest inquiries,” as Boehlert said. Even if he was telling folks to inject themselves with bleach or accusing hospital workers of stealing PPE.

After one freakish display, CNN anchor John King (4/13/20) declared, “That was propaganda aired at taxpayer expense in the White House briefing room.” But the network just kept on airing them.

So the upshot: Obama briefings? Not news. Trump briefings? Always news. Biden briefings? Not news again.

Whatever you make of the fact that a news network’s rule of  “Everybody stop what you’re doing, the White House is about to make a statement!” only seemed to hold when they could expect that statement to be akin to a flaming car wreck…just remember that those are the “journalistic” criteria they’re working with all the time.

ACTION ALERT: Messages to CNN can be sent here (or via Twitter @CNN). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread of this post.

Featured image: Trump spokesperson Sean Spicer and Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki.

Microchips and the Macro World: Semiconductor Shortage Ushers in East-West Tech War

Mint Press News -

WASHINGTON — A worldwide semiconductor shortage has upended the best laid plans of several major industries — including automobile, TV and laptop manufacturers — which have been forced to cut back on production and delay shipments as they try to weather the storm hitting one of the cornerstones of the global supply chain.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced a 100-day review of “key products including semiconductors and advanced batteries used in electric vehicles” as part of an executive order signed one day after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer directed the relevant Senate committees to “start drafting a legislative package to outcompete China,” based on a bill he introduced in May of last year called the Endless Frontiers Act.

Earlier this month, General Motors was forced to shut down three plants and slow down production at a fourth as a result of the semiconductor crisis. Automakers across the globe are facing similar problems, with Ford, Honda and Volkswagen – the world’s largest car maker – all slashing production as they try to find alternative suppliers of the critical piece of technology, which has been dominated by Taiwan since it overtook Intel as the largest manufacturer a few years ago.

Some have laid the blame for the $60 billion shortfall in chips on Covid, attributing the bottleneck to pandemic-related issues like remote-work logistics at car manufacturing plants and the diverting of chip production capacity to consumer electronics. That shift came in response to rising demand in the wake of “virtual working patterns” resulting from lockdown policies, according to Ford’s chief product platform and operations officer Hau Thai-Tang.

This narrative conceals the deeper realities of Washington’s pernicious influence in Taiwan and the impact of Trump’s trade war with China, with its direct attacks on Chinese technology company Huawei in particular, which set the stage for the shortage itself and possibly undermined America’s own position of strength in the Taiwanese semiconductor industry.

 

End of an era

The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC) controls “half of the world’s foundry chip capacity” and maintained a position of dominance in the sector even before surpassing Intel, according to China-U.S. policy expert Peter Lee, who spoke to MintPress for this piece and whose semi-weekly podcast “China Threat Report” offers crucial insights into the relationship between the United States and the Asian superpower.

In a recent edition titled “Taiwan’s Silicon Shield Collides with its Silicon Lance,” Lee delves into the nuances of the semiconductor saga, which began with Trump’s 2018 ban on Chinese telecom giant ZTE for shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea in violation of U.S. embargo laws, a ban the Taiwanese government enforced through a license requirement on ZTE’s two chip suppliers.

It was among the first salvos in a continuing “tech war” between the U.S. and China, which has included accusations of intellectual property theft against Chinese DRAM chip manufacturer Fujian Jinhua. That manufacturer’s production of low-end chips for domestic (Chinese) consumption was shut down by U.S. sanctions after a joint operation between Taiwanese law enforcement and the FBI against the company’s technical partner and second-largest foundry in Taiwan was used to declare Fujian Jinhua’s DRAM chips a threat to U.S. national security.

The result was the loss of a $5.6 billion investment by the Chinese company and heightening tensions between China and the U.S. According to Lee, the “mainland semiconductor technology drain” — which had been growing under the previous, more China-friendly Taiwanese government — was halted and coupled with the ensuing ban on chipsets furnished to China’s technology giant Huawei, produced by Taiwan’s semiconductor behemoth TSMC.

While Washington’s bullying tactics had a major impact on curbing Huawei’s growing domination of the smartphone manufacturing business and set back China’s own lower-end semiconductor production by a few years, U.S. actions have spurred massive investments by China into its domestic chip manufacturing sector — such as the National Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund recent $32 billion addition to enhance its domestic chip production capacity — in order to circumvent the tech-war sabotage.

More significantly, according to Lee, is the spotlight now being shone on Taiwan as the world’s sole-source supplier of high-end semiconductor technology, as a result of the global drought putting so much strain on the world’s industrial supply chain. This has predictably led other nations to look into developing self-sufficiency in the sector.

The question remains as to how such a shift will affect the geopolitical realities surrounding the volatile U.S.-Taiwan-China relationship. If the key element of Taiwan as the center of the semiconductor manufacturing universe were to be removed from the equation, would the U.S. relinquish its influence over the island or would it continue to use Taiwan as a pawn against the country that is increasingly being cast as the next global nemesis of the “free world”?

 

Adhering to Moore’s Law

As a result of the U.S.’s very public attack on Huawei and other Chinese tech firms, these companies — and every other company with product lines that rely on the semiconductors produced in Taiwan, such as Apple and virtually every processor firm in the world — began trying to get ahead of the game by placing advance orders, which had the inevitable consequence of tying up production for months on end.

Lee concludes that the resulting chip shortage was one of the unintended consequences of Trump’s trade war against China. But he add that in light of the increasingly aggressive rhetoric coming out of Washington, which looks to blame China for the pandemic, the fact that the semiconductor shortage is being tied to Covid in U.S. mainstream media outlets seems like the perfect storyline to buttress the Cold War revivalism currently unfolding in the United States, whose proponents are chomping at the bit to build China up to be the next Soviet Union.

Speaking to MintPress, Lee reflected that, given the fact that these production plants take years to construct, Taiwan’s preeminence in semiconductor manufacturing “can remain a vital strategic resource for the world for the next 5 to 10 years,” which he believes will suit the Pentagon “just fine.” Nevertheless, Trump’s late-term decision to bring a TSMC plant to Arizona may point to more long-term bipartisan policy goals.

In terms of Schumer’s initiative in the Senate, time will tell whether he’s simply angling to procure quick funds for his chip-manufacturing friends in upstate New York or whether the legislation that ultimately comes out of the forthcoming committee sessions will represent a more permanent shift towards the much-heralded “self-sufficiency.” In the meantime, Biden’s executive order will look into whether the “U.S. should incentivize new semiconductor manufacturing plants,” as the burgeoning “green revolution” promises to exponentially increase demand for this critical component.

Feature photo | An employee wearing protective equipment pushes a cart at a semiconductor production facility for Renesas Electronics during a government organized tour for journalists in Beijing, May 14, 2020. Mark Schiefelbein | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Microchips and the Macro World: Semiconductor Shortage Ushers in East-West Tech War appeared first on MintPress News.

Organizer LaTosha Brown on Building the New South

ACLU News -

In November and January, voters across the country watched as the people of Georgia helped deliver both the presidency and the Senate to the Democrats this past election cycle, defying the perception of the state as a Republican stronghold. After Stacey Abrams’ contentious loss in the 2018 race for governor, the effort to thwart voter suppression in the state and mobilize Black voters ramped up. As a result, Black Georgians showed up to the polls in droves and turned the state blue.

One of the activists responsible for this shift is LaTosha Brown, a political strategist who has worked at the intersection of social justice and political empowerment for decades. LaTosha is the cofounder of the Black Voters Matter Fund and BVM Capacity Building Institute, a movement to expand voter access and build political power for Black people in the U.S., particularly in the South.

She joined At Liberty this week to discuss the impact of expanding the right to vote and building a more diverse and inclusive future for the South.

https://soundcloud.com/aclu/latosha-brown-on-black-voters-and-the-new-south

Member Recap: Feb. 25, 2021

National Lawyer's Guild -

 

Welcome to the rebranded Member Recap, formerly known as the Member News Digest, where you can catch up on NLG news from the last two weeks.

Be sure to keep up with us in real time on social media, on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook

 

Upcoming & Recorded Events NEXT WEEK: Week Against Mass Incarceration (WAMI2021) Begins!

Stay tuned for a recap of all the great events our NLG law student chapters organize around the theme of “Prison Abolition and Beyond” to include all locations and instances in which people are held against their will, including jails, immigration detention, juvenile detention facilities, psychiatric wards, and more. We also intend the “beyond” to include consideration of the abolition of policing as part of the larger mass incarceration system (and in line with the Guild’s 2020 resolution supporting the abolition of police). Check out the #WAMI2021 page on our website for ways to get involved.

More information about the various events can be found on our social media pages!

Recording: NLG San Francisco-Bay Area Press Conference with Anti Police-Terror Project

You can watch this press conference from February 18, where NLG San Francisco-Bay Area spoke with the Anti Police-Terror Project demanding that the Marin County D.A. Lori Frugoli drop the charges against Indigenous women & two spirit people who demonstrated against the genocidal colonizer Junipero Serra on Indigenous Peoples Day 2020.

 

 

National, Committee, and Chapter Statements and News NLG Announces 2021 Haywood Burns Fellows

The NLG National Office is pleased to introduce our 2021 Haywood Burns Fellowship recipients! The Fellowships sponsor law students and legal workers to spend the summer working for public interest organizations across the country in order to build their legal skills , strengthen their long-term commitment to social justice, and provide much-needed legal support to under-served communities.

This year we will send five aspiring people’s lawyers to work on projects focusing on racial justice, immigrant justice, eviction defense, police violence, prison law reform, and the opioid epidemic. Our fellows will be working at social justice organizations including the Advancement Project, the People’s Law Office, Communities Resist, AppalRed, and Project South. Congratulations to Xena Sofia Hinson, Julian Montijo, Jackie Park, Colleen Ryan, and Stephanie Sorquira. 

Poor Peoples’ Army: NLG Philadelphia, NLG Housing Committee, and NLG National Sign Onto Philadelphia Anti-Evicition Campaign

The campaign calls for no evictions of 30+ families taking shelter in abandoned HUD properties in Philly.

“As the homelessness continues with the ongoing pandemic and heightened joblessness, lawyers need to take sides and support poor people organizing themselves to survive against corporations and the rich,” said Sarah White, Co-Chair of NLG Housing Committee.

You can sign the petition at http://bit.ly/3duKIk8 & read the press release at poorpeoplesarmy.com/#press.

NLG Adopts Resolution Supporting the Abolition of Policing

National Lawyers Guild (NLG) membership voted to pass a resolution supporting police abolition following its #Law4thePeople Convention last fall, acknowledging that the institution of policing is incompatible with the NLG’s mission to use law in defense of human rights and ecosystems over property interests. Taking leadership from community demands reiterated during last summer’s uprisings against racist police violence catalyzed by the murder of George Floyd, the resolution calls for the “defunding, dismantling and abolition” of policing in all its forms. […]

The NLG National Office, in collaboration with the proponents of the resolution, will be implementing the resolution by presenting the forthcoming programming and resources:

NLG Signs Onto Letter Demanding DOJ Review Chevron’s Retaliatory Litigation Against Human Rights Attorney Steven Donziger

The NLG one of 13 organizations who signed this letter led by Amazon Watch to incoming AG Garland demanding a comprehensive review of the legal attacks against Steven Donziger, including retaliatory SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) litigation by Chevron.

“These actions will allow Mr. Donziger to return to his human rights work and will allow those affected by Chevron’s massive pollution to collect the court judgement against the company in the United States or in other jurisdictions around the world,” the letter states. You can read the whole letter here.

NLG Signs Onto Letter in Support of Indian Farmers Protest

The NLG has signed onto the following letter of support of the Indian Farmers Protest, which is estimated to be the largest strike in history.

“Since the end of November, up to a million protesters have travelled to the outskirts of Delhi, India to protest three recent farm laws that will deregulate India’s agriculture industry in unprecedented ways, threatening the already strained livelihoods of millions of farmers to the benefit of massive corporations. […]

“Justice for Migrant Women is proud to demonstrate our solidarity with the farmers’ protest, alongside more than 75 like-minded organizations across the US and beyond,” said Mónica Ramírez, Founder and President of Justice for Migrant Women. “India’s response to these peaceful demonstrations run counter to the fundamental values shared by all democracies — among them freedom of expression, protest, and the press, as well as the fundamental dignity of all people — and it is time that we all lend our voices to speak against this unjust treatment with those who are fighting for their lives and livelihoods.” 

 

Arkansas Appeals Court Strike Down anti-BDS Law, After Amicus Brief Filed by NLG and Project South

“The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Arkansas’ anti-BDS law on Friday in a clear win against unconstitutional legislation attempting to silence advocacy for Palestinian rights. National Lawyers Guild and Project South had filed an amicus brief in Arkansas Times, LP v. Mark Waldrip, et. al, challenging the anti-boycott law, which required government contractors to sign a “loyalty oath” pledging not to boycott Israel.

“The Circuit Court’s opinion this morning reaffirms that there can be no exception, in a free society, to the right to defend oppressed people in Palestine through our speech and advocacy — including boycotts,” said Amith Gupta, co-author of the brief and Atlanta-based civil rights attorney, NLG member, and former Legal Fellow with Project South.”

 

NLG Seattle, CLDC, and Others File Amicus Brief in Support of Washington State Minister

“Despite the rapidly accelerating climate emergency, a Washington State Court of Appeals recently denied the Reverend George Taylor the right to mount a necessity defense in association with his civil disobedience action to confront this existential ecological and human rights crisis (State ex rel. Haskell v. Spokane County Dist. Court). With this denial of due process now under reconsideration by the Washington State Supreme Court, three Pacific Northwest civil liberties legal organizations have filed a brief of amici curiae (friend of the Court) asking the Court to reverse the lower Court’s ruling and allow this critical ‘lesser of two evils’ defense to move forward.

“Civil disobedience is an integral thread in the fabric of U.S. democracy. A ruling that individuals who engage in civil disobedience cannot present the necessity defense to a jury undermines our history of validating civil disobedience as an appropriate means of challenging an entrenched status quo. Such a ban deprives individuals of their due process rights,” said National Lawyers Guild attorney, Neil Fox.”

Check out NLG Seattle’s other work here.

NLG In The News 2/25/21 | In These Times The Right Is Using the Capitol Riot as a Trojan Horse to Target the Left

“In the wake of the January 6 pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol, momentum has grown across the country to institute a new, domestic ​“war on terror.” In response, scores of civil rights organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and a group of progressive lawmakers including Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D‑Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.) have objected, cautioning that such an aggressive response could end up targeting activist groups and vulnerable communities. 

The events since January 6 suggest that these warnings are all-too accurate. […]

The FBI’s January 15 visit to Sharod isn’t an outlier, says Moira Meltzer-Cohen, a civil rights attorney with the National Lawyers Guild.

“Law enforcement is using the Capitol riot as hook to go after people they perceive as being on the Left,” Meltzer-Cohen says. ​“There has been a flurry of visits of people perceived by the government as leftists, leftist dissidents.”

2/22/21 | WVTF MVP Protesters: Day 900 & One

For 900+ days, demonstrators have been living in trees above a section of the Mountain Valley Pipeline near Elliston, VA, in protest of its construction. NLG SW Virginia Chapter Legal Observers have been documenting police activity in response.

“When are we going to get the message that we can’t just wait in a 10, 20 years, we’re still putting in pipelines that are destroying the habitats of species that are ruining the streams in Virginia, and eventually going to carry fossil fuels, which are going to continue to warm the earth. The young people get it, the ones who are putting their lives on the line get it,” said Alan Graf, NLG SW Virginia President.

2/21/21 | San Diego-Union Tribune New policy on protests outlines when San Diego police should use less-lethal weapons, deem events unlawful

“Some community members said they were concerned with what they viewed as a lack of restrictions on the use of less-lethal weapons and a lack of a focus on de-escalation.

Kylee Belanger, director of the San Diego National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer Program, said she believes the policy’s intent is to “chill free speech.” She said the policy hurts not just the public but also the media and front-line officers because force against a crowd puts them in danger, too.”

2/18/21 | WBAI Radio Evening Broadcast Interview with Kira Kelley, NLG Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) Chair

“In the end if [reforms are] not taking away resources from the police and redirecting towards public resources, it’s not a viable solution, it’s just further legitimizing an institution that since it’s beginning has only ever been about propping up racial capitalism.”

Listen to the interview, starting at 23:14, here.

2/16/21 | Wisconsin Bail Out the People Movement Moratorium Now Coalition: ‘Statement of Disgust Regarding City’s Counterclaim Against Detroit Will Breathe’

“Mayor Mike Duggan and the City Council have once again failed to support the people of Detroit by approving $200,000 to fund a counter-lawsuit against Detroit Will Breathe, Black Lives Matter movement protesters, in a 5-4 vote. […]

“The City’s counterclaim is one of many examples of a national trend by units of government and corporations to intimidate grassroots activists from suing them by seeking to tie up their time and waste their financial resources with frivolous counter-lawsuits,” said John Royal, president of the National Lawyers Guild Detroit and Michigan Chapter, in a recent statement. “The City of Detroit should not use this repressive tactic against the progressive youth of southeast Michigan who are seeking redress for legitimate grievances against the DPD.”

Jobs Members-Only Job Board

Are you searching for a movement-related legal or organizing job OR internship?

A reminder that all current NLG members have access to our Members-Only job board! This resource includes open positions for attorneys, paralegals, organizers, legal workers and law students.

Check it out at nlg.org/job-board (NOTE: you must be logged in with your nlg.org account to view this page). Have a job or internship listing you’d like to share with fellow Guild members? Send it to jobboard@nlg.org.

The post Member Recap: Feb. 25, 2021 first appeared on National Lawyers Guild.

The Time Is Now: Congress Must Pass Citizenship Legislation

ACLU News -

Congress and President Biden have a mandate from the American people to fix our broken immigration system: It’s time to pass legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship and legal residency for the millions of people in this country who are our neighbors, co-workers, friends and loved ones — yet are denied the ability to live freely as citizens and legal residents. The American people soundly rejected the hateful and divisive anti-immigrant policies pursued by the Trump administration. Now it’s imperative for Biden and Congress to seize on this momentum to finally get citizenship legislation done. 

The goal for Congress this year must be to pass legislation to create a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S. In February, members of Congress introduced myriad bills that would help get us there, including the landmark U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 and the American Dream and Promise Act. The bottom line is this: Too many members of our communities are living in fear of being deported away from their homes and families. They are being denied a pathway to become citizens and legal residents, even as they serve on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, raise their kids, support our communities, and contribute to our country. This is unfair and unjust. Congress has a responsibility to act.

Biden’s Day 1 Immigration Bill: The U.S. Citizenship Act

The U.S. Citizenship Act is comprehensive legislation that will help millions of people. If passed into law, immigrants who have lived in the U.S. before Jan. 1, 2021 will have a path to gain legal status and eventually be eligible for citizenship. 

It will also reform immigration law to help prevent future discriminatory bans, like the Muslim ban and its targeting of Africans, and undo restrictions that have made it more difficult to work, travel, and live openly, and administer new aid and support programs meant to address the root causes of migration.

Along with this comprehensive legislation, several lawmakers are also proposing more targeted bills that may see votes in Congress.

Realizing America’s Dream & Promise

The Trump administration threw peoples’ lives into chaos by attempting to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents, and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Liberians. While court rulings and recent actions by President Biden helped limit the enormous harm that transpired over the past four years, DACA is still at risk due to persistent court challenges, and TPS and DED recipients continue to face long-term uncertainty. Members of our communities have suffered the indignity of being used as political pawns for far too long.

If passed, the American Dream and Promise Act will provide protection from deportation and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and immigrants eligible for TPS and DED, ending the fear and legal limbo experienced by too many people in our country once and for all. The ACLU continues to urge Congress to strengthen due process, reduce racial disparities, and end the disproportionately harsh consequences of criminal convictions in any future immigration legislation.

Preventing Discriminatory Bans

On Jan. 20, President Biden rescinded Trump’s Muslim ban, including its expansion explicitly targeting Africans. This was a milestone victory for all the advocates who spent four years demonstrating, advocating, and fighting to stop the ban. Now we must make sure that presidents cannot use rank prejudice to enact discriminatory bans in the future.

The NO BAN Act will put stricter standards in place to limit such abuses of executive authority in the future, including Trump’s use of this authority to destroy our immigration system during the pandemic. There is much work to do in order to right the wrongs against people whose lives were destroyed by the ban. 

We must also prevent any community from enduring this kind of harm in the future, and make certain that presidents cannot abuse their powers in such a way again.

No Tradeoffs That Hurt Our Communities

As lawmakers debate these bills, they should ensure that the legislation gives a fair chance to all Americans in waiting. Using criminal convictions and allegations of criminal conduct to categorically exclude immigrants from a path to legalization and citizenship is unnecessary and harmful. As we embark on new reforms for our broken immigration system, we should not import the problems that plague our criminal legal system — including the disproportionate targeting of Black and Brown people. We also cannot deny people access to benefits or citizenship based on fear-mongering and bigotry that stereotypes Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian community members as “threats” and targets them for national security surveillance, discrimination, and worse. Categorically barring people from citizenship or residency based on stereotypes or  past actions also denies them the chance to show that their personal histories, experiences, and family and community ties mean they ought to be able to stay.

Citizenship legislation should not be used as a vehicle for throwing even more money toward immigration and border enforcement personnel, technology, or equipment. Over the past two decades, border communities have experienced increased civil liberties and rights violations at the hands of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials, extreme surveillance and over-policing, and wanton destruction of wildlife and nature. CBP and ICE are already enormously overfunded. DHS received $26 billion for immigration enforcement in fiscal year 2020 — 33 percent more than all federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined. And in the past four years, ICE and CBP’s budgets have increased by $6 billion. Given the abuses committed by CBP and ICE agents, Congress should not be rewarding the agency with additional technology funding. 

Surveillance technology, justified as a means of border security, frequently spreads across border communities, degrading privacy rights of all residents. CBP use of technology has extended far away from the physical border and for purposes that have nothing to do with the border — as evident by CBP’s use of drones on Black Lives Matter protesters last summer and surveillance of George Floyd’s burial. CBP spent $1 billion on its last failed attempt to create a “virtual border fence.” These efforts don’t come with any of the necessary privacy protections, nor does peppering sensitive lands with mobile surveillance towers respect the environment or border communities. 

Not all technologies — if used with appropriate safeguards — infringe on privacy and civil liberties. However, past border proposals have suggested expanding warrantless and broad aerial surveillance, constant video monitoring, or biometric collection. Congress should not leave it to DHS to determine what privacy safeguards are necessary to prevent rights violations. 

This is a moment of profound possibility for our nation. We urge Congress to seize it.

The Coordinated Attack on Trans Student Athletes

ACLU News -

Transgender athletes want to participate in school sports for the same reason as anybody else: to find a sense of belonging and social engagement, to be a part of a team, and to challenge themselves. But states and schools across the country are trying to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports on equal terms with their cisgender peers. Not only do these proposed laws discriminate against trans youth in ways that compromise their health, social and emotional development, and safety, they also raise a host of privacy concerns.

The organizations leading these attacks on trans athletes’ rights are the same organizations that pushed false myths about trans people in restrooms. Just like it was never about restrooms, today’s fight is not about sports. It’s about erasing and excluding trans people from participation in all aspects of public life. It’s about creating “solutions” to “problems” that don’t exist and, in the process, harming some of the most vulnerable young people in the country. Meanwhile, leading advocates for women’s sports support inclusion of women and girls who are transgender and warn that these efforts will ultimately harm all athletes in women’s sports.

"I Just Want to Run"

Lindsay Hecox

Lindsay is a college student at Boise State University. She wants to run on the track team because she loves to run, and loves the experience of building friendships and solidarity with her teammates. As a girl, Lindsay’s only option is to run on the girls’ team, but a new law in Idaho would ban her from doing so because she is transgender. Lindsay sued in 2020 and is represented by the ACLU and the ACLU of Idaho, Legal Voice, and Cooley LLP. For updates on Lindsay’s case, visit the Hecox v. Little case page.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeL5R5N_3L8

Andraya Yearwood

Andraya is a recent high school graduate who ran on her school’s girls’ track team. A lawsuit was filed against her school and the state of Connecticut by cisgender students because. The ACLU and ACLU of Connecticut joined the lawsuit in on behalf of Andraya and Terry Miller, another student. Both Terry and Andraya have graduated from high school and no longer compete in track, but anti-trans groups are suing to take away any record of their past achievements. For updates on Andraya’s case, visit the Soule et al v. CT Association of Schools et al case page.

Trans athletes — particularly Black trans women — face systemic barriers to participation in athletics and all aspects of public life.  This exclusion contributes to the high rates of homelessness, suicidality, and violence that Black trans women and girls face.

Debunking Myths About Trans Athletes

The attacks on trans student-athletes are rooted in the same kind of gender discrimination and stereotyping that has held back cisgender women athletes for centuries. Transgender girls are often told that they are not girls (and conversely transgender boys are told they are not really boys) based on inaccurate stereotypes about biology, athleticism, and gender. In reality, trans women and girls have been competing in women’s sports at all levels around the world. Despite the hundreds if not thousands of trans women competing, only a handful have had any success at the high school and collegiate level. And women’s sports have continued to grow and thrive in states with policies that allow trans student athletes to compete.

Everything we know from major medical and mental health associations is that affirming trans youth in their gender is a critical part of improving physical and mental health outcomes for this population.

https://www.aclu.org/news/lgbt-rights/four-myths-about-trans-athletes-debunked/

State Bills

In 2020, 18 states introduced legislation that would ban transgender student athletes from participating in school sports. As of February 2021, 24 states have introduced similar legislation.

Idaho was the first and only state to pass such a ban. In August 2020, a federal judge blocked Idaho’s law targeting transgender student athletes, recognizing that “it is not just the constitutional rights of transgender girls and women athletes at issue but … the constitutional rights of every girl and woman athlete in Idaho.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to hear arguments in May in the appeal of the lower court’s decision and could rule any time after that. Briefs in opposition to this law and in support of transgender student athletes have been filed by women’s rights groups, medical experts, athletes, and coaches.

https://www.aclu.org/legislation-affecting-lgbt-rights-across-country

Federal Policies

On Jan. 20, the Biden administration issued an executive order aimed at addressing discrimination against LGBTQ people. Recent polls indicate this order is the most popular policy enacted by the administration in its first week.

Biden’s order restored protections — it did not introduce new ones. Chase Strangio, the ACLU’s deputy director for trans justice, explains:

Contrary to a trending hashtag on social media and the polemics of a few loud voices, President Biden most certainly did not “erase women” — whatever that means. By stating the administration’s intention to follow Supreme Court precedent and federal law, at core all the newly-elected president did was lay out what the law is and agree, unlike his predecessor, to follow it. That includes, as the order makes clear, ensuring that “[c]hildren should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.”

Before Biden’s executive action, the Obama administration issued guidance regarding protections for transgender students under Title IX, and before that, multiple courts had already ruled that existing federal law protects transgender students from discrimination in schools. Since then, the Supreme Court has twice rejected cases challenging school policies that support transgender students (Doe v. Boyertown Area School District and Parents for Privacy v. Dallas School District No. 2). Similarly, passing the Equality Act would not introduce new rights for transgender students, including women and girls who are transgender and wish to participate in school sports.

Trans People Belong in Sports

Here’s what organizations that have fought for women athletes have to say:

Women’s Sports Foundation

The false rhetoric taking hold is a distraction to the real threats to girls and women in sports, such as lack of Title IX understanding and compliance; inequity in compensation, resources, sponsorship, and media attention; harassment and abuse of female athletes and women working in sports, the list goes on.

National Women’s Law Center

Additionally, history and modern experiences show how [Idaho’s anti-trans law] will disproportionately harm Black and Brown women and girls. Black and Brown women and girls are routinely targeted, shamed, and dehumanized for not conforming to society’s expectations of femininity … By allowing coaches, administrators, and other athletes to become the arbiters of who “looks like” a girl or a woman, [this law] will rely on and perpetuate racist and sexist stereotypes.

National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education

NCWGE supports the right of transgender and nonbinary students to learn in a safe, nondiscriminatory environment; to use names, pronouns, and identification documents consistent with their gender identity; to have full and equal access to sex-separated activities and facilities consistent with their gender identity, including athletics teams, bathrooms, and locker rooms; and to have their privacy protected in all education records, in accordance with Title IX, the reasoning in the Supreme Court’s Bostock decision, and President Biden’s Jan. 20, 2021 executive order.

Statement of 23 Women’s Rights and Gender Justice Organizations

Equal participation in athletics for transgender people does not mean an end to women’s sports. The idea that allowing girls who are transgender to compete in girls’ sports leads to male domination of female sports is based on a flawed understanding of what it means to be transgender and a misrepresentation of nondiscrimination laws.

Billie Jean King

There is no place in any sport for discrimination of any kind. I’m proud to support all transgender athletes who simply want the access and opportunity to compete in the sport they love. The global athletic community grows stronger when we welcome and champion all athletes — including LGBTQ

Megan Rapinoe

https://twitter.com/mPinoe/status/1286010384059514880?s=20

Another Step Back for Biden: Attack on Syria Draws Establishment Cheers

Mint Press News -

WASHINGTON — Barely a month into his presidency, Joe Biden launched an airstrike on Syria yesterday. The attack was reportedly aimed at militias close to the Iraq border, killing 22 people — considerably more than the White House first claimed. In the attack, 1.75 tons of bombs were dropped on a small border-crossing village, according to The New York Times.

It was commonly reported that the target of the raid was pro-Iran forces — specifically, members of the Popular Mobilization Front, a contingent of Iraqi militia groups formed to fight ISIS that were eventually brought under the command of the Iraqi government. In its headline, the Times described the militias as such, although in the body of its report the paper admitted it had no evidence and was not sure this was the case.

U.S. government spokespersons framed the decision to bomb a country over 6,000 miles away as “defensive in nature” and as a response to attacks on American personnel in the region. The Syrian government characterized the incident as “cowardly” and a violation of international law.

NYT headline affirms Pentagon claim that the group the US bombed in Syria is backed by Iran, then admits it doesn't actually know if the group has any link to Iran.

The spirit of Judith Miller lives on at the Paper of Record.https://t.co/BIthsi6fWH

HT @MarkAmesExiled pic.twitter.com/cHjmN4lPkC

— Dan Cohen (@dancohen3000) February 26, 2021

 

Predictable cheers (and jeers)

The news was met with cheers from many of Biden’s more prominent supporters. “Good. Targeting our troops should carry a consequence,” wrote Time columnist David French. Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul was of a similar opinion, tweeting his approval of the attack. “So different having military action under Biden. No middle school-level threats on Twitter. Trust Biden and his team’s competence,” reacted Amy Siskind, a prominent liberal writer.

Others in the press were equally delighted. “By authorizing air strikes, the U.S. president showed he won’t ignore Tehran’s provocations while pursuing diplomacy,” wrote Bloomberg columnist Bobby Ghosh. Ghosh claimed that the strike would be sure to snap Iran out of its “sense of impunity” and deter any more “aggression” against the United States.

So, @JoeBiden bombs Syria and kills the minimum wage hike, confirming every fear progressives had. Soon they'll renege on getting $2000 checks to everyone in the middle class by limiting who gets it (to appease their donors). The establishment is back! And it absolutely sucks.

— Cenk Uygur (@cenkuygur) February 26, 2021

While the bombing drew applause from establishment Democrats, it also elicited condemnation from anti-war voices. “This is basically the polar opposite of getting back in the peace agreement, which was what [Biden] promised to do. A liar and a warmonger,” concluded political commentator Kyle Kulinski. “You will never bomb your way to peace,” reacted progressive activist and podcast host Jordan Uhl.

 

No step forward, two steps back

The news of the bombing came at the same time as reports that the new administration was planning to drop its attempts to pass a federal $15 minimum wage. Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that a $15 minimum wage could not be part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan. It is perfectly within the power of the Vice President Kamala Harris, serving in her capacity as president of the Senate, to overrule the decision and push forward with the plan regardless. However, reports suggest the Biden administration is not looking to do so. “Today Biden approved an airstrike in Syria and the Senate parliamentarian shot down the federal minimum wage hike through reconciliation. Dems can overrule her but Biden doesn’t want to. Dems will lose everything in the midterms and possibly the next general election. And they’ll deserve it,” fumed Ana Kasparian of “The Young Turks.”

The news capped off a month marked largely with disappointment for progressives. After campaigning on a promise to “immediately” send out a $2,000 check to every American, Biden has walked back that offer to a means-tested $1,400, something that is still stuck in negotiations and will only be sent out in the spring at the earliest.

Earlier this week, Trump-era child prisons along the Mexican border were reopened, this time with the word “bienvenidos” (Spanish for “welcome”) daubed on their exterior. Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent insisted that Biden’s camps were fundamentally different. “What Biden is doing has nothing in common with ‘kids in cages,’” he wrote, describing them merely as “warehouse-like facilities.”

Have Syrians tried pushing Biden's bombs to the left?

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) February 26, 2021

The new president’s Middle Eastern policies have left many pro-peace figures disappointed. While pledging to end the war in Yemen as part of his election campaigning, Biden has merely promised to halt support for “offensive” Saudi actions and pause “relevant” arms sales. Yet his administration simultaneously reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s right to defend itself and immediately began condemning supposed Houthi attacks on its neighbor to the north, suggesting that the change is one of semantics rather than policy. Earlier this week, State Department official Timothy Lenderking also, according to an official communication, bizarrely “expressed gratitude for Saudi Arabia’s generous support over the decades for the people of Yemen.” Biden has also approved the controversial Trump-era decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

While few expected him to be an anti-war president, the expectation on Iran was that Biden would return to the nuclear deal signed by President Barack Obama, a deal that kept a lid on U.S. aggression against the country. However, the 78-year-old Delawarean is dragging his feet on that, too. This latest strike is hardly likely to improve matters.

Feature photo | Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Feb. 17, 2021. Alex Brandon | AP

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post Another Step Back for Biden: Attack on Syria Draws Establishment Cheers appeared first on MintPress News.

Rethinking Israel’s Blank Check in Light of Palestinian Teen’s Death with US Weapon

Mint Press News -

JERUSALEM — Last year, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian teenager with an American gun. Now human rights organizations, activists, and politicians are calling on the United States to investigate the killing and stop the flow of military support to Israel.

On Dec. 4, 2020, Israeli forces fatally shot Ali Abu Aliya in the stomach while he was watching a protest against the establishment of a new settlement in the West Bank. It was his fifteenth birthday. According to Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP), Aliya wasn’t participating in the demonstration and did not pose a threat to Israeli soldiers.

“Under international law, intentional lethal force is only justified in circumstances where a direct threat to life or of serious injury is present,” DCIP said. “However, investigations and evidence collected by DCIP regularly suggest that Israeli forces use lethal force against Palestinian children in circumstances that do not appear to be warranted and may amount to extrajudicial or [willful] killings.”

Aliya’s death drew international condemnation and prompted the Israeli military police to launch a criminal investigation. In the U.S., calls are growing for President Joe Biden’s administration to investigate Aliya’s killing, given that he was shot with a weapon made on American soil.

 

American dollars fueling human rights abuses

Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, acquiring an estimated $3.8 billion annually in aid. Roughly $800 million of the funds is dedicated to purchasing weaponry from inside Israel. In addition to American dollars maintaining Israel’s occupation of Palestine, American weapons are also being used in the deadly violence against Palestinians.

Aliya was shot with a Ruger rifle, a gun manufactured in the U.S. by Connecticut-based Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. This isn’t the first instance of the Ruger firearm being used by the Israel Defense Forces. The Ruger 10/22, the semiautomatic sniper rifle that killed Aliya, has been used by Israeli forces as far back as 1987 during the First Intifada (Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation). Despite Sturm, Ruger & Co.’s code of ethics, the company has a distribution partnership with Israel.

The Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 contain provisions barring the sale of American weaponry to countries engaging in gross violations of human rights. And under the nation’s Leahy Law, the U.S. government is prohibited from providing assistance to foreign security forces committing human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killing.

With these laws in mind, American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) — along with 29 human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, and DCIP — sent a letter to the State Department urging the agency investigate Aliya’s death “as a possible case of extrajudicial killing that is subject to sanctions under the Leahy Law.”

“The United States is obligated to investigate whether our tax dollars have contributed to gross violations of human rights,” AMP’s advocacy director, Raed Jarrar, told MintPress News. “Every year around 1,000 foreign units will get suspended,” Jarrar said. “It’s a very strong system that works very well in other parts of the world, but it has not been implemented a single time in Israel.”

The State Department responded to AMP’s letter addressing military training in the U.S. but not the larger issue of the U.S.’s yearly, billion-dollar military aid package to Israel. Currently, AMP is drafting a coalition response to the State Department. “What we are trying to do now is to say ‘enough is enough,’” Jarrar said. “It is time to hold Israel and all other foreign countries accountable. It’s time to hold all countries to the same standard.”

For Jarrar, the Biden administration’s decision on whether to follow through with the AMP letter’s requests is not just a matter of morality but a matter of law. “If the Biden administration chooses to break U.S. law and continue to equip and arm foreign units accused of gross violations of human rights, that will not only be a political issue, it’ll also be a legal violation,” Jarrar said.

 

A new administration, a new congress: greater accountability?

Human rights organizations aren’t the only ones pushing for an end to military support to Israel in light of Aliya’s killing. Just a few days after Aliya’s death, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) entered a statement into the Congressional Record, calling on the then “incoming administration of President-Elect Biden to investigate Israel’s killing of Ali Abu Aalya, as well as Israel’s ongoing pattern of using state sponsored military violence against Palestinian children.” McCollum explained:

 Members of Congress and the American people deserve to know whether U.S. taxpayer funding to Israel’s Ministry of Defense is being used directly or indirectly to facilitate or enable violence against Palestinian children. Committing human rights abuses with impunity and with U.S. taxpayer aid is intolerable and there must be accountability on the part of the U.S. Government.”

McCollum introduced a bill in 2019 and a bill in 2020, both of which focus on U.S. military funding to Israel. Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act bars foreign funds from being used for the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of children. The bill currently has 24 cosponsors. The Israeli Annexation Non-Recognition Act, currently with 11 cosponsors, bans certain funds from supporting activities in West Bank areas annexed by Israel and activities facilitating annexation.

Grassroots activists are pressuring congressional leaders to stop the flow of American weapons to Israel. The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights launched a call to action demanding Congress hold Israel accountable and cease arms sales. And, on a more local level, Massachusetts Peace Action released a similar direct-action initiative for Massachusetts residents to urge their representatives to support the aforementioned bills.

The U.S. has been a great ally to Israel since the state’s inception, with some experts even arguing that Israel can’t survive without American financial support. But as Americans become increasingly critical of the Israeli government, foreign assistance is put under a microscope.

Recent polls have shown that Americans—particularly Democrats, Millennials, and Gen-Z’ers—believe Israel has too much influence on American politics and support conditioning aid to Israel. This public shift is reflected in congressional support. “There’s been a really magnificent movement in Congress in the last two years.” AMP’s Jarrar said, continuing:

When I moved to Washington, D.C. 15 years ago, we used to have four or five members of Congress willing to step outside of the pro-Israel, hardcore line. And now sometimes we have 50 or 60 members of Congress who sign on to letters demanding accountability and justice in Israel and Palestine. So, the tide is definitely shifting and this administration feels the heat from Congress and change will come.”

Whether it’s Rep. McCollum, “the squad,” or Sen. Bernie Sanders, more and more of Congress’ progressive wing is speaking out against Israel’s actions. The majority of Americans and Congress are still largely supportive of Israel, but voices from the pro-Palestinian camp are getting louder.

With a slew of domestic problems spurred by the coronavirus, Americans want greater transparency when it comes to how their tax dollars are spent. And they appear less willing to tolerate their government’s complicity in human rights abuses in foreign nations.

“Public opinion has been shifting not only on Israel, but on the idea that the United States government can give its allies a blank check,” Jarrar said. “There’s a clear movement saying our government has to stop contributing to human rights abuses abroad. And Israel is no exception to that.”

Feature photo | Ali Abu Aliya. Photo | Aliya family release

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

The post Rethinking Israel’s Blank Check in Light of Palestinian Teen’s Death with US Weapon appeared first on MintPress News.

The First Online Chess Olympiad for People With Disabilities Is Expanding

Mother Jones Magazine -

More than 400 players from 45 countries competed in the first Online Chess Olympiad for People With Disabilities recently, and the games are growing. Programmers are developing a virtual platform for blind and limited-vision players to access “all the functionalities and possibilities” of online chess, according to the International Chess Federation (FIDE).

And a Recharge salute to five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand, from India, who just launched the Global Chess League, with eight teams from across the world.

See? An entire chess Recharge without once naming a Netflix show and citing “soaring popularity.” If you have good news on or off the board, drop a line to recharge@motherjones.com.

Futile: Saudi’s Decade-Long Attempt to Bottle Up Yemeni Youth Revolution is Failing

Mint Press News -

SANA’A, YEMEN — A decade has passed since a massive popular uprising was sparked in Yemen by the wave of pro-democracy protests surging across the Middle East and North Africa known as the Arab Spring. The protests called for the overthrow of dictatorial regimes and sought democracy, sovereignty, and the elimination of poverty and unemployment. For Radwan Ali al-Haimi, a Yemeni youth and one of the leaders of the uprising, the hope for a new era of freedom and democracy cannot be crushed by Saudi Arabia and will come true with time.

In early 2011 — in a square in Yemen’s capital city of Sana’a just outside of Sana’a University, in an area dubbed Change Square — thousands of people gathered to demand the overthrow of Saudi-backed strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had held power for more than three decades. The square was transformed into a sea of tents, flags, and banners. Despite the difference in their affiliations, all of the protesters slept, ate, chatted and chanted together, all the while peacefully calling for the end of a regime they viewed as corrupt, oppressive, and a mortgagee of Saudi Arabia.

The scale of the protests was rarely seen in Yemen before the uprising. “Our uprising aimed to overthrow the corrupt regime. We were looking to create a modern civil state, equality, a national army, sovereignty, and to liberate our homeland from Saudi tutelage,” Radwan — who had become a voice of the revolution — told MintPress.

 

A decade of oppression and destruction

For a decade, Saudi Arabia has worked to ensure Yemen’s steady dissolution from a nation hoping to transition to democracy during the Arab Spring to a nation fragmented by war and military intervention — a land of warring statelets, mass suffering, and despair. Today, Yemenis are living in worse conditions than they were before 2011, thanks in large part to Saudi oil riches.

While some leaders of Yemen’s youth-led revolution ended up as refugees or among the ranks of al Qaeda or ISIS, or as mercenaries of necessity allied with Saudi Arabia in order to earn a living, most continued their struggle for independence.

Soldiers push back protestors demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Saleh in Taiz, Yemen, April 9, 2011. Yemen Lens | AP

Many of the youth that participated in the uprising told MintPress that they place some blame on all of Yemen’s political forces for the failure of their movement, but most of their ire is reserved for Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia has crushed our revolution, turned our lives into hell because our uprising was interpreted by the ruling family as a threat to [their] influence and because of their fear of the revolution spreading to the Saudi interior,” artist Aisha Ali Saeed told MintPress. Aisha joined the youth revolution hoping for a decent life; instead, she now struggles to secure her next meal.

 

Bottling up the uprising

After the Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia took down their respective Saudi-backed strongman leaders, Riyadh devoted itself to encircling Yemen’s youth revolution there and maintaining its paternalistic role and influence over its southern neighbor. In fact, just months after the outbreak of the uprising (which bore the slogan of independence and sovereignty as one of its goals), Saudi Arabia flew Saleh and members of the youth-led opposition to Riyadh. A power-sharing political settlement was signed in November 2011 dubbed the GCC Initiative.

The initiative not only granted Saleh unconditional immunity, but it also replaced him with then-Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who was more loyal to Saudi Arabia. Hadi, a southern military leader, had been appointed by Saleh in the wake of the 1994 war as a reward for betraying the South and likely because his inefficiency and weakness of personality posed little threat to Saleh. To this end, the GCC initiative included a number of anti-democratic mechanisms, including presidential elections with Hadi as the only name on the ballot.

Saudi Arabia’s claim of legitimacy for Hadi’s presidency is tenuous at best. In the wake of the one-candidate election in 2012, Hadi overstepped his mandate, which was supposed to be just two years long. His two-year term was extended for one year in 2014 and, following mass protests in the wake of rising fuel prices, Hadi fled the capital south to Aden and then eventually on to Riyadh after submitting his resignation to the House of Representatives. That resignation was used as a pretext to invite foreign intervention in March 2015. Now, Hadi’s term as propped-up president has become indefinite.

 

Youth and Houthi alliance

To many of the participants in Yemen’s youth movement, it was clear that their demands had been swept aside. Not only by the political parties known as “the Joint Meeting Parties” — led by the Islah Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Yemen — but also by the United States and Saudi Arabia, which were pursuing their own agendas in Yemen and gave Hadi international legitimacy. Without an ally or a movement, many of the participants of the youth revolution did not stand by while their dreams faded. Instead, they decided to close ranks behind Ansar Allah (Houthis), a partner who rejected the GCC Initiative and saw it as little more than an attempt to crush the Arab Spring in Yemen.

Houthi fighters escort protesters during a four-day march from Taiz to Sanaa demanding the prosecution of Saleh, Dec. 23, 2011. Hani Mohammed | AP

The Houthis were committed to the principles of the revolution that had sparked the initial uprising in 2011, and together they thwarted the Gulf Initiative and continued to organize rallies and demonstrations until the United Nations-sponsored National Dialogue Conference in 2013. The conference included disenfranchised representatives from the youth movement, the Houthis, and the Southern Movement — all parties that were excluded from the Gulf Initiative.

 

Saudi sabotage, airstrikes, fail to quench Yemeni determination

Instead of entering the talks inspired by goodwill, and respecting Yemen’s sovereignty and bridging points of view between the various parties, Saudi Arabia further polarized and torpedoed the nearly year-long National Dialogue Conference, which was meant to bring Yemen’s various factions to a consensus on how to address the country’s most pressing issues. The Kingdom attempted to impose a six-region federation of Yemen, a move that was refused by the conference’s other parties, which saw it as a project to break up the country.

Still, Yemeni parties were close to signing a settlement under the auspices of the United Nations when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia surprised the world by launching Decisive Storm in March 2015. Jamal BenOmar — the former UN envoy to Yemen, who worked with former U.S. president Jimmy Carter on human rights issues — confirmed that a political deal was close before the Saudi airstrikes began.

The young relative of a protester killed in clashes with security forces prays next to his grave in Sanaa, Yemen, Dec. 30, 2011. Hani Mohammed | AP

Chants of independence and patriotism were not the only factor for Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom was driven by concerns that, should new players be empowered, ones with whom Riyadh was not experienced in dealing, the result could lead to unforeseen and uncontrollable developments in Yemen. Hence, the first motives for their fierce war against the country in 2015. This Saudi approach, however, failed to take into consideration how the youth revolution had merged with Ansar Allah and risen to prominence in a form fundamentally different from what the Saudis had previously known.

Like many members of his generation, Radwan took the street in Bab al-Yemen in the capital city of Sana’a on Friday to call for the liberation of areas still under the control of the Saudi Coalition forces — particularly the oil-rich Marib province, which is witnessing an unprecedented mobilization of youth volunteers, tribes and the Yemeni army to liberate it from the Saudis.  Radwan declared, “We are determined to achieve the goals of our revolution, and we believe that victory is closer than ever.”

Feature photo | Protestors run through the streets holding peace signs during a demonstration demanding the prosecution of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen, Nov. 24, 2011. Hani Mohammed | AP

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist based in Sana’a. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post Futile: Saudi’s Decade-Long Attempt to Bottle Up Yemeni Youth Revolution is Failing appeared first on MintPress News.

‘Workers Are Increasingly Required to Sign Away Their Rights’

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

 

The February 19, 2021, episode of CounterSpin brought together archival interviews from Celine McNicholas, Joanne Doroshow and Kate Bronfenbrenner on forced arbitration and the NLRB. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Welcome to CounterSpin, your weekly look behind the headlines. I’m Janine Jackson. This week on CounterSpin: One of the more hopeful things you might not have heard about is the revival in the House of Representatives of the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (or FAIR) Act that would ban those ubiquitous small-print “agreements” that annul critical worker and consumer rights, like the ability to bring class action lawsuits. Prominent proponents include Google employees and former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson; but as bill sponsor Hank Johnson of Georgia explained, it’s really about narrowing the “massive power differential between soulless corporations and individuals just trying to get by.”

We’ll get some background on forced arbitration and why it matters from previous CounterSpin conversations with Celine McNicholas from the Economic Policy Institute and Joanne Doroshow from the Center for Justice and Democracy.

An important if hidden engine of the corporate corrosion of worker/consumer rights has been the National Labor Relations Board, the federal enforcer of labor law. It seems like change is afoot there: Biden apparently called for the resignation of the Board’s general counsel, famously anti-union Peter Robb, 23 minutes after becoming president. He fired Rob when he refused to resign. And then Biden fired the next Trump appointee who took the job. We talked about the Trump-era NLRB while it was happening with Cornell University’s Kate Bronfrenbrenner. We’ll hear part of that conversation today.

That’s all coming up on CounterSpin, brought to you each week by the media watch group FAIR.

***

Janine Jackson: The press release for a 2019 report from the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for Popular Democracy included a straightforward quote from Oregon college student Brenda Rojas:

While working at Buffalo Wild Wings, my coworkers and I experienced wage theft regularly, and worked in an environment of constant sexual harassment. Complaining about these working conditions was pointless, because we had signed a forced arbitration clause, and the company knew that we couldn’t fight back in court. None of us understood the forced arbitration language when we signed our new-hire paperwork. But we were told that if we did not “check all the boxes,” we would not be hired. How can students like me build a brighter economic future when our employers are allowed to rip us off?

We talked with one of the report’s authors, Celine McNicholas, director of government affairs and labor counsel at the Economic Policy Institute. We asked about the significance of releasing that report on the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, Epic Systems v. Lewis.

Celine McNicholas: Epic Systems essentially codified the problem that you just revealed in the quote that you read, that workers are increasingly being required to sign away their right to sue when their employment rights are violated by their employer.

And Epic Systems essentially green-lighted employers embracing that practice, and, unfortunately, going into the decision, the majority of workers were already facing the threat of this. And we now know that employers are increasingly embracing it since the decision. So a year out, we’re seeing this more and more.

JJ: We talk, in media and elsewhere, about the labor “market,” as though people were mobile economic actors who can make informed choices about where to work. So if you don’t want to sign away your right to a class action lawsuit, the unspoken thinking goes, don’t take a job that requires it.

We should take issue with that idea, and, obviously, people have never been identically situated with regard to choices.

But your report makes it clear that in the private sector, in the nonunion private sector, not signing these things is increasingly just not an option. And it’s not just college students and their first jobs.

CM: That’s exactly right. And I think you hit on the fundamental myth, right, that we’re all sort of free agents in this economy.

And I think it’s wonderfully encouraging that unemployment continues to decrease, and wages, for the first time in a long time, we’re actually experiencing some level of an uptick. But still, most working people feel lucky to have a job, and feel that they have very little leverage, in that initial negotiation with their employer for the terms and conditions of their work.

And so in practicality, we all know, we can all admit that we signed the paperwork on the first day on the job—and we’re happy to be signing up for, potentially, if we’re lucky enough, healthcare, and all of the other tangential forms—but we also may be signing away this right, without even really realizing the implications of what we’ve been asked to sign as a condition of working there. And that’s a really troubling trend, because it applies across all employment rights.

JJ: These forced arbitration clauses that the report projects, by 2024, 80% of private-sector, nonunion workers will be covered by these forced arbitration clauses. Let’s spell it out: What is wrong with forced arbitration?

CM: So, short answer is “everything.” We’ll go into detail here: Essentially, when you are forced to arbitrate a claim, an employment claim, I would argue, in particular, because we just talked about the fact that most workers, you have limited leverage on the job; the employer, if they’re not happy with you, they can fire you for any reason at all, just not a narrow set of prohibited reasons that are protected reasons under the law.

Let’s say you’re being sexually harassed in your workplace, but you’ve been forced to sign an arbitration agreement on that first day. That means that, if you’re not getting any kind of relief, you go to HR, you go to your supervisor, and he or she says, “OK, we’re going to help you resolve this, but we’re going to do it through arbitration, you have no right to sue us.”

That immediately limits your leverage. But it also puts you into a process that hugely favors that employer, because you’re going it alone, you’re using a system that they’re paying for, “they” being the employer. That disadvantages all workers.

JJ: You very specifically are prohibited from joining together with other folks in the workplace who are experiencing the same problems that you might be.

CM: Yes, because many of these waivers include what you just referenced, a class or collective action component. And that means that you are in this system, arbitration, which is this unequal, unfair system, because the employer is really the entity that is a repeat player; that means that they are more familiar with the arbitrators, they’re often giving them business. So there’s this implied injustice in the whole system itself.

But then in addition to that, you’re doing this alone, you’re navigating as an individual worker. Whereas if you brought suit as a class or collective action, you would have a great deal more leverage.

JJ: And I understand that, mainly, what it does is just kind of discourage. It’s not even so much that workers lose when they go through this process; knowing that that’s their only option pretty much discourages them from taking action in the first place.

CM: I think that that’s exactly right. And it makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. Just think of how difficult in practicality it is to voice any kind of concern in your place of work. Figuring out who do you go to. Oftentimes, a supervisor may be, unfortunately, involved in the conduct that is violating the law.

And so you’re navigating an already difficult process, and then you’re being compelled to do so on your own. Most folks are not familiar with arbitrations; it sounds like an incredibly formal process. And it would not be incorrect if the employer says, “This is going to cost you money,” because oftentimes workers are absorbing some of the cost for the process itself. And in addition to that, they can say, “You’re going to be unlucky in this system, because we’ve navigated this a couple of times, and your fellow workers haven’t done very well in the process.” And as you point out, that is true.

So it’s not as advantageous. People do worse in the system than they do in court.

JJ: There are meant to be entities that are enforcing these workplace rules. Even if the sort of David vs. Goliath situation of individual workers is disadvantageous, there are protective entities, government agencies, that are meant to be looking out for them. The report also deals with problems in that enforcement area. What’s the problem or the concern there?

Celine McNicholas: “At the same time that many of us in our work are being asked to sign away our private right of action through this system of forced arbitration, we are also facing fewer and fewer cops on the beat in terms of public enforcement of those rights.”

CM: This is sort of a perfect storm, in my view, because what you’re seeing is decreased public enforcement; there are fewer and fewer public dollars being invested in enforcing workplace protections.

So at the same time that many of us in our work are being asked to sign away our private right of action through this system of forced arbitration, we are also facing fewer and fewer cops on the beat in terms of public enforcement of those rights. The Department of Labor’s, state departments of labor’s, budgets have decreased, while the workforce has expanded, and that leaves all of us with less protection in the workplace. And also, combined with forced arbitration, it’s such an incredible advantage—which is where that ominous title of this report comes from—it is an incredible advantage to corporate employers at this point, because they are making enforcement of any means, whether private or public, something that the vast majority of the workforce is losing access to.

JJ: We have these laws, you know, we make these laws on wages, against wage theft or on workplace safety. And then it seems like with Epic, the Supreme Court is just kind of waiving them away.

I mean, it’s kind of a balance of powers question, too, isn’t it? It seems like a real lopsided power that the Court is exercising here.

CM: Absolutely. And, in my view, Congress needs to act on this to restore the rights that were hard-won protections when they were originally enacted. Title VII, the right that fundamentally you can’t be discriminated against, harassed in the workplace, that’s an enacted law, that’s an enacted protection. And, essentially, it has been made very difficult, if not impossible, for many, many workers in this country to access that right.

Congress needs to then restore the right and say, “Hey, Supreme Court, you’ve misinterpreted this, you’ve essentially made this something that is no longer enforceable for the vast majority of workers when we gave this protection to the US workforce. You’ve overstepped”—just as you said—“and now we want to correct you.”

And this is not the first time that something like this has happened, where Congress has had to come in and correct something that the Supreme Court has misinterpreted. And it is my hope that they will do so here, because this cuts across fundamental rights, like even being paid the minimum wage. It is more difficult to enforce those rights when you have a system of forced arbitration that the Supreme Court has essentially blessed at this point in time.

***

Janine Jackson: The Supreme Court’s 2018 Epic Systems ruling rested on previous decisions, like one in 2013 that said that the fact that the arbitration process might cost plaintiffs, workers or consumers fighting mammoth corporations more than they could hope to recover, was immaterial. “Antitrust laws do not guarantee an affordable procedural path to the vindication of every claim,” sniffed Antonin Scalia.

In 2015, the New York Times ran an important series exposing the machinations that lay behind such thinking. We talked about that with Joanne Doroshow, founder and executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, and cofounder of Americans for Insurance Reform.

Joanne Doroshow:  Yeah, what we found out from this New York Times series is that in 1999, a bunch of big companies got together in a room and decided how they were going to start strategizing to make sure that they could start doing this to consumers, that they could start inserting these clauses and banning class actions, and that the US Supreme Court would uphold it. It was really startling to find out that the current Supreme Court chief justice, John Roberts, when he was a corporate defense lawyer, was part of all of that; he was representing Discover, the credit card company, at the time. And so now we are stuck with these decisions.

JJ: It seems important, again, to underscore that class action lawsuits, while they might be about the $30 overcharge that one person got, they really also are the only way, in some ways, you can expose wrongdoing on a big scale. I mean, some of these cases are about Taco Bell, for example, the charge that they—at least one outlet—was denying Black people promotions. The class action lawsuit isn’t just about the particular legal remedies for individuals; they really are about exposing wrongdoing on a larger scale.

JD: Absolutely; one of the most famous class actions in history was Brown vs. Board of Education. It is a very important tool for anyone who has been discriminated against, or who wants to try to hold big institutions to account for any kind of wrongdoing.

JJ: The pushback to the Times series is already underway. Forbes had a piece saying: Aha, the Times doesn’t tell you who the lawyer was for the one of the businesses involved in the case against American Express; he’s a lawyer known for fighting credit card companies! That’s the real face of consumer class action. These aren’t lawsuits by little guys trying to vindicate their rights; they are lawsuits by wealthy attorneys trying to get wealthier.

JD: That’s the only thing they have to say, is to try to blame lawyers. But there’s nothing I’ve seen so far, in any of the critiques of these New York Times articles coming from businesses, that suggests in any way that there is anything inaccurate about anything they said. What these businesses try to do is make it seem as if consumers are not benefiting from these class actions, but what we also know is that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in March, after a long empirical study, they found, in just the last year, tens of millions of people benefiting to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

***

Janine Jackson: CounterSpin spoke with Joanne Doroshow again in 2018, in the immediate wake of the Supreme Court’s 5–4 ruling in Epic Systems.

Joann Doroshow: “You’re forced to resolve your case in a private, secret, rigged arbitration system that’s controlled by the company.”

Joanne Doroshow:  Just to step back for a minute, it’s not, of course, just workers that are affected by the problem we’re talking about. And the problem we’re talking about are forced arbitration clauses that are buried in the fine print of, these days, most credit card, cell phone, any kind of online terms-of-use agreements; nursing home admission forms; many other everyday contracts, including employment contracts.

And what they mean is that if the company cheats, defrauds, discriminates against or harms you in some way, you cannot sue the company in court, or have any kind of judge or jury trial. And, instead, you’re forced to resolve your case in a private, secret, rigged arbitration system that’s controlled by the company. And you may have to pay the arbitrator. There’s no right to appeal.

And these clauses also have what’s called “class action bans” or “class action waivers,” which means that you—as you say—you cannot join with others, you have to only litigate your dispute individually, your small claim, let’s say. In most cases, this is going to mean that you’re not going to be able to bring your dispute to any kind of resolution at all, because you’re not going to be able to afford to do that.

That’s why class actions are so important: It allows you to join with others, cover the expenses that way. And also, when we’re talking about discrimination, let’s say, or harassment, it’s critical that you be able to join with others, in order to show a pattern or a practice of discrimination, or a systemic company policy. You can’t do that as an individual. So there are many reasons why class actions are so important. And what this decision did, it basically said that an employer can unilaterally prevent you from bringing class action, and force you into these secret arbitration systems.

JJ: And it rests—inasmuch as there’s an argument for it—it rests on this in-a-vacuum libertarian fantasy world in which labor, for example, is as mobile as capital, and all workers and consumers are completely informed and have choices. So if, for example, your prospective employer requires you, as a stipulation for employment, to sign away your right to class action suits, well, you just pick another employer, you know? You just go elsewhere.

And in the case of Epic Systems, they sent a form to their employees, and if you showed up for work, then you were deemed to have accepted the terms of that agreement. So you talk about small print; I mean, it’s small print and it’s also a kind of blackmail in a way.

JD: Yes, and that goes to the issue of consent. What the other side says is, “Oh, you’ve consented, because you’ve signed this.”

Well, these are all “take it or leave it” contracts, and if you don’t take it, you don’t get a job, or, in the context of consumer contracts, everybody in the entire industry has them. There is no negotiation here.

And, sadly, what Congress was trying to do, with the National Labor Relations Act in the 1930s, is they made it illegal for employers to interfere in any way with the employees’ rights to engage in “concerted activity.” They knew that there was strength in numbers, and they needed to be able to join with others in order to get a fair deal from big companies, from employers.

And what this case did is basically said that legal concerted activity, like a class action, it’s OK to violate that section, basically, of the National Labor Relations Act; it’s OK for an employer to prevent concerted legal activity. So it really undermined the entire purpose of the labor law, which was the seminal piece of legislation enacted in the ’30s.

It’s shocking that the Court would just so casually do something like this, and yet they did it at a 5-to-4 vote. It was certainly not inevitable, but unfortunately, once Neil Gorsuch got on the Court, the vote became that. And he was the one that wrote this decision.

***

Janine Jackson: The National Labor Relations Board is the interpreter of US labor law, charged with protecting employees’ rights, and with encouraging collective bargaining. Authors of the National Labor Relations Act were well aware that workers’ safety and strength lay in their numbers. While multiple factors have undermined workers’ power for decades, the Trump-era NLRB still managed to make things worse.

We talked in late 2019 with Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research and a senior lecturer at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.  She said the problems were clear from the start.

Kate Bronfenbrenner:  We could just look at the appointees that came to the Board under Trump. The first appointee, John Ring, had to recuse himself from the first decision that came before the Board when he came through; he was actually involved in the company that the decision was on. He didn’t recuse himself, and then they had to reverse the decision, because he was actually involved with the employer.

JJ: It says a lot. Well, let’s pull back just a little bit and explain what the NLRB is. I mean, it’s kind of like the FCC, you’ve just indicated; it’s these five presidential appointees, it’s always going to be weighted by the party that’s in power. But right now, there’s just four of them, right? There’s a vacant seat.

KB: That’s right.

JJ: Their rulings are binding, though, even if you’re not used to seeing them in the headlines, but they do have a legal effect in workplaces, right?

KB: They do. And they’ve always been somewhat of a political animal in that the president, when there’s a vacant seat, they get to fill that vacant seat, but it’s never been an effort to have extreme people on the Board.

JJ: Right.

KB: But under the Trump administration, the appointees have been extremists. And that has really changed the tenor of the Board.

JJ:  I wanted to draw you out a bit on that, because I saw you cited in a piece by Bobbi Murray at Capital & Main, saying that it’s not uncommon, when an administration changes, when a new White House comes in, for National Labor Relations Boards to reverse some decisions, some preceding decisions, but that what’s happening now with the Trump NLRB is of a different order. What are you talking about there?

KB: The decisions have been to reverse long-standing precedent, as opposed to reversing cases that have been always debated. So before, the trend was to reverse cases that have been always one of debate, where there was a one-vote difference. But now, the reversals have been on cases that had been upheld for decades. And that’s a very different trend. Longstanding principles before the Board.

JJ: Can you talk about a recent decision on how employers can stop bargaining? It sounds like it’s minutiae, and it’s huge in its impact, this new decision, calling for a new union election every time the contract is up for expiration…

KB: The Board is now giving employers much more power to question the majority status of the unit. Before, it was up to workers to file a decert petition at the end of the contract. If workers wanted to decertify the union, it was up to workers to file decertification. (Decertification means that they no longer want the union.) But the employer wasn’t the one that initiated that, the workers did. The only way the employer could say that they felt that the union shouldn’t be there is if they had a really strong reason to believe the union no longer represented the majority. For example, that there had been a complete turnover in the workforce, that they knew that all the workers they had hired were no longer there.

But now the employer can call for an election, that there should be a decertification election, and not wait for the workers to do that; and they can do that every time the contract expires. So that’s a huge change.

JJ: And sort of throw everything into turmoil. It just seems like a tremendous lever to move over to the employers’ hand.

Kate Bronfenbrenner: “No matter what employers do, workers still try to organize.”

KB: Most of all, it means the union has to spend energy; every time the contract comes up, a union has to spend its energy dealing with running through an election process, rather than working on building power for bargaining. And unions will probably win those, but it’s a negative effort, rather than the positive effort of building power for bargaining.

JJ: I think that although listeners may not have known about some of these NLRB decisions, they may not be surprised; they’re fitting in with a slew of anti-worker actions that we’ve seen from this administration, from letting companies that commit wage theft police themselves, and denying extension of overtime protections and undercutting antidiscrimination enforcement. We could go on and on. But I know that, at the same time as we see this administration trying to lock down this anti-organizing Board, we also do see a lot of tangible worker victories. Teachers, for instance, but then also the Fight for 15. If you expand your understanding of who “labor” is, there’s plenty to see right now that’s encouraging, don’t you think?

KB: Well, we see young workers more excited about unions than ever before. And that means that the future will have more union support. That’s a positive trend that’s very exciting. We see an increased interest among white-collar workers, we see digital media is organizing, we see workers across the industrial spectrum organizing, that’s a new trend.

We also see the immigrant workers, despite all the pressures against them, what a frightening time it is, that they are organizing. And despite all the shenanigans about misclassification of workers, contract workers have been organizing for decades. And I think that it shows that no matter what employers do, workers still try to organize. So Uber workers and Lyft workers have been going on strike, trying to organize.

JJ: Yes, it seems that workers recognize that the playing field is not what it was. But there is, if anything, maybe I’m hopeful, but I do see a revival of worker-organized activity inside and outside of traditional unions, as we understand them.

KB: Yeah. And there’s been a groundswell of organizing among low-wage workers, high-tech workers, and much of it is led by women of color.

***

Janine Jackson: That was Kate Bronfenbrenner from 2019; before her, you heard Joanne Doroshow from 2015 and 2018,  and Celine McNicholas from 2019. And that’s it for CounterSpin for this week.

CounterSpin is produced by FAIR, the media watch group based in New York.The show is engineered by Alex Noyes. I’m Janine Jackson. Thanks for listening to CounterSpin.

Ted Cruz Screams His Way Through Bad Jokes at CPAC

Mother Jones Magazine -

Sen. Ted Cruz is back with his first big speech—one notably given far from his home state as it continues to reel from the devastation of last week’s winter storms—and reader, it did not go well.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s annual conference in Orlando, Florida, on Friday, the Texas senator bombed his way through what can only be described as an ill-advised attempt at stand-up comedy. Cruz’s routine cycled through jokes on so-called cancel culture—”Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t tell comedy anymore because every joke has been canceled” (what?)—while he intermittently scream-demanded for people to “JUST HAVE FUN” before reiterating his absolute fealty to the twice-impeached former president who had once insulted his wife’s appearance and claimed that Cruz’s father had played a part in JFK’s assassination. “Let me tell ya right now: Donald J. Trump ain’t goin’ anywhere.” Cruz also tried to make light of his disastrous decision to jet off to Cancun last week while millions of Texans remained without power, hospitals in his state ran out of water, and at least 80 people died from the catastrophic storms.

“I’ve got to say, Orlando is awesome,” Cruz boomed into the microphone. “It’s not as nice as Cancun, but it’s nice.” 

Cruz’s appearance in Orlando on Friday came as President Biden traveled to Texas to visit the recovery efforts. 

Sen. Ted Cruz at CPAC: "Orlando is awesome. It's not as nice as Cancun."pic.twitter.com/TghkHUhOPy

— The Recount (@therecount) February 26, 2021

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