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Is Nepal Skirting, Denying or Defying the Covid Pandemic?

Counterpunch Articles -

News from the Himalayas is scant this year. No Everest or K2 summiting; nothing about the railway from China; no new Sherpa biographies.

Demonstrations in Kathmandu protesting India’s territorial claim on Kalapani, a spur of land at Nepal’s furthest northwestern border subsided after a talk between their respective prime ministers. Then military skirmishes between India and China on their shared border raised anxiety in Kathmandu.

As for how the pandemic is affecting Nepal, scant news might lead to a conclusion that the country’s thin air or its pantheon of well-attended deities immunizes residents from Covid’s ravages. Nepal’s low death toll—336 (with 53,100 cases reported to date, although rapidly rising)—for a population of 30 million is remarkable, also inexplicable given the government’s weak public health policy and shoddy management. Some citizens timidly suggest they might share a genetic immunity; others claim that popular herbal bromides protect them. Cynics accuse the government of hiding the real death toll, or worse, that it simply doesn’t know the count.

Lack of information and public distrust heighten tensions around the growing medical threat. Throughout early summer, while Covid-19 wreaked havoc across Europe, U.S.A. and in nearby India, Nepal’s death toll remained below 100. This did not however mean the population was unaffected: migrant workers were stranded; essential imports were threatened and building projects and business in general came to an abrupt halt; tourism ceased too. When India and the U.S. (countries Nepali politicians closely follow) imposed lockdowns, Nepal’s administration followed suit. Except it did so as a knee-jerk reaction; it had no short-term relief plan and no long-term management strategy. When India eases rules, Nepal does too, and when its southern neighbor announces restrictions, officials in Kathmandu adopt a similar policy.

The government made no arrangements to mobilize social and economic services to help citizens cope. All schools and colleges closed (and remain shuttered); inter-city bus transport was halted and international air travel and domestic flights that link remote hill regions to lowland cites and the capital ended. Kathmandu’s streets turned eerily empty. Even travel by motorcycle was prohibited. Next, all these closures were strictly, often pitilessly, enforced by a heightened nationwide police presence.

Exacerbating Nepal’s crisis was an influx of returning migrant workers: — tens of thousands of more than four million, mainly men, employed in Malaysia, the Gulf States and India. Reports of jobless laborers walking long distances to their homes across India included Nepalis who, when they reached the border of their homeland, found entry barred, and were then quarantined in camps inside India. The Nepal government’s unkind response was matched by more obstacles for those who managed to cross the 1,088-mile frontier.

Once inside their homeland these beleaguered souls found themselves unwelcome in border cites and in Kathmandu on their first stopover en route to the interior. City residents feared those new arrivals might be carrying the virus with them. Then, many returnees who reached their home village (usually by foot) were banned fro entering until they passed yet another quarantine period.

Added to medical threats are lost incomes; so families who’d grown dependent on workers’ remittances—anecdotal reports claim that every household in Nepal has at least one member employed abroad– are also negatively impacted. Doubtless, Nepalis are among millions of other laborers caught in limbo in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

Nepal is not without resources of its own to alleviate Covid-related hardships but the government has been stingy, relying largely on lockdown enforcement and on a vigorous public information campaign to instruct citizens about what safety measures they should follow.

Several million dollars donated by the WHO was to provide for testing and for PPE and treatment facilities for stricken Nepalis. This finances limited testing at regional centers and pays for the construction of quarantine shelters. (Testing is reportedly contracted out to private agencies who charge the Nepali equivalent of $11.00 per test, but few people can manage this fee, although free tests are also available.) Beyond Kathmandu Valley and major cities, hospital treatment for serious Covid cases is scarce. (The ‘socialist’ government, led for several years by leftist parties, is hardly socialist in practice, promoting private hospitals over establishing a national health system for example.)

Many citizens feel their government must do more and they suspect Covid-targeted aid is yet another source for officials to line their pockets. Growing discontent at Kathmandu’s handling of the pandemic seems to have no effect on policy. The government response to the crisis remains simply an on-off imposition of the lockdown. Probably, like the public, ministers anxiously watch international news for a hint of a successful Covid vaccine.

Businesses in the capital are suffering badly, and with no government relief to tide them over, many will fail. Lines for food handouts from government and private or religious agencies are longer.

As in many Asian societies, Nepal’s elderly are well cared for by their children at home. So this country will not see the nursing home death toll that Americans and British experienced.

During the crisis Nepalis have made good use of IT facilities and their readily chargeable cell phones to weather the Covid storm. Nepal’s media have remained vigorous; and teachers and officials (urban and rural) have adapted to the use of zoom meetings, and online teaching, once limited to elite schools for children of the wealthy, is now widely used.

What citizens most lament is their incompetent, corrupt administration. Many had thought that with the unification in 2018 of squabbling dysfunctional leftist parties, they could build a stronger nation; they are sadly disappointed. As the eminent Canada-based Nepali writer Manjushree Thapa notes: “I think about how high people’s expectations were of Nepal’s governing party (an alliance between Marxist-Leninist and Maoist communist parties) when they voted it into a majority. It’s all just deteriorated into a cabal of “high” caste men.

The post Is Nepal Skirting, Denying or Defying the Covid Pandemic? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Three World War II Books That Mirror Our Current Crises

Counterpunch Articles -

The 75th Commemoration of the End of World War II is Sept. 2, 2020. This fall, three new books cover foreign-policy issues from the conclusion of that war. Those issues are still with us today: how to care for the plight of millions of displaced and desperate immigrants, how to apply international laws to punishing enemies, and how to justify (if we can) the use of nuclear weapons. They’re worth a read this fall.

Michel Paradis’ “Last Mission to Tokyo: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raiders and Their Final Fight for Justice” (Simon & Schuster $28), wrestles with this question: How does one determine justice in a war?

The U.S. public supported punishing the Japanese for executing three captured American pilots who bombed Tokyo after the attack at Pearl Harbor. To pursue a legal course our prosecutors had a problem — “there was no clear legal theory for charging anyone higher up the chain of command … beyond low-level grunts and functionaries.” The Japanese legal system that approved the pilot’s execution was also flawed since the pilots “had no lawyers, no witnesses, and no opportunity to defend themselves.”

Paradis also notes that the U.S. condemned Japan torturing our prisoners, despite Japan’s national pride in having abolished it. However, in the course of the trial, a Japanese officer volunteered that “higher-ups” had approved of U.S. prisoners being beaten, strung up and electrically shocked.

The reality of not having a universally enforceable legal system to punish war crimes then, as now, shows how such a standard is not easy to achieve in the current war against international terrorists.

Lesley M.M. Blume’s “Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-Up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World” (Simon & Schuster $27) tells how John Hersey, a Pulitzer Prize recipient, noticed that after we dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, very few survivors were interviewed. The articles published afterward were willingly sanitized by reporters after a little nudging from the U.S. military. Hiroshima’s devastation was televised but the U.S. limited access to the city.

Hersey was not deterred in finding out something more. He personally interviewed civilian survivors and wrote about them as ordinary human beings. Blume explains it was “a then-revolutionary approach to the subject of the atomic bombings” given that the Japanese prodded American entry into the war with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Hersey’s 30,000-word essay “Hiroshima” was printed in The New Yorker, with the editors eliminating all other articles. A year had passed from the bombing and the major media outlets believed that Hiroshima was old news. However, it became an overnight sensation, to the horror of the government, which had tried to cover up the resulting civilian human suffering in Japan by limiting physical access and coaxing the press to present a patriotic message.

Hersey’s piece woke the nation to the peril of entering an era of nuclear warfare — one that could be unleashed on U.S. civilians. “Fallout” is particularly relevant now that the U.S. and Russia are moving away from agreements that restrained them from starting a new nuclear arms race. It is a reminder not to ignore the suffering and total destruction a nuclear war can unleash.

At the end of World War II, Germany hosted up to 4 million refugees. David Nasaw’s “The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War” (Penguin Press, $35) tells of the last million who had been confined to refugee camps for five years. Most of them were Eastern Europeans who feared going back home. Nasaw explains the politics that drove the U.S. to maintain those camps but to eventually push for the refugees to be settled in Europe, or Palestine for the Jewish refugees.

Like today, countries differed as to whether they would accept refugees. Britain saw refugees as cheap labor but limited the amount of people they would accept. The Soviet Union demanded that all of the former occupants of Eastern Europe return home. However, many had collaborated with the Nazis on some level and feared being jailed or executed. Worse-off were the Polish Jewish population. Although the Polish government welcomed them back, even including some in governing, Nasaw concludes that “years of Nazi occupation had not lessened Polish anti-Semitism” but had “legitimized, hardened and regularized it.”

Wars spin off refugees as collateral damage. Currently, about 1 million Syrians are stuck in refugee camps in neighboring countries. Through great research, Nasaw helps the reader understand the complexity of permanently relocating refugees to a new country. The U.S. led that effort at the end of World War II — could it do it again?

The post Three World War II Books That Mirror Our Current Crises appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Ten Trump-Away Haiku

Counterpunch Articles -

Ten Trump-Away Haiku

The most important
election of our lifetimes –
the planet’s future

Lies, lies and more lies
a man with no decency —
what happened to truth?

Nero fiddled
while Rome burned —
Trump watches Fox News

Who is smarter —
the very stable genius
or the virus?

The Germans thought they
could control their loud-mouthed clown —
turned out not so well

a second four-year term —
where to go?

He holds up a bible
upside down
and the words fall out

Using the White House
as a prop – worthy of Hitler
at Nuremberg

Chants of twelve more years
as if they can hardly wait
for democracy to end

In this election
vote as though the very future
were at stake

The post Ten Trump-Away Haiku appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Caputo: “Mental Health Has Definitely Failed”

Mother Jones Magazine -

Over the weekend I introduced you to Michael Caputo, former flack for Vladimir Putin and Carl Paladino and now the top spokesperson at HHS. He insisted that “deep state” scientists in the CDC were out to make the president look bad and demanded to review their reports before they were published. Does that seem a little over the top? You ain’t seen nothing yet. I’ll let the Daily Mail describe Caputo’s Sunday rant, since they seem like the appropriate news outlet for this kind of thing:

The top communications official at the Health and Human Services Department warned in a bizarre Facebook Live session that political opponents ‘are going to have to kill me’ and claimed Democrats are plotting an armed insurrection….‘And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,’ he said. ‘The drills that you’ve seen are nothing.’ Said Caputo: ‘If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.’

During his rant posted Sunday, Caputo said his ‘mental health has definitely failed.’

‘I don’t like being alone in Washington,’ he continued. He said there were ‘shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.’ He also blasted government scientists ‘deep in the bowels of the CDC have given up science and become political animals’ who he said ‘haven’t gotten out of their sweatpants except for meetings at coffee shops.’

Caputo is clearly showing a bit of self-awareness here, and if he’s truly suffering from a mental breakdown then I guess I feel a little bit sorry for him. Even that little bit, though, depends on what happens next. If he resigns and seeks help, fine. If he stays on even though he knows he’s having a break with reality—and Trump allows it—then I no longer feel even a little sorry for him.

Arranged Marriage: Bahrain and Israel’s Peculiar ‘Peace’

AntiWar.com News -

At a White House ceremony today, the Israelis and Emiratis will officially normalize diplomatic relations. Bahrain, the latest "prospect" to sign on to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s diplomatic road-show, is sending some officials to the party. When both deals are sealed, Abu Dhabi and Manama will be the third and fourth Arab countries to … Continue reading "Arranged Marriage: Bahrain and Israel’s Peculiar ‘Peace’"

The post Arranged Marriage: Bahrain and Israel’s Peculiar ‘Peace’ appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Are the Forever Wars Really Ending?

AntiWar.com News -

"There is no… sound reason for the United States to continue sacrificing precious lives and treasure in a conflict not directly connected to our safety or other vital national interests." So said William Ruger about Afghanistan, our longest war. What makes this statement significant is that President Donald Trump has ordered a drawdown by mid-October … Continue reading "Are the Forever Wars Really Ending?"

The post Are the Forever Wars Really Ending? appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Dark Web Voter Database Report Casts New Doubts on Russian Election Hack Narrative

AntiWar.com News -

Reprinted from The Grayzone with the author’s permission. A September 1 report in the Moscow daily Kommersant on a “dark web” site offering a database of personal information on millions of registered American voters undermines one of the central themes of the Russia hysteria pervading US politics. Democratic politicians and corporate media pundits have long … Continue reading "Dark Web Voter Database Report Casts New Doubts on Russian Election Hack Narrative"

The post Dark Web Voter Database Report Casts New Doubts on Russian Election Hack Narrative appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

“It’ll Start Getting Cooler”: Trump Responds to Wildfire Crisis by Denying Climate Change

Mother Jones Magazine -

At a Monday morning roundtable in California, where 3.2 million acres of land has burned this year in wildfires, state leaders begged President Donald Trump to acknowledge reality.

“We want to work with you to really recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forest, and actually work together with that science,” Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary for natural resources, said. “If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians.”

“K, it’ll start getting cooler,” Trump replied. “You just watch.”

“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot said.

“Well, I don’t think science knows, actually,” Trump said.

Trump has repeatedly insisted that climate change is a hoax. But he’s wrong. The science is clear: Humans are rapidly warming the planet, and it isn’t going to magically “start getting cooler.”

This isn’t the first time Trump has denied a scientific reality to distract from the catastrophes that have befallen the nation during his presidency. But it seems especially callous given the inescapable reality that climate change will increase the frequency and severity of wildfires. Watch the video:

Trump on climate change: “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch … I don’t think science knows, actually.” pic.twitter.com/JdYzdrcjgq

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 14, 2020

Lunchtime Photo

Mother Jones Magazine -

This is a red-bellied woodpecker, pecking away at some suet in my sister-in-law’s backyard. Marian says we’ve had a visiting woodpecker lately too, so maybe I’ll have another woodpecker picture soon.

May 6, 2019 — Fairfax, Virginia

Trump Doesn’t Want to Keep You Calm. White Panic Is Central to His Presidency.

Mother Jones Magazine -

As we all know by now, excerpts from Bob Woodward’s new book, Rage, have revealed that President Trump knew a lot more about the seriousness of the coronavirus than he or his policies or his previous statements let on. As early as February 7, he told Woodward that the coronavirus was deadlier than the flu and was spread through the air. So, why did the president spend the previous six months downplaying the virus’ severity, urging reopening, and ridiculing the wearing of masks? Following Woodward’s revelations, while speaking at a packed rally in Michigan last week, Trump claimed that he was only doing the responsible presidential thing by lying about the virus, and that was keeping the nation calm. “They wanted me to come out and scream: People are dying,” the president said without a hint of irony to his adoring crowd. “No, I did it just the right way.”

Trump has come out and screamed “People are dying!” He does it all the time. He’s just not talking about the ones who actually are.

But that’s not based in reality. After all, Trump has come out and screamed “People are dying!” He does it all the time. He’s just not talking about the ones who actually are. Despite his reassurance that he’s been lying about the virus because he wanted to keep the American public calm, white panic has been the theme of Trump’s presidency from the moment he descended that golden escalator and announced his candidacy.

There appears to be nothing he likes better than to fan the flames around conspiracy theories, and his campaign has released several ads recently that show America burning, claiming that this is Joe Biden’s vision of the future. Remember he launched his campaign in late 2015 by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals ready to cross the border en masse. After that strategy won him the White House, he spent his first term fear mongering about immigrants in caravans and Muslims on planes. And now that his second campaign is in its final weeks, and the president continues to trail Biden in the polls, he’s ramping up that fear-based message to an almost deafening degree. Forget about the fact that due in large part to his bungling response to the pandemic, more than 193,000 people in the US have died; the real threats are protesters and poor people moving into lily-white enclaves in the suburbs. 

Just over the weekend, days after claiming he wants to be the soother-in-chief, the Trump campaign sent out a text message to its supporters: Give us money, or antifa will attack your home. 

Tonight in Trump campaign texts pic.twitter.com/D1WuOtWaG8

— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) September 12, 2020


Many critics have pointed out the absurdity of Trump claiming that he values calm. Fox News host Chris Wallace pointed out the discrepancy on his show on Sunday. “The president plays the panic card all the time, especially when he’s talking about Joe Biden,” he told Trump adviser Steve Cortes.

“There’s a difference,” Cortes claimed. “With Biden, there’s a legitimate fear.”

CHRIS WALLACE: You're saying Trump didn't want to panic people about Covid. But he plays the panic card about Biden all the time. Is that a POTUS who's trying to keep the country calm?

TRUMP ADVISER STEVE CORTES: There's a difference. With Biden, there's a legitimate fear. pic.twitter.com/Dgk9OJf1Fh

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 13, 2020

What a delicate balance the president is striking by telling his base that they should absolutely panic about a Biden administration and low-income housing in their neighborhoods, while telling the rest of the people in America that the pandemic is nothing to worry about.

This all comes even as the United States has done a uniquely bad job handling the pandemic response, leaving more than 6 million infected so far and millions more facing economic devastation. If spring was defined by shutdowns and restrictions, the fall has been focused on controlling the spread of the coronavirus in schools while still trying to keep them open. Colleges have been forced to close their campuses because of outbreaks among students and staff. Several teachers have died from COVID-19. But Trump demonizes the Democrats as he explains the reasons for school closures to his base: 

Democrats, OPEN THE SCHOOLS ( SAFELY), NOW! When schools are closed, let the money follow the child (FAMILY). Why should schools be paid when they are closed? They shouldn’t!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2020

Meanwhile, many of his supporters continue to believe both his messages. They believe the so-called panic-controlling one that Trump was trafficking in February and March: The coronavirus isn’t really that serious. We don’t need to wear masks. Maybe the virus doesn’t even exist at all. Millions of people around the world conspired to suffer and die just to make Trump look bad.

At the same time, supporters are panicking about what he tells them to. In Missouri, a white suburban couple pointed guns at protesters—earning a star turn at the Republican National Convention several weeks later. Earlier this month, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) threatened to kill Black protesters. As historic wildfires ravage Oregon and California, bogus lies about antifa starting the fires have spread just as quickly as the blaze. According to the Washington Post, some Oregon residents were ignoring mandatory evacuations because they felt they needed to defend their homes from antifa. They were taking their lead from a calm and collected president who inspired his supporters to do something so incredibly dangerous and dumb.

They were taking their lead from a calm and collected president who inspired his supporters to do something so incredibly dangerous and dumb.

Instilling fear in his white base about completely empty theories while also lying about the very real virus that could actually kill them requires shameless hypocrisy—again, an essential item in the Trump tool kit. The white protester, Michael Reinoehl, who shot and killed a Trump supporter is a villain—and was later killed by law enforcement. Trump described his death as “retribution.” Meanwhile, Trump defends Kyle Rittenhouse, who is charged with murdering two Black Lives Matter protesters. When titrating his message of panic, Black Lives Matter protesters are rioters, looters, and thugs, but the armed white vigilantes terrorizing them are simply patriotic Americans. Trump’s 2020 messaging is loud and clear: Don’t worry about white supremacists with guns or the pandemic.

After the Woodward interviews revealed that Trump downplaying the virus’ severity wasn’t so much incompetence as it was almost criminal negligence, a media debate ensued concerning whether Woodward should have revealed the tapes sooner in order to save lives. But in a political sense, some argued that it wouldn’t have made a difference at all in his polling. Nothing seems to move the needle on Trump for his base. They’ve stuck by him for years, never letting the hypocrisy, lies, economic collapse, global pandemic, or scandal deter their devotion. So, does it matter that the president is once again being a hypocrite? There’s a danger in dismissing this latest bold-faced lie. If white fear and shameless hypocrisy were central to Trump’s first term and help him clinch another four years, imagine what he will do in the next round. 

A Graphic Designer Is Relabeling Canned Food With Calls for Justice

Mother Jones Magazine -

If you live in Texas or know someone who does, look twice—or have them look twice—before reaching for that jar of peanut butter or can of soup, cranberries, or ground coffee. And definitely that tin of Spam, container of salt, and jar of mayo. A San Antonio artist has been sneaking around to supermarkets and relabeling food in an act of creative consumer disobedience. Jars and containers are popping up on shelves with parody labels bearing call-to-action political messages, and the labels are virtually indistinguishable from the originals. You’d be forgiven for mistaking them until you get home, when your astute, label-reading housemate makes the fool of you.

A few more: pic.twitter.com/jhULlU7Avh

— Alex Zielinski (@alex_zee) September 11, 2020

“One of my San Antonio friends has been using his graphic design skillz to re-label grocery store cans with facts about local/national police issues,” tweeted the artist’s friend, who hasn’t named the artist, but the friend, with permission, has made the labels available as PDFs: “Want to bring this revolution to your grocery aisle? He’s made the label files public.”

See the photos here and here. Enjoy your Ocean Spray Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce, or, if you’re looking, Priorities San Antonio Just Added $8.1 Million to the Police Budget Cranberry Sauce.

Israeli Human Rights Group Highlights How Israel Makes Fishing in Gaza Deadly

Mint Press News -

The Gaza Strip, just six miles wide, boasts a twenty-five-mile coastline on the Mediterranean Sea. Fishing is a natural industry in such a location and as recently as 2000, was a lucrative business for ten thousand Gazans. Today, only about 3,700 remain in the fishing trade – and about ninety-five percent of these live below the poverty line, with little hope of improvement.

On September 9, Israeli human rights watchdog B’Tselem released a report on the fishing industry in Gaza. It describes the plight-within-a-plight of Palestinians trying to eke out a living during a pandemic and under a hostile Israeli blockade. The report includes testimony given to B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd by the wives and mothers of Gazan fishermen, including the story of Ahmad, whose twelve-hour workdays bring in under $150 a month.

As is the reality with most elements of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation, the greatest challenge in Gaza’s fishing industry is not the whether, or fluctuations in the market – it’s simply living to fish another day.


How far is too far?

At this moment, Gazan fishermen are permitted by Israel to venture fifteen nautical miles off of Gaza’s coast to ply their trade. But the situation is “fluid,” and can change without warning – as it did on August 12 when Israeli military officials issued a directive that “immediately” reduced the fishing zone from fifteen miles to eight, the official reason given were the so-called incendiary balloons launched from Gaza into Israel. Four days later, the sea was completely off-limits to Gazans and remained that way for over two weeks.

Palestinian police pass an Israeli naval vessel as they search for the body of a fisherman killed by the Israeli Navy near Rafah.

One organization cataloged twenty changes in the fishing boundaries in 2019 alone – four of those were complete closures. At times, fishermen don’t know where the boundaries are until Israeli soldiers start shooting at them.

The Oslo Accords, an agreement signed by both Israel and the Palestinian leadership in 1993, places Gaza’s fishing perimeter at twenty miles offshore, only 10 percent of what some experts believe Palestine could claim as its Exclusive Economic Zone.

In the twenty-seven years since Oslo was signed, Israel has rarely allowed fishing beyond twelve nautical miles.


Tyranny at sea

As the Israeli Navy patrols the sea surrounding Gaza, it is in daily breach of multiple international laws.

B’Tselem recounts an interview with Nura, whose family has had three fishing boats confiscated; ‘Ula’s family has lost two boats and four motors. The women disclosed that Israel frequently holds the boats for years; motors are often never seen again – a practice that violates international law. Over the years, hundreds of boats have been impounded.

The Israeli military also detains and imprisons fishermen for allegedly sailing outside of the boundaries they impose, as was the case in 2017 with Intesar’s son, Khader disappeared after embarking on a fishing trip. Ten days later, his family discovered that he’d been arrested and sentenced to sixteen months in an Israeli prison for fishing outside of the acceptable range “several times.” Last year, Khader would disappear again – this time he’d been shot in the head, and was located in an Israeli hospital.

Mourners carry the body of fisherman Tawfiq Abu Riala, 32, shot and killed by Israeli naval forces off the coast of Gaza. Khalil Hamra | AP

Live fire in the absence of an immediate threat to human life is standard operating procedure for the Israeli military and is a breach of international law. Israeli human rights organization Gisha reported nearly one thousand such live-fire incidents at sea between 2010 and 2017, resulting in five deaths.

Zakaria Bakr, head of the Fishermen’s Union in Gaza, explains another Israeli policy that adds insult to injury: Israel’s blockade, now in its thirteenth year, “bans almost everything we need to maintain our boats,” including engines, spare parts, fiberglass, and rope. Fishing boats that escape confiscation and gunfire are still vulnerable, and half of Gaza’s registered fishermen are unable to go out because their boats are in disrepair.

The very presence of the Israeli military, controlling Palestinians, amounts to de facto occupation. While the Israeli government insists that it “disengaged” when Israel left Gaza, in reality, it is fully “engaged” – only now from outside the borders. Israel controls Gaza’s land boundaries and all exits, its airspace, and the sea, and administers all importing and exporting of goods.

Perhaps the most flagrant offense of all lies in Israel’s motive for harassing and disrupting fishermen. As Israeli leaders have made clear time and time again, the expanding and contracting fishing boundaries are an attempt to punish all of Gaza for the “transgression” of the few who dare to stand in defiance of Israeli oppression. In reality, international law recognizes the right of an occupied population to resist its occupier, including via armed resistance.

When, for example, militants release incendiary balloons or rockets, or when Palestinians in the West Bank “act out,” fishermen in Gaza (and their families and clients) pay for it. This is a form of collective punishment, a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.


Compounding hardships

The life of a fishing family, like most lives in Gaza, if often fixated on making ends meet. Nura Nu’man, a mother of two from a-Shati’ Refugee Camp whose husband Muamen is a fisherman, lamented to B’Tselem, “My life revolves around loans and debts.” The vast majority of fishermen live on less than $4.60 a day, forcing them to make tough choices, like whether to risk going out to sea during a sea closure or asking their children to drop out of school.

Even when there is a good catch, Gazans can’t afford to buy fish like they used to – especially during the coronavirus. If fish are left at the end of the day, constant power outages due to Israel’s blockade on the fuel needed to power generators make it impossible to keep them refrigerated for sale the next morning.

Fishermen display fish for sale after a night long fishing trip, in Gaza, Jan. 17, 2020. Hatem Moussa | AP

Then there is the emotional toll. Intesar, a mother of six from a-Shati’ Refugee Camp, described her young grandchildren’s make-believe fishing trip in which they warned each other to “watch out for gunfire”; ‘Ula’s children suffer from anxiety. No one wants the next generation to take up their fathers’ trade, but options are limited in the closed economy.



Israel has been censured by countless human rights groups and hundreds of United Nations reprimands over its human rights abuses of  Palestinians in Gaza. One troubling UN report warned that unless Israel changes its policies, Gaza would become “unlivable” by 2020. B’Tselem pointed out that “rather than change its policies…Israel has made them stricter and the situation has deteriorated,” adding that “Israel could change this stifling reality right now. Instead, it chooses to force Gaza residents to live in a state of poverty, stagnation, and hopelessness.”

The United States for its part continues to fund the Israeli government to the tune of $10 million a day in military aid and both houses of Congress remain obsessed with supporting and bankrolling Israel at every opportunity – although Americans as a whole are strongly in favor of conditioning such aid. The House has even managed to ignore a bill to protect Palestinian children from being tortured on the dime of American taxpayers.

There is, however, evidence of a changing tide in support for Israel, especially among Democrats. But Israel-firsters are pushing back hard and until the voices for justice are louder than voices for unconditional support for Israel, the United States will be complicit in the slow death of Palestinians.

When Gaza’s allies cry, “They have no fish,” Americans are responding, “let them eat cake.”

Feature photo | A Palestinian fisherman fixes a fishing net after a night fishing trip, in the Gaza Seaport, Sept. 3, 2020. Khalil Hamra | AP

Kathryn Shihadah writes for MintPress News and If Americans Knew. She speaks regularly about the injustice and demonization Palestinians face at the hands of Israel with complicity from the United States, especially to Christian audiences. Kathryn has lived in the Middle East for ten years and has traveled extensively. She blogs at PalestineHome.org.

The post Israeli Human Rights Group Highlights How Israel Makes Fishing in Gaza Deadly appeared first on MintPress News.

The Seema Verma Scandal Shows How Republicans Exploit Modern Feminism

Mother Jones Magazine -

Last week, Congressional Democrats revealed that a senior Trump administration official had spent more than $3 million of taxpayer money on highly-paid Republican consultants to bolster her public image. Seema Verma, who heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, surrounded herself with an entourage of fixers to help sell her policies, write her speeches, and package her persona. And the team, by exploiting loopholes in today’s mass-consumption feminism, specifically set out to build her a reputation as a badass woman.

The scandal is pretty typical for the Trump administration, which has filled its ranks with officials who have acted as if the public coffer was a piggy bank for their own personal benefit. Examples range from the president’s own use of taxpayer dollars at his own properties to, inside his cabinet, flights on private jets, a $31,000 dining set, and a custom-built phone booth, among many others.

The women of the Trump administration “have benefited from the pop-feminist reflex of honoring women for achieving visibility and power, no matter how they did so.”

But Verma’s wielding of modern feminism sets her apart, and offers a clear demonstration of how Republicans have learned to promote GOP women who are also stabbing women in the back with their policies—and of how thoroughly they have succeeded.

Some ten thousand pages of documents obtained by congressional investigators show that one of Verma’s top image-makers was Pamela Stevens, a longtime GOP communications consultant who specializes in getting Republican women favorable coverage in women’s magazines and blogs. Stevens had a lot of ideas for how to penetrate the world of for-profit feminism, according to the records, proposing meetings with magazine editors from Woman’s Day, Women’s Health, and Glamour, along with representatives of People, the brand Girlboss, and the female-empowerment themed Maker’s Conference. She wanted to put Verma in touch with a Washington Post reporter who she indicated “writes a lot on Women” and suggested Verma attend the Glamour “Woman of the Year” awards event and hob nob with its editor-in-chief. Stevens collected $3,400 from taxpayers for arranging Verma’s appearance on Politico’s “Women Rule” podcast. 

In the fall of 2018, Stevens organized a “Girl’s Night,” the records obtained by Congress show, in Verma’s honor at the home of USA Today journalist Susan Page. Stevens described the event as a networking opportunity for Verma, and invited media personalities and other prominent women. Taxpayers paid Stevens nearly $3,000 to organize it. Page, the host, says she was unaware of the consultant fees. She also spent $4,000 of her own money on catering the event, which, a USA Today spokesperson told Politico, was intended “to honor women on both sides of the aisle doing notable things,” describing the event as “well within the ethical standards that our journalists are expected to uphold.” 

Ethically, though, hosting the event is a bad look for Page—who was just selected to moderate the vice presidential debate next month between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris—for journalism, and for women. While “Honoring women doing notable things,” is the phrase the Page-defending spokesperson deployed to explain the event, the word “notable” does a lot of work and is worth a second look. It confers status without signaling whether Verma should be praised or condemned, whether her work is doing good things or bad things. It bestows praise on women doing anything prominent even when, in Verma’s case, that work is objectively bad for women.

As the head of CMS, Verma has spent nearly four years trying to kick people off of Medicaid. A majority of Medicaid beneficiaries are women. Women rely on Medicaid for family planning, maternity care, and long-term care. Verma’s enthusiasm for eliminating the Affordable Care Act and, when that effort failed, limiting Medicaid access for the unemployed, are policies that disproportionately hurt women. But you can’t deny they are notable. 

Stevens and Verma were taking advantage of a kind of modern, capitalist feminism in which individual womens’ successes are rebranded as feminist triumphs, regardless of what they are. Girlboss, one of the brands Stevens suggested Verma connect with, encapsulates this ethos. It stems from fashion entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso’s 2014 memoir #Girlboss, in which she defined her own capitalist success as the new feminism. But Amoruso, former employees alleged, was not a good boss and her company declared bankruptcy. Still, in 2017 she expanded #Girlboss into a new feminist-brand venture, hosting conferences where women network and take selfies under an ethos that foregrounds individual status as the ultimate feminist goal. It’s a feminism reoriented from women’s collective equality toward personal achievement. Verma, who was rising up the Republican ranks while pulling the social safety net out from under poor women, makes a perfect fit. 

Verma rose up the Republican ranks while pulling the social safety net out from under poor women.

“Feminism that prioritizes the individual will always, at its core, be at odds with feminism that prioritizes the collective,” New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino wrote in her book Trick Mirror. In it, Tolentino traces a warping of feminism that leads straight to Verma’s PR plan and similar abuses of feminism by women close to Trump. It started as the internet democratized feminist takes, bringing cultural analysis from the ivory tower to the blogosphere. This led to a “seachange,” Tolentino writes, in which women began to understand their lives in feminist terms. Feminist writers increasingly defended certain female celebrities, standing up for so-called “difficult” women whom society deemed aesthetically imperfect, selfish, or demanding—traits that men are rarely criticized for. The assumption was that new freedoms to be difficult bestowed on famous women would trickle down, also freeing regular women from patriarchal expectations.

The urge to defend celebrity women, coupled with the capitalist vision of female success, became a savvy way for conservative women to define themselves in feminist terms. As Tolentino explains, the women of the Trump administration “have benefited from the pop-feminist reflex of honoring women for achieving visibility and power, no matter how they did so.” This reflex has led to multiple instances in which liberal feminists rush to the aid of Trump’s female enablers—Kellyanne Conway, Hope Hicks, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump—because criticism targeting them triggered an automatic defense of a powerful woman, rather than a critique of how she got that power or what she does with it. 

This Verma scandal is ultimately a small footnote in the record-breaking annals of Trump administration corruption. But it is a perfect illustration of how Republicans have learned to hack modern feminism. If Verma is an example of girl power, the collective wellbeing of women is taking a backseat.

The Florida Teacher Who Didn’t Want to Cause People to Die

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We asked people who quit in 2020 how and why they did it. You can read more about the project and find every story here. Got your own quitting tale? Send us an email. Barbara McLain, 39

Started: August 3, 2015
Quit: July 30, 2020
Salary: $56,000 per year

As told to Matt Cohen

It absolutely was the failure in government to handle the pandemic that led to me quitting my job. The pandemic was looking better in Florida early June. Then that number started to rise, and it started looking really, really bad, really quickly. And then Donald Trump tweeted. He tweeted, “Schools must open now.” Within hours, our governor followed up with an executive order mandating that all brick-and-mortar school buildings open for classes five days a week, or else they’ll lose their state funding.

That was my first inkling that I may not go back in the classroom, although at that point, because I’m at a private school, I wasn’t sure how impacted we would be. Our local school district stands to lose $86 million. But at our private school we didn’t know if we were taking any state funding at all. I found out later that we were. Although my school wasn’t going to be as financially impacted to the degree that the public school system is, because we’re just one little school, every dollar counts. I watched this evolve and watched our local school district just wring their hands. Everybody said, “I don’t want to do this, but there’s nothing we can do.”

It’s a really tough position to be in. Everybody who is saying, “I’m not going to do this,” is essentially risking their jobs and their family’s livelihood and so few people can do that. It’s just not a reasonable risk that most people can take. Our superintendent cried in our planning meeting and said, “This is not my personal opinion, I’m just doing my job, writing a plan that will get approved by the state.” Ultimately our local school district pushed back the school start date by three weeks but said that the reason for doing that was primarily to buy some time, in hopes that something might change that would allow schools to open remotely. But now it’s looking like that’s not going to happen. Our commissioner of education, Richard Corcoran, has really doubled down on reopening schools. He even told schools that just because you have a case of coronavirus in your school doesn’t mean you should shut down.

The biggest issue for me was my family’s health. My daughter has asthma and my in-laws are in their 70s—we’re conscious of that every day because my husband works with his father. So we were really worried about spreading the virus in our house. No matter how many safety precautions they take in our school building, we cannot control what these students and their families are doing outside of school hours. But it also felt like a moral crisis. I didn’t want to be part of the spread of this virus. I don’t want any part in causing people to die, which I think is going happen because of the decision to open schools. Even in moments where I was like, “Well, maybe I won’t get sick. Maybe I won’t pass it to my loved ones,” I felt like I was wishing for it to be someone else with terrible luck. And I really couldn’t square that, either.

There were other things that led to my decision. The school said they were not going to supply teachers with PPE. They said we have to buy our own. As for cleaning classrooms, they just said, “Well you’ve got to figure out how to get your classroom wiped down in between classes.” I thought, “I can’t do this.”

I hoped that I would feel relief. On one hand, I did because I knew my family would be safe. We would keep the kids home, and I could be home and we can wait this thing out. But then there was the anxiety over money. I worried that I actually miscalculated our funds. I got nervous about what this would mean for my career. If I decide that I do want to return to the classroom next year, will they say no? Those sorts of worries went through my head. So it was a mixed bag. My husband, who has a ton of faith in me, talked about this idea I had of starting a tutoring business and helping kids with writing. Once I decided I wasn’t going back, he was ready to start planning, like, “Let’s start building your website right now.” It’s nice to have somebody who believes in me.

But overall it didn’t feel like going out in a blaze of glory. It was a hard decision. And it’s still hard. I felt some doubt, but I feel really secure in the decision now that I’ve had a little bit of time. I also wonder If I actually made a difference. They hired someone to replace me, of course. So it’s not like there’s going to be one less body in the building, one less person passing things around. But at least I don’t have to watch people get sick and maybe die and know that I had a part in it, when I absolutely didn’t have to. I recognize, of course, that lots of people absolutely do have to have a part in it. And that’s agonizing.

The first thing I did when I quit was I reached out to my department right away. And most of them were like, “You were really brave, and I’m really proud of you.” One of my administrators, privately, said the same thing: “You’re really brave. And I’m super impressed with you for taking this step and doing what you knew was right.” That did actually feel great, that other people in my school who may not have been in the same position to make the same decision as me, made me feel appreciated. They didn’t feel like I was being disloyal.

My dad died recently. And knowing he was alone, that no one could be with him—no one was allowed in the hospital—I don’t wish that on anybody. He didn’t die of COVID-19, but he was alone because of it. I don’t want anybody else to die alone. I don’t want anybody else to have to say goodbye to their family members. I was supposed to go see my dad in March, and I had to cancel because that was when everything was shutting down. And I kept hoping everything would open back up and I’d have a chance to see him again before he died. I never did. I never saw him again. I don’t want that for anyone.

The Cross-Country Runner Fed Up With the NCAA’s Racist Exploitation

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We asked people who quit in 2020 how and why they did it. You can read more about the project and find every story here. Got your own quitting tale? Send us an email. Andrew Cooper, 23

Position: Cross-country runner, Washington State University and the University of California, Berkeley
Started: August 2016
Quit: August 2020
Salary: $0

As told to Jacob Rosenberg

I actually haven’t gotten a lot of questions about my personal labor withholding. I’m a cross-country runner, you know? [Laughs]

I made the decision when we published the Players’ Tribune piece to opt out. I made my statement, right then and there. I made my announcement on social media.

As a Pac-12 athlete on the track/xc team at Cal Berkeley, I’m proud to be a member of the college athlete community — though these injustices must be addressed with systemic reform that benefit all athletes. Until then, I’m opting out of the fall season #WeAreUnited https://t.co/cJSudj8jtc pic.twitter.com/0v6UiBQ39W

— Andrew Cooper (@RunAndrewCooper) August 2, 2020

You know, I had a few teammates who were frustrated that I didn’t talk to them first before making the decision, which is fair. I sent a long message to our team. I just said, you guys know how passionately I feel about these racial injustices, especially with everything happening. You know me personally. I don’t feel comfortable continuing to support this disgustingly racist institution, as a white male. I sent a long message to the team. Then I screenshotted that. I sent it to my coach. And he never responded. Honestly, I haven’t talked to him since, which is a shame. Because I love Bobby Lockhart. He’s a great coach. I believe that Bobby Lockhart will be one of the greatest coaches in cross country here in the next 10 to 15 years. But Bobby’s also got a job to protect. I don’t know that talking to me exactly fits in that description. 

I’ve been running for the last 14 years of my life, essentially. Your sport really becomes a central component of your identity and existence. Everyone’s aware that it ends. I’ve heard other athletes describe it as grief, like something has died. You just feel so empty and lost when it’s gone. Winning in that sport fuels your existence as a college athlete. This feeling of being left behind is common. And that’s how I felt. I was completely unsure of how I would make money—well, I’m still pretty unsure of how I’m going to make money. I think so many college athletes struggle to see how their skills, their work ethic, their identities as athletes translate to life after sport.

This has always been my biggest frustration with this system of exploitation. Bottom line: Every single college athlete must sacrifice elements of their education to be college athletes. It fundamentally goes against the rhetoric the NCAA spits—we’re compensating you with an education, and that’s “priceless.” But you’re not even giving us a real education. Like, a real education. You can’t join clubs. You miss school. How can you say school is more important if you miss school for sports? Oftentimes you don’t have control or choice over what you study—particularly in football and basketball. Athletes who are wholly unprepared for college end up at prestigious universities.

I’m a graduate tutor. I’ve had to teach athletes how to write sentences. Like, I’ve had to teach athletes what commas are. I’ll say that Berkeley has the best tutoring system that exists in the country, because it’s external to the athletic department. To give you a little insight into how tutoring works: Everywhere else the tutors are paid by the athletic department. It’s ludicrous. If your job is on the line and someone’s boss is saying, “Look, this guy’s got to stay eligible, I don’t really care what you do,” and then you’re looking over and the kid’s not doing anything—you know you’re gonna just do the homework for them. The academic fraud that persisted at UNC, I think, is not far from the reality of many of these institutions. That’s the shame. That’s the disgusting shame that is not even remotely public. The reality is that every college athlete has to sacrifice their education.

There was actually a paper published today, an economics paper that has really confirmed what Dr. Derek Van Rheenen and I and many others have been yelling for a long time: College sports disproportionately exploits Black football and basketball players from predominantly low-income socioeconomic households, while benefiting predominantly white athletes from higher-income socioeconomic backgrounds. The racial divide in college sports can’t be ignored. But the lack of educational opportunities afforded to college athletes is, to me, the most sickening element of all of this.

So I made the decision to opt out in protest of the racial injustices of the country and specifically in protest of college sports, where predominantly young, Black football and basketball players are recruited and exploited for their athletic labor. That’s what my decision revolved around.

In 2016, when I was at Washington State, I had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco to participate in the Pac-12 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. This was during the Black Lives Matter movement and Colin Kaepernick kneeling. We had really honest and powerful conversations around this topic. In all honesty, that was the first time I even learned that racism exists. I was very privileged to grow up in an affluent, suburban community. That privilege afforded me a phenomenal education and the opportunity to compete in such a leisurely activity at such a high level.

Following that conference, I was left shell-shocked by the realization that I was a white male benefiting tremendously from this privilege. I was completely clueless to the racial injustices of our country due to the whitewashed education I’d received, and I was asking my peers, “What can I do? What should I do?” And they just told me listen and use your platform of privilege to enact change. And I said, “OK, noted.”

When I came back to campus, our university president, Kirk Schulz, tweeted something like “Going to the Pac-12 council meeting, anything you guys want me to talk about?” I went to my email, and I typed in his email address, and then I sent him an email essentially saying: “Hey, can you please discuss racism. I know on our campus specifically, people do not feel—people of color, students of color, Black students—don’t feel safe or comfortable at this predominantly white institution.” That was in part due to a Republican student group building a brick wall in the middle of campus and spray-painting “TRUMP” on it. White students just spit hateful messages at the rest of our community. And the president did nothing. He just said we can’t do anything because freedom of speech. Ironically, this same institution, when they sit athletes down and show them compliance sideshows, says social media use is a privilege not a right. And they even misspell “privilege.”

Anyway, after that we had a conversation. I pretty much told them what I think they should do. They should start surveying campus to understand where we’re at, where Black students are at, with how they feel about the efforts and partner with the University of Washington on their racial injustice and equity effort. They said great. And then I never followed up, and I don’t think he did anything. Talking to other students of color on campus and leaders of student groups, they told me that they had lots of meetings with him, and it just felt like he never listened. To me, it felt like he did really listen. And it seemed like he almost had a change of heart. It made me realize that was probably the first time a white student had said something like that to him. That’s when I really became aware of the power of white privilege, and then as I started learning more.

I became SAAC president after that at Washington State. I started to understand why this institution has been able to exploit our athletic labor for so long. It started to make sense and really come together. I applied to Berkeley and Stanford with the idea that I would write my thesis on the systemic inequities of college sports to better understand how we can address them. I was admitted to Berkeley. After, I was on the phone with one of my favorite professors at Washington State—Scott Jedlicka, who taught sport ethics course that was quite enlightening—and we were just talking about Northwestern and why the union drive failed. I started to suggest, “What if there was some sort of, you know, not a real union, but a fake union or a showing of solidarity.” Just the idea of athletes coming together to talk to each other seemed really powerful to me—standing up for something that they believed in.

Once I started studying labor law intently and working with other professors and just really just learning as much as I could from as many people as I could, it became abundantly clear just how flimsy and really antiquated this institution of amateurism is—and both how simple and how difficult it would be to dismantle. Simple in the sense that if you just got every player to realize, “Oh, we have all the power, we can just sit out, we can get whatever we want.” That’s it. Change happens that simply, as we saw when the Milwaukee Bucks chose to sit out. College athletes have that same power. But at the same time, there are a tremendous number of systemic inequities that enable the exploitation to continue and persist. That’s the hill we’re climbing.

At Cal, I was offered the opportunity to represent every athlete at the Pac-12 council meeting, or SALT, as they’ll call it—the Student Athlete Leadership Team. SALT representatives are chosen by their respective institutions. They’re the voices of college athletes in the actual decision-making process. At the Pac-12 council meeting, presidents of universities, athletic directors, faculty athletic representatives, and senior administrators convene to discuss all these issues. When I went for Washington State—in Phoenix, at this luxurious resort with waterslides and margaritas upon check-in—Kate Fagan was talking about Madison Holleran dying by suicide, and what it meant to her. All the athletes were practically crying, and I was looking around and saw a bunch of the athletic directors, and they were not actually paying attention. That’s when it really became apparent to me that this is not changing from within.

When I got an offer to go to SALT for Cal, this came from Bobby Thompson, who is the director of student–athlete development. Later he called me into his office. He said, “Yeah, the leadership team decided not to send you.” This was their reasoning: They had sent a hammer thrower previously—they didn’t want to, quote–unquote, send another track athlete. He then told me, “They have never even cared who I chose.” I was like, “Well, who made this decision?” He said the SALT leadership team—which is the athletic director, university president, and others. So, it became clear to me that the athletic director, Jim Knowlton, essentially made the decision to veto my spot.

I wasn’t even surprised that it happened. Jim Knowlton knows who I am. He knows where I stand on these issues. I’ve been in these meetings with him. He knows that I will say the truth.

On July 1, I got a text intro to Valentino Daltoso. I got on a call with Val and Jake Cuhran, and they told me they were frustrated with how COVID was being handled on their campus and other campuses and they wanted to release a statement in the Players’ Tribune within a few days calling for change. That day I saw a bunch of tweets from football players saying we deserve to get paid, essentially. I told Daltso and Cuhran, look, you’ve got three distinct issues here. You have COVID. You have the racial injustices. And you have economic injustices. The solution to COVID is for the government to act appropriately. The solution to the racial injustices is to be as loud as possible. The solution to the economic injustices is to organize athletes behind a work stoppage. I think we made that pretty clear in our demands. I never made any decisions throughout this whole process. It was always the football players. There wasn’t ever a leader.

Two or three days later, we had a Zoom meeting with two to three leaders from every school, just to talk about how we’re feeling about everything. We had like 35 people on it. And it was probably the most powerful Zoom of this entire movement because everyone felt the same way about—I don’t want to say issues because there are so many issues—but everyone felt voiceless and felt that something needed to change.

I presented to them essentially what I’ve been working on for the last year. I made the PowerPoint in like 15 minutes, essentially saying: Here’s the historical context of how the NCAA has been exploiting your athletic labor through amateurism; here are the systemic inequities that have been preventing us from obtaining these economic rights; here’s what I think the solution is. And then we just started organizing. There’s no doubt in my mind—that was a historical Zoom call in and of itself. That Zoom alone was already further than anyone had ever gotten.

I would have liked to known what my last race of college would have been. I think I ended up going out on a 1,500. I’m a distance runner, so I shouldn’t even be running 1,500s. Yeah, I think I went out finishing last place in a 1,500. It was the day after I broke up with my girlfriend. I didn’t anticipate that being my last race ever. It just wasn’t an important race to begin with. But it was kind of like, that’s it.

The Occupational Therapist Who Thinks She Infected Her Kids With Coronavirus

Mother Jones Magazine -

We asked people who quit in 2020 how and why they did it. You can read more about the project and find every story here. Got your own quitting tale? Send us an email. Anonymous

Position: Occupational therapist

As told to AJ Vicens

I chose to be in occupational therapy because I wanted to do something that helped people. I didn’t think I could stomach doing injections and the medical side, because I didn’t want to hurt people. I was more interested in the greater context of people’s lives than physical therapy, where they just work on the muscles. I really found a calling. It seemed like the most practical type of therapy you do. You’re addressing exactly what the person needs to be able to do in their life. Most of the time, I felt like I was making a difference.

When the coronavirus first arrived in America, and there were cases in my state, the management where I worked continued to act like it was overblown. Any kind of mitigating PPE was just going to scare everybody. They weren’t taking enough action to limit exposure and to protect people because it would cost them money.

One of my co-workers was wearing a mask, and nobody else was really wearing masks. It was sort of an optional thing. If you wanted to, you could, but they weren’t really distributing them. Some people started wearing them and literally one of the guys whose family owned the company was in the hallway in front of everybody else saying: “Why are you even wearing that? It’s not going to help anyway.”

Everybody’s scared. They’re talking of shutting down the state, and then to just have that kind of attitude so openly, and to just call her out in the middle of the hallway where everybody else could hear—that was the first time that I thought this is not going right.

We tried to voice concerns: “Why aren’t we tracking who’s going in and out of rooms? Why aren’t we limiting XYZ?” They were starting to talk about having us start going to some of the houses where some of our clients lived—and that would have exposed more people instead of less people.

It’s not like they were considering precautions beyond the economic price of taking those precautions. That just did not sit right with me from the beginning: They were going to expose us and expose the clients to continue to make money.

Everybody was very, very concerned. We were immediately considered essential workers. We were given a letter to carry with us in the car in case we were pulled over so that we could show that we were essential workers.

Anytime we voiced concerns about how things were being handled, we were told: “Just be happy you have a job. Everybody else is losing their job, just be happy you have a job.” But in our minds, we didn’t feel protected.

It was like it was a constant state of processing. You couldn’t catch up. You couldn’t catch your breath. You couldn’t feel like you had something under control, that you felt like you were facing the day prepared.

Instead, it always felt like, “What’s this new fresh hell I’m going to experience today? What am I not going to feel like I’m safe doing? What am I going to feel like I’m not safe for other people?”

I felt like I was potentially exposing other people. The clients essentially lived in this nursing home where they’re not going in and out of the building. But we were, and then anyone I had contact with outside of work.

My family—that was where I felt scared. Very scared.

I didn’t want to go to work. Every day felt like I was preparing for combat. Soon they started to institute the PPE. We started with a mask and an N95, and then we had to put a surgical mask over the N95 because the N95 is not supposed to be used repeatedly. So in order to keep it fresh and clean, we had to put the surgical mask over, and then we had a face shield over that, and then we had a gown added on top of that. It was so hot.

Every day you’re physically uncomfortable You’re doing a physical job rehabilitating people. I’m moving people, showering people, dressing people, changing people, transferring people, doing therapy.

But in addition, you’re doing other people’s jobs because other people started phoning it in or quitting, so then we all had to pick up the slack. So I was physically exhausted, mentally exhausted, and terrified all the time.

I felt like every day, I was failing someone, like I wasn’t meeting expectations. I wasn’t able to do my job. I was trying to do so many other people’s jobs just to care for these people who were trapped.

I felt like I was losing sight of what my job actually was. Eventually, once people started quitting, they needed us to pick up the slack and do extra work. But it was so mismanaged that the people who cared did the lion’s share of the work and just got so drained and exhausted, on top of already feeling disillusioned. Every day felt surreal, like you were in some kind of nightmare that was never going to end. And then they would have a meeting to discuss new cases and new protocols, and if people were going to and from the hospital, how they were going to deal with that. I just felt like I was in a nightmare.

Once things were starting to shut down, I started to be afraid. We pulled our kids from daycare, and the schools shut down. That was like: “Okay, the schools are shutting down, that’s a big sign that this is not going away anytime soon. And this is not good. This is a real serious problem.”

The tipping point for me was in the very beginning, before they instituted the PPE. I worked with a client without a mask in his room. This person had not been out of his room for months, because he’d been on bed rest. I ended up learning that within that week he died of COVID. This was in March, when people weren’t aware of how it spread so easily and that you could be a silent carrier. I was so terrified. And my employer told me, “You can just come back to work as long as you don’t have symptoms.”

I was appalled that they wouldn’t take it more seriously: quarantine the people who have been exposed to him without PPE; don’t bring those people back in to potentially expose it to other clients, very vulnerable people with tracheotomies, people on ventilators, and people whose health and immune systems were compromised. The bottom line wasn’t taking it more seriously and protecting people. The bottom line was, “How do we stay a viable business?”

After he died, I started calling everybody I could. I called the state health department, the county health department, I called my doctor. They all basically said the same thing: “Well, CDC guidelines say because you’re an essential worker, you can go back to work as long as you don’t have any symptoms.”

But that didn’t feel right to me. So I took the week off. Within the next day or two my youngest son, who’s 2, came down with a high fever and a headache and not feeling well. That’s when I started to really panic. I called his doctor and the health department again.

Nobody would test at that time. There was no testing available, so I just had to wait it out. Which was the scariest first 24 hours, and I wondered, “How is this going to go?”

They said it goes easily for children, and they get over it quickly. I started to backtrack in my mind: “Who did I have contact with? Who did I potentially have exposure to? Did I give this to my mother through some groceries I left on her porch? Did I give this to my aunt who is immunocompromised?”

I felt like I was the carrier because the kids hadn’t been out of the house for over two, three weeks at that point. So there was nobody going in and out of the house but me who had direct exposure to someone who died of COVID. I felt sheer panic. There were no answers.

Luckily the kids were OK, but both children ended up getting it. I don’t know if it was COVID because there were no tests available. But calling all these places they said to treat it as if it is, to quarantine them.

My employer was like, “Eh, come on back to work.”

That was when I realized it wasn’t about people, and they didn’t really care about their employees enough to handle this seriously. So that was the tipping point. And there was no recovery of trust after that.

I felt obligated to the people I worked with and the clients I served, to be there for them, and I felt obligated to my family to continue to provide an income. I was not given any option to get laid off, so if I was going to leave my job it was going to be that I quit. I started to feel like it was going to come to a boiling point. I was either going to have a breakdown at work and then not be able to recover from that and damage having a reference in the future. Or I was not going to be able to function anymore at home. I was going to continue to break down.

Everybody I was working with felt trapped and felt like they couldn’t leave their jobs. I was fortunate enough to go to my family and say: “I can’t handle this anymore. I don’t know what my options are. What if I quit? How will I be able to provide for my family? How will I be able to make the bills. If it comes to that point, will you help me?”

That was the first time I ever had to ask my family for money. I pride myself on being independent and being able to take care of myself and my family. So that was a really hard thing to do just for my own pride. But I had to. I had to know what my options were.

I never thought I would be in that position, especially because going into health care, everybody tells you: “Oh, that’s great. You know, you’ll get a job in no time—a secure job and you’ll never have to worry about being employed.”

I’ve been employed basically since I was 17. Being unemployed is new to me. And I wouldn’t have been able to take that leap without support from my family. That saddens me, too, because I know there are people trapped in really bad circumstances that they can’t leave because they don’t have the family support. I don’t regret leaving. I wish I would have been able to wait till I had another job lined up, but I wasn’t going to be able to function anymore.

It’s been my identity for the past 13 years. I’ve been an employee to this family-owned company, and they always talked about how it was one big family. They did do kind of special things for us. I felt for a long time that I was in this exceptional place that really cared about people. In the end, when push came to shove, it became not about that anymore. It just became about the money and the business, and that’s not why I went into health care.

I still am an occupational therapist, and I still have a license, and I’m going to go and continue to practice. But I do feel like a big part of my life is over. It’s sort of an identity crisis. Who am I now? I was grieving leaving the people I cared about, leaving clients I was dedicated to. I really cared about their progress and their rehabilitation, and that was just being pushed aside for the wrong reasons. In the end, I’m not going to die over my job. I’m not going to continue to risk my family for a job. You know, I had options, and other people don’t. And that’s very sad.

“I Should Not Be a Pawn in a Game”: 9 Workers Explain Why They Quit in Protest in the Middle of a Plague

Mother Jones Magazine -

Quitting stories are work stories, and work stories are, as Studs Terkel wrote, “about violence—to the spirit as well as to the body.” Below are accounts from nine people who recently quit their jobs in protest, in the midst of a pandemic and an economic cataclysm, because they got fed up with the forms of violence, whether bodily or spiritual, that they’d been told to accept.

They quit because they didn’t want to die for their paychecks. They quit because they could no longer bear being a part of a racist, exploitative system. They quit on the spot. They quit after a great deal of consideration. A teacher quit after her father died cleaning schools. A cop quit because he didn’t want to help gentrify a neighborhood. A Bojangles drive-thru worker quit because her boss served free food to the racists who’d harassed her. 

Some of their stories convey the seditious thrill of finally saying no to bosses who expect yes. Many are full of uncertainty. “It’s sort of an identity crisis,” said an occupational therapist who quit over a lack of safety precautions at work. “Who am I now?” Most were quick to point out that they quit because they had the privilege to do so—acts of conscience being too great a luxury for people who can’t afford to miss a check.

More than 19.3 million people voluntarily left their jobs in 2020. These are the quitting stories of nine of the them, told in their own words. They are also, in a way, the stories of the people who don’t have the luxury of quitting—of the daily humiliations they endure and the noes they never get to say. 

Got a good quitting story? Email us

The Cop Who Quit Instead of Helping to Gentrify Atlanta

Mother Jones Magazine -

We asked people who quit in 2020 how and why they did it. You can read more about the project and find every story here. Got your own quitting tale? Send us an email. Tom Gissler, 49

Position: Patrol officer
Started: April 2017
Quit: July 2020
Salary: $45,000 to $55,000 per year

As told to Laura Thompson

Three years in, I had basically arrived—I had been transferred to the day shift. It was the premier shift. You wanted to get the day shift because those are the best hours, good days off.

On my beat, they started telling me: “We really want you to start policing this section of Boulevard and Ponce de Leon Avenue, basically the Bedford Pines Apartments. We think there are dope boys in there. We think there’s a lot of illegal activity happening and we want to really focus there. So we’re gonna put up signs that say you can’t park on the street. I want you to go and write tickets on every single car that’s on the street and I want you to get those cars out of there; if they don’t move, tow ’em. I want you to start running checks on everybody standing on the street; if they have got warrants, I want you to lock ’em up.”

It became this very aggressive policing strategy in the Bedford Pines. Which was strange. Because it was extremely rare for them to tell you to do anything. It’s unusual for them to give you very specific directions, and then for them to be very serious about it and follow up—I’d have supervisors show up and say, “Hey I drove by, there were some cars parked out there, did you ticket them?”

It made me very curious. So on my own time—I live in Atlanta, I live in the zone I policed, which is super rare—I drove over there and had a conversation with some people. I was like: “Hey, this is what I’m being asked to do. Why do you think that is? What’s going on?”

A homeowner in the area was very frank with me. He said the guys who own Bedford Pines got their tax bill last year, and their taxes were assessed based on all the gentrification that’s happening in the area. And so they wanted to move everybody out of these apartments and knock ’em down and rebuild these nice expensive apartments and the government said no. And so then they said, “Well, that’s ok, we’ll just increase the rent.” They tried to increase the rent and the Section 8 guys came back out and said, “No, you can’t do that either.”

The only way you can evict or do anything like that is if the person who owns the apartment is convicted of a felony. So the Bedford Pines guys just went to the police department and said: “We want you to police in here, and we’re going to give you a section of Bedford Pines to actually have office space. And I want you to lock up as many people as possible so we can make these apartments vacant and we can knock ’em down.”

I go to my supervisors: Is this what the case is? And they looked at me like, what are you, stupid? Of course, why else would we be doing this?

I’m not a constitutional lawyer—that’s not my bag. I’m not even a political activist. But something about that smacks of institutional racism, right? I mean, there wasn’t a white person in this whole complex. Most of the renters were single Black girls who are just trying to, you know, make their way in the world. And yes, their boyfriends probably were dope boys and were up to no good or whatever, but they’d been doing the same thing forever, and they would continue to do the same thing forever. I don’t know what the problem was except that now there’s a multi-million-dollar skyrise next door to them.

There was something about that that made me think now, when I clock into work, I’m not doing any good. I’m actually doing harm.

It wasn’t long before the riots started, but I started making noise right then. I was already pretty vocal about the fact that I wouldn’t lock people up for minor drug stuff. I didn’t feel great about ruining someone’s life over a dime bag of weed or whatever, so I just started trying to find a way to exit stage right.

It dawned on me that the entire system, the entire thing, was just a shitty mafia system. If you tried to do a good job and say, “I’m going to be a good cop, and I’m going to obey commands,” they would abandon you, charge you, leave you behind, and not even think twice. If you didn’t obey the rules, then they were gonna charge you for that. And if you tried to remain quiet and do your job, you are going to be a piece of modern-day redlining that way, too. There was no way that I could exist and feel good about it. And because I didn’t have to—and that’s the privilege part—I just decided not to.

When I told the department I was quitting, they said, “Good for you. If I could quit, I would quit.” My supervisor literally said: “Can we get together after work and you tell me what else I can do? I don’t know what else to do and I cannot stomach being here.”

Editor’s note: After talking with Mother Jones, Gissler relocated from Atlanta following what he believes to have been retaliation for quitting. He explained the situation in a subsequent message:

A report was made to the Division of Family and Children’s Services alleging abuse in my household. Also an allegation of animal abuse was made. Both allegations are very serious for anyone, but especially as law enforcement, because you cannot operate while under investigation. The presumption is that whoever filed the report assumed I was going to stay in law enforcement and the effect would be terror and hardship. DFACS was very cooperative and was able to see immediately that the allegations were unfounded and complained about the wasted resources. It was a shot across the bow meant to communicate that I shouldn’t be “noisy” while exiting.

My wife was especially blindsided by the ordeal and was truly terrified. Our leaving was necessary simply to insulate ourselves from such hijinks by distancing ourselves geographically. Currently, APD is filing random charges and administrative punishments around the department to discourage the hemorrhages in staffing. It has worked and people are quieting and hiding. It effectively stops officers from transferring or retiring if they are under investigation. Fortunately for me there is little they can do outside of this sort of thing or something very dumb like attempt to physically harm me, which would be harder now. That’s too dramatic to even consider.

Bezos Doubles Wealth as Amazon Essential Product Prices Rise 1000% Amid Pandemic

Mint Press News -

A new report from advocacy group Public Citizen details how retail giant Amazon “misled the public, law enforcement, and policymakers about price increases during the pandemic,” raising their prices on essential products “to levels that would be considered violations of price gouging laws in many states.” The prices of many products in high demand during the pandemic jumped by over 1,000 percent when compared to this time last year.

As accusations of price gouging began, Amazon blamed “bad actors,” declaring in an official statement that, “there is no place for price gouging on Amazon,” committing itself to “working vigorously” to ensure fair pricing, and “collaborating with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies” to “hold price gougers accountable” and to protect the interests of their customers.

Price gouging has no place in Amazon's stores. Read about our efforts here to protect our customers. https://t.co/oDDcya4R6J

— Brian Huseman (@b_huseman) March 23, 2020

Yet Public Citizen’s report found that “Amazon is engaged in price gouging on products it sells directly” itself, through its Amazon Essentials line. Disposable face masks and corn starch were the most inflated prices, jumping elevenfold from earlier in the year. Below is a list of ten Amazon Essential products tracked, including the percentage the items increased in cost. Similar price rises were tracked among third party sellers on the platform as well.

  • Disposable face masks — 1,000%
  • Hand sanitizer — 48%
  • Disinfectant spray — 87%
  • Antibacterial soap — 470%
  • Disposable nitrile gloves — 336%
  • Toilet paper — 528%
  • Paper towels — 303%
  • Flour — 425%
  • Sugar — 520%
  • Corn starch — 1,010%

While there is no federal law protecting the public from the practice, price gouging is illegal in 35 states, with some states deeming that increasing prices by just 10 percent constitutes breaking the law.

Thanks in no small part to increased profits from sales, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has seen his wealth almost double during the pandemic, from $113 billion in March to $206 billion today, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, who calculated that America’s billionaire class of 467 plutocrats have seen their wealth spike by nearly a trillion dollars since lockdown began on March 18. Much of this has been down to an enormous tax break for the ultra-wealthy that the Trump administration snuck into its first coronavirus relief bill. Bezos, who retook the title of the world’s richest individual from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates late last year, has said that he is so rich that he can only imagine spending his wealth by plowing it into space travel.

Yet even as he becomes the world’s first individual to reach a net worth of $200 billion, Bezos’ employees are struggling just to eat or avoid homelessness. According to the company’s own data, a great number of Amazon employees rely on SNAP (food stamps) just to eat. That number is as high as one third of all Amazon workers in Arizona, with company employees nationwide far more likely than most to need to use food stamps. Instead of giving his employees a pay rise, “arch-philanthropist” Bezos decided to start a charitable foundation for them, asking the public to donate money to help them pay for basic necessities. And when staff at Bezos-owned Whole Foods Market asked for higher pay and better working conditions, the company instead gave them a free t-shirt that called them “hardcore” “heroes” for working through the pandemic.

Price gouging is widely considered a highly immoral practice, akin to profiting off the desperation and suffering of others, with some of the only people willing to publicly defend it being economics professors and highly-paid columnists in corporate media. Professor Lili Carneglia of Valencia College, Florida, for instance, writing in libertarian think tank FEE, argued that neighborhood 7-Elevens charging $20 for a case of water after a hurricane is a good thing, claiming without them there would be shortages in supply (although, she admits, she is unable to convince most of her students). Likewise, the Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby claims that price gouging is not a problem, but a solution to a problem, suggesting that it actually helps consumers.

Public Citizen did not agree. “During emergencies, people are scared, desperate, and in need. Price gouging is an insidious exploitation of the most vulnerable. There is no excuse for the most successful corporations preying on vulnerable consumers,” it concluded.

Feature photo | Protesters carry a figure of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos depicted as a giant robot, at a protest during a march for immigrant and workers rights, May 1, 2019, on May Day in downtown Seattle. Ted S. Warren | AP

Alan MacLeod is a 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. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Bezos Doubles Wealth as Amazon Essential Product Prices Rise 1000% Amid Pandemic appeared first on MintPress News.


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