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Health Update

Mother Jones Magazine -

It’s hard to find anything even approaching good news this morning, but at least I have some personal good news. It appears that Pomalyst is doing a good job on my multiple myeloma:

Unfortunately, the news isn’t all good: the dex is becoming worse and worse over time. Wednesdays and Sundays are now given over almost entirely to sleep and the other days aren’t so hot either. At the same time, my breathing seems like it’s continuing to deteriorate too. Maybe it’s time to try an even smaller dose than I’m using now.

Alternatively, I could replace the dex with hydroxychloroquine. I hear it’s pretty good for whatever ails you.

We’re Taking Clearview AI to Court to End its Privacy-Destroying Face Surveillance Activities

ACLU News -

For several years, a little-known start-up based in New York has been amassing a database of billions of our faceprints — unique biometric identifiers akin to a fingerprint or DNA profile — drawn from personal photos on our social media accounts and elsewhere online. The company has captured these faceprints in secret, without our knowledge, much less our consent, using everything from casual selfies to photos of birthday parties, college graduations, weddings, and so much more.
 
Unbeknownst to the public, this company has offered up this massive faceprint database to private companies, police, federal agencies, and wealthy individuals, allowing them to secretly track and target whomever they wished using face recognition technology.
                                                     
That company is Clearview AI, and it will end privacy as we know it if it isn’t stopped. We’re taking the company to court in Illinois today on behalf of organizations that represent survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, undocumented immigrants, and other vulnerable communities. As the groups make clear, Clearview’s face surveillance activities violate the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), and represent an unprecedented threat to our security and safety.
 
Face recognition technology offers a surveillance capability unlike any other technology in the past. It makes it dangerously easy to identify and track us at protests, AA meetings, counseling sessions, political rallies, religious gatherings, and more. For our clients — organizations that serve survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, undocumented immigrants, and people of color — this surveillance system is dangerous and even life-threatening. It empowers abusive ex-partners and serial harassers, exploitative companies, and ICE agents to track and target domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, undocumented immigrants, and other vulnerable communities.
 
By building a mass database of billions of faceprints without our knowledge or consent, Clearview has created the nightmare scenario that we’ve long feared, and has crossed the ethical bounds that many companies have refused to even attempt. Neither the United States government nor any American company is known to have ever compiled such a massive trove of biometrics.
 
Adding fuel to the fire, Clearview sells access to a smartphone app that allows its customers — and even those using the app on a trial basis — to upload a photo of an unknown person and instantaneously receive a set of matching photos.
 
Clearview’s actions clearly violate BIPA. The law requires companies that collect, capture, or obtain an Illinois resident’s biometric identifier — such as a fingerprint, faceprint, or iris scan — to first notify that individual and obtain their written consent. Clearview’s practices are exactly the threat to privacy that the legislature intended to address, and demonstrate why states across the country should adopt legal protections like the ones in Illinois.
 
In press statements, Clearview has tried to claim its actions are somehow protected by the First Amendment. Clearview is as free to look at online photos as anyone with an internet connection. But what it can’t do is capture our faceprints — uniquely identifying biometrics — from those photos without consent. That’s not speech; it’s conduct that the state of Illinois has a strong interest in regulating in order to protect its residents against abuse.
 
If allowed, Clearview will destroy our rights to anonymity and privacy — and the safety and security that both bring. People can change their names and addresses to shield their whereabouts and identities from individuals who seek to harm them, but they can’t change their faces.
 
That’s why we’re teaming up with lawyers at the ACLU of Illinois and the law firm of Edelson PC, a nationally recognized leader in consumer privacy litigation, to put a stop to Clearview’s egregious violations of privacy. We are asking an Illinois state court to order the company to delete faceprints gathered from Illinois residents without consent, and to stop capturing new faceprints unless it complies with the Illinois law.
 
There is a groundswell of opposition to face surveillance technology, and this litigation is the latest chapter in an intensifying fight to protect our privacy rights against the dangers of this menacing technology. Across the nation, the ACLU has been advocating for bans on police use of face recognition technology, leading to strong laws in places like Oakland, San Francisco, and Berkeley, California, and Springfield and Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as a statewide prohibition on use of the technology on police body cams in California.
 
We won’t let companies like Clearview trample on our right to privacy.

Media Smeared Ahmaud Arbery After His Lynching

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

 

While it took two and a half months for the authorities to finally make arrests in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, corporate media were much quicker to follow the time-honored practice of besmirching victims of racist violence (FAIR.org, 3/22/17).

First they kill your body. Then they kill your reputation. When white supremacy is the foundation of the US’s media, political, legal and corporate system, victims of racist violence are often killed twice in this way.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation on May 7 arrested former cop Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, for the murder of Arbery, an unarmed 25-year old African American out for a jog—only after a widely circulated video of the lynching became too difficult to ignore. The man who filmed the shooting, William Bryan Jr., 50, was arrested on May 21 on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment after Arbery’s family and civil rights activists pressed that Bryan wasn’t a mere witness, but an active participant in the murder.

But it only took a few weeks for corporate media to dig up and publish irrelevant dirt on Arbery.

Media outlets sometimes offer the excuse that they have to investigate victims’ pasts to fill up column inches, because the identities of police officers who perpetrate racist violence are often concealed. But in this case, the video and police reports made it very clear who the shooters were: On February 23, Travis and Gregory McMichael pursued and shot Arbery for the apparent “crime” of running while black, ostensibly because they assumed, based on the color of his skin, that he was behind a series of break-ins more than seven weeks before.

The New York Times headline (4/26/20) has “two weapons, a chase, a killing”—and no killers. In the subhead, Ahmaud Arbery “ended up dead”—and the people who shot him to death are described as “pursuers.”

The New York Times report (4/26/20), with the vague headline “Two Weapons, a Chase, a Killing and No Charges,” cited activists and family members pointing out that even if Arbery had committed a property crime, that still wouldn’t have justified lethal violence. But the Times nevertheless saw fit to include:

But others contend that Mr. Arbery was up to no good. On the day of the shooting, and apparently moments before the chase, a neighbor in Satilla Shores called 911, telling the dispatcher that a black man in a white T-shirt was inside a house that was under construction and only partially closed in.

“And he’s running right now,” the man told the dispatcher. “There he goes right now!”

In his letter to the police, Mr. Barnhill, the prosecutor, noted that Mr. Arbery had a criminal past. Court records show that Mr. Arbery was convicted of shoplifting and of violating probation in 2018. Five years earlier, according to the Brunswick News, he was indicted on charges that he took a handgun to a high school basketball game.

George Barnhill, the prosecutor cited by the Times, has a history of aggressively prosecuting cases that intimidate people of color from voting, and denying motions for people of color requesting a new trial due to flawed forensic evidence (Guardian, 5/17/20). Before recusing himself from the Arbery case, he argued that it was “perfectly legal” for the McMichaels to pursue and confront Arbery with weapons—already judging Arbery to be a “criminal suspect” who had “initiated the fight”—because the McMichaels’ ostensibly armed themselves and pursued Arbery with the intent to “stop and hold” him “until law enforcement arrived.”

Barnhill defended the McMichaels by citing a statute allowing for a citizen’s arrest, though that statute only applies to someone when a “offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.” Arbery hadn’t committed any offense, in the McMichaels’s presence or otherwise, and they had no “immediate knowledge” other than the color of Arbery’s skin (New York Times, 5/6/20). And Gregory McMichael had his law enforcement certificate suspended for repeatedly failing to complete required training, losing his legal power of arrest (Washington Post, 5/14/20).

The Guardian‘s “exclusive” (5/18/20) revealed that a murder victim had been questioned three years earlier about why he “was sitting alone in his car in a park.”

Nevertheless, the Guardian (5/18/20) published a video from 2017 showing police attempting to tase Arbery after an officer felt “threatened” by Arbery questioning why the officer was bothering him. (The article reported that the cop “suspected Arbery of using marijuana,” noting he “was in a park known for drug activity.”) Because of his death, the Guardian obviously wasn’t able to get Arbery’s perspective on the confrontation, but the paper still included racist passages from the officer’s report that depicted Arbery as a black male possessing animalistic strength and uncontrollable aggression:

Kanago claimed he began to feel threatened by Arbery, later writing in his report that “veins were popping from [Arbery’s] chest, which made me feel that he was becoming enraged and may turn physically violent towards me.”

Following that, the New York Post (5/19/20) published another video from 2017, in which Arbery and his friends were stopped in the parking lot of a Walmart. Arbery was accused of shoplifting a TV, and was arrested while trying to show the officer a receipt, depriving him of a chance to prove his innocence.

As these irrelevant details of Arbery’s past had been publicly available since they were reported by the Times in April, the Guardian and Post making the effort to search for and publish videos showing the police harassing, arresting and trying to tase Arbery served mainly to posthumously humiliate and criminalize him. These reports implicitly attempt to justify his death, further examples of the senseless demand that victims of racist violence lead unblemished lives before they can be deemed worthy of mourning.

These videos made a splash in other outlets, serving to reinforce the racist stereotype of black criminality:

  • Fox News (5/21/20): “Video Surfaces of Ahmaud Arbery Being Arrested on Suspicion of Shoplifting in 2017”
  • Associated Press (5/19/20): “2017 Video Shows Georgia Officer Tried to Stun Ahmaud Arbery”
  • Daily Mail (5/20/20): “Newly-Released Bodycam Footage Shows Ahmaud Arbery Getting Arrested in 2017 for Trying to Steal a 65-Inch TV From a Walmart — Which Led to Five Years of Probation”
  • Wall Street Journal (5/19/20): “New Video Shows Police Tried to Tase Ahmaud Arbery in 2017”

Of course, even if it turns out to be the case that Arbery had smoked marijuana or had shoplifted prior to the filmed confrontations—in other words, if his shoplifting conviction were not the result of a racist legal system designed to force plea bargains from even innocent suspects—what would any of this have to do with the current situation? Even if Arbery had actually committed the weeks-old burglary the McMichaels suspected him of, a landmark 1985 Supreme Court case regarding the killing of Edward Garner determined that you can’t shoot a burglar simply for running away (Daily News, 5/11/20), so there are no justifications for Arbery’s killing regardless.

Ahmaud Arbery’s past had nothing to do with why the McMichaels killed him, and these reports deflect attention away from the perpetrators of racist violence to the past of their victims instead. These videos are likely to be barred at the McMichaels’ trial as irrelevant and prejudicial to jurors’ perception of Arbery; and news media have no greater justification for digging them up and publishing them.

"Fight Back!": ACT UP Members & Tony Kushner Remember Trailblazing AIDS Activist Larry Kramer

Democracy Now! -

We discuss the life and legacy of Larry Kramer, the legendary writer and trailblazing activist in the fight against AIDS, who has died at the age of 84. Kramer helped start Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP to demand life-saving drugs, and faced off with Dr. Anthony Fauci before the two became friends. Many credit Kramer for saving thousands of lives. We hear from Kramer in his own words at the 2019 anti-corporate Queer Liberation March and host a roundtable with two former ACT UP members: “Gay USA” host Ann Northrop and Yale epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves. We also speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, who wrote “Angels in America.”

"No Justification": Minneapolis Demands Murder Charges for Police Officer Who Killed George Floyd

Democracy Now! -

Parts of Minneapolis erupted into flames Wednesday night as residents again took to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by white police officer Derek Chauvin on Monday. A viral video shows Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for a number of minutes as Floyd repeatedly says “I cannot breathe.” Three other officers stood by as George Floyd suffocated. They have been identified as Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng. All four officers were fired on Tuesday. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has called on prosecutors to file criminal charges against Derek Chauvin. We speak with civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, founder of the Racial Justice Network and former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP. “What needs to happen is that charges need to be brought immediately against the four officers who killed George Floyd,” she says. “There is simply no justification for what they did or why they did it.”

Headlines for May 28, 2020

Democracy Now! -

After This Site Boosted the Debunked ‘Plandemic’ Video, Trump Pushed Its Take on Joe Scarborough

Mother Jones Magazine -

Since earlier this month, Donald Trump has been pushing a debunked conspiracy about MSNBC host Joe Scarborough having murdered one of his employees in 2001, when he served in Congress.

It’s unclear how the conspiracy initially made its way to Trump, but since he amplified it on May 13, a fringe conspiracy site has been pushing the conspiracy heavily. Its owner and founder has even earned a retweet from the president himself about Scarborough.

The site, True Pundit, whose links Trump has tweeted, also played a key role in recently boosting another debunked but massive conspiracy: Plandemic, a 25 minute YouTube video spreading falsehoods about the coronavirus that went viral at the beginning of May. The site has pushed other disinformation, including a made up claim that the FBI was aware of and did nothing about Chinese hackers breaking into Hillary Clinton’s private server, and another in which Clinton proposed targeting Julian Assange with a drone strike.

Kate Starbird, a professor of human centered design and engineering who researches internet disinformation at the University of Washington, noted in a Medium post that True Pundit’s articles about the conspiracies outlined in Plandemic correlated with early spikes of searches for the main doctor featured in the discredited video, Judy Mikovits. Starbird also found that True Pundit was also the second most linked-to website in tweets about Mikovits.

Prior to Trump tweeting about the Scarborough conspiracy True Pundit appeared to be one of the only major sites routinely recycling the claim. The site and its founder, Michael D. Moore, a former journalist who posted pseudonymously before he was uncovered by BuzzFeed‘s Craig Silverman, have routinely pushed the theory at various points in the last decade. Since 2017, Moore has tweeted the hoax allegations several times a year, and the TruePundit Facebook account has also repeatedly pushed the claim.

Another possible source for the claim could be The_Donald, the message board community of rabid Trump supporters who started on Reddit but decamped the platform in favor of a private forum after the company began taking enforcement actions on its notoriously toxic members.

A moderately successful post on the new The_Donald forum from April 23 appears to be one of the most recent internet mentions of the conspiracy prior to Donald Trump Jr. tweeting about it on April 30 and the president tweeting about it on May 4. It’s unclear what exactly prompted Trump Jr. to mention the conspiracy. In 2018, True Pundit tweeted at Trump Jr., sending him a link to a page on its site pushing the conspiracy about Scarborough. Trump Jr. also follows Moore’s account. The president’s oldest son has a history of trawling the internet for weird content about his father and has posted memes that likely originated on The_Donald forum.

What show is Joe going to go on to discuss Lori Klausutis? https://t.co/sL4AxAQrlb

— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) April 30, 2020

 

Moore’s tweets about the hoax have gone viral several times since Trump mentioned the conspiracy; just two tweets from Saturday garnered thousands of retweets and likes. 

Starbird didn’t include data quantifying True Pundit’s role spreading the Scarborough hoax in her Medium post, but notes Trump’s interaction with the site on Sunday, when he quote tweeted their 2011 story about the death speciously linked to Scarborough.

To Starbird, Trump’s promotion of the theory and of Moore and his site, are a perfect and concerning example of how “conspiracy theories move from the margins of the internet into the mouths (and Twitter accounts) of political leaders” at a time when the president has worked to erode traditional media outlets’ credibility.

“Some of the same political leaders who promote these kinds of websites simultaneously attack professional journalism as ‘fake news’—leaving their viewers with few resources for challenging/verifying their false claims,” she wrote.

They Suffered Years of Abuse. Now They’re Trapped Behind Bars in a Pandemic.

Mother Jones Magazine -

Susan Farrell was 74 when she died last month at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Michigan. Ailing and often confined to a wheelchair, she succumbed to COVID-19 after spending more than 30 years behind bars for allegedly murdering a husband who, she said, had abused her. Farrell, who maintained her innocence until the end, had fought to have her life sentence commuted, but her request was denied in 2018 by former Gov. Rick Snyder.

In her final years, Farrell was “frail and disabled by years of sexual and physical abuse,” according to her clemency application. She had endured surgeries to repair the damage the violence wreaked on her body. Her poor health likely made her more susceptible to the virus.

“Had [Snyder] commuted Susan’s sentence, she would likely be alive today, in my opinion,” says Carol Jacobsen, director of the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Project, which works to free female prisoners convicted of murder for defending themselves against abusers.

“No matter what the situation was, they are labeled as a murderer, so nobody wants them to get out.”

Farrell is far from the only woman to die behind bars from the disease. There have been three other coronavirus deaths and more than 300 confirmed cases in the prison where she passed away. Michigan has some of the highest numbers of prisoner fatalities from COVID-19, according to the Marshall Project. But across the country, prisons and jails have become hotspots for infection. More than 450 prisoners have died so far, according to the UCLA Law School’s COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project.

Government officials have responded by releasing thousands of non-violent offenders, especially elderly prisoners and those with underlying medical conditions. Typical state prisons have reduced their populations by about 5 percent during the pandemic, and jails by more than 30 percent, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. High-profile convicts such as former Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti and former Trump aides Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort have won release from federal custody due to the virus.

But the focus on non-violent offenders has left behind a particularly vulnerable group of prisoners—women like Farrell who were convicted of murdering partners they say were abusive.

As of 2017, approximately 99,000 women were incarcerated in state prisons nationwide, and another 114,000 were locked in jails. The majority of female prisoners were previously abused, but there’s no precise data on the number of women who have been incarcerated for killing abusive partners, family members, or traffickers. One study, conducted by the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, found that 67 percent of women sent to prison in that state in 2005 for murdering someone close to them had been abused by the person they killed.

Many of these women are older and suffer from serious medical conditions related to years of abuse, says Sue Osthoff, director of the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women. That means they’re at risk for severe, even deadly, complications from COVID-19.

“We really have to think differently about people who have done one terrible thing in their past,” Osthoff says. “We can’t sentence those people to death—we just can’t do that—and we are.”

At least four domestic violence survivors who say they fought back against abusers sought release from prison last month but had their requests denied by a midwestern parole board, according to an attorney involved in some of the cases. The attorney requested anonymity to protect their clients’ privacy and prevent retribution. The board said in its denial letters that parole reconsideration requests had to be based on “significant new information…not considered at the time of the hearing.” The threat posed by the coronavirus was apparently not considered significant enough.

“We can’t sentence those people to death—we just can’t do that—and we are.”

In New York, at least 10 survivors of family violence who say they fought back against abusers have asked for clemency during the pandemic, according to a lawyer involved in their cases. One of those petitions describes the survivor as disabled due to injuries resulting from years of physical abuse. Six others also have underlying health conditions, potentially subjecting them to greater risks from COVID-19, the lawyer said. So far, none of the petitioners have been released.

“No matter what the situation was, they are labeled as a murderer, so nobody wants them to get out,” says Tiffanny Smith, an attorney at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center who works with incarcerated survivors of domestic violence.

But reports suggest that survivors who are imprisoned for defending themselves against abusers rarely reoffend and usually had no criminal history prior to the offense against their abusers. For that reason, Smith argues, authorities should look at the actual risk that a prisoner would pose if she were released—not just the name of the crime she was convicted of.

When women use force against their abusers, it is frequently motivated by self-defense, the need to escape abuse, or to reclaim a sense of self, according to a 2019 analysis in the journal Violence Against Women. But women who fight back often end up punished for it. Self-defense laws generally require that the threat of death or serious harm be imminent, that the fear of harm be reasonable, and that the use of force be proportional.

Myths that portray domestic violence victims as “weak, meek,” and “passive” can undermine a self-defense claim by creating credibility problems in the eyes of the courts for women who don’t fit the mold of a stereotypical victim, says Leigh Goodmark, a law professor at the University of Maryland and one of the authors of the Violence Against Women paper. These stereotypes particularly impact African-American women, trans women, and lesbians, she notes.

“When you kill your partner or when you assault your partner, you have done something that flies in the face of that narrative,” she says.

That’s what happened to Tracy Van Sickle, who was found guilty of murder in 1992 and sentenced to 15 years-to-life before having her conviction overturned on appeal. Two years later, a judge in a second trial found her guilty of voluntary manslaughter. In both cases, her arguments of self-defense were rejected, despite the fact that she presented evidence she’d been abused by the man she killed—abuse that, she testified, included threats to kill her and her family members. After serving 12 years, she was finally freed by Ohio’s parole board, which noted the “horrible sexual, physical, mental and psychological abuse” she’d experienced.

As a free woman, Van Sickle thinks of the abuse survivors who are still in prison, now living with the threat of COVID-19.

“I can’t imagine how afraid I would be to be in there,” she says. “I’m scared enough out here.”

Black People Have Suffered the Most From COVID. But They’re Still Suspicious of Vaccines.

Mother Jones Magazine -

“You really think I would be promoting something that’s going to be giving vaccines to my people?” Trayon White, a city council member in Washington, DC, wrote in a comment on his Instagram post  about the city’s initiative to hire contact tracers, officials who will locate the contacts of people in the city who test positive for COVID-19. The Black Democrat, who represents the city’s Ward 8, which has the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the city, was responding to a commenter who was urging Black people not to get vaccinated.

White has come under fire for controversial statements—like the time he claimed that Jewish people controlled the weather—but he is beloved in the ward and seen as a fighter for a section of the city plagued by poverty, neglect, and rapid gentrification. Washington City Paper requested comment on the Instagram post, but the council member did not respond to explain what he meant. But for many Black people, he didn’t need to: His words reflected their unease surrounding medical racism and the mistreatment of Black people at the hands of doctors.

This is the side of the anti-vaxx movement rarely seen but in many ways much more mainstream in the Black and Brown communities. “We know that because of the history of segregation, discrimination, and racism there are reasons [Black] people don’t trust the government,” Sandra Quinn a public health professor at University of Maryland, explains. “The government doesn’t always have their best interest at heart.” 

The anti-vaxx movement, as it’s become known, is comprised of a loose coalition of people in the United States and around the world who falsely believe that vaccines cause greater physical harm than any disease the vaccine purports to combat. They have already indicated their refusal to receive a vaccine for the novel disease should it become available. 

Another #BigFatNothingBurger pharma trying to get people to swallow.. #IDoNotConsent and neither SHOULD YOU! #VaccinesAreNotTheAnswer #PharmaIsTheVirus https://t.co/3dNICTh4Wl

— Dr Sherri Tenpenny (@BusyDrT) May 22, 2020

These generally wealthier, whiter, suburban mothers are often more concerned with some idealistic notion of “choice” and “freedom” than with the findings of public health experts. They congregate on social media sites, sharing misinformation about vaccines causing autism in children, or the body’s capacity to heal itself. Vaccines can and do have side effects, and there have been batches of vaccines that have caused health issues in the past, but public health officials largely agree that overall they are safe and save lives. In recent years, an increasing number of measles outbreaks have begun to pop up around the country, as parents resist vaccinating their children for the contagious disease, which hasn’t been eradicated but was thought to be eliminated because of widespread, mandatory vaccination programs. 

“Frankly, these Caucasian, suburban, educated parents believe they can Google the word vaccine and get as much information as anybody.”

“Frankly, these Caucasian, suburban, educated parents believe they can Google the word vaccine and get as much information as anybody,” Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia told the Philadelphia Inquirer

But COVID-19 has highlighted the presence of another subgroup within the anti-vaccine movement: Black people, whose reasons for suspicion concerning vaccinations are rooted in a complicated mix of mistrusting the federal government, the shadow of having been experimented on before, and data that shows medical racism is endemic. Black people suffering from COVID-19 have frequently been turned away at hospitals, protests to “re-open” the economy surged after more news outlets started reporting on the disproportionate harm the virus was doing to Black people, and they frequently lack access to good health care due to structural inequality.

Some on the fringes have already announced their plans. Right-wing commentators like Candace Owens and YouTube stars turned conservative darlings Diamond & Silk have already announced that when the vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available, they will refuse to get it. Allegedly, the two hosts lost their show on Fox News’ streaming platform after Diamond and Silk specifically said they were rejecting any vaccine backed by Bill Gates—who has poured $300 million into the fight against COVID-19—because they falsely claimed the billionaire philanthropist pushed for population control.

It’s unclear why Owens said she would refuse a COVID-19 vaccine, but she has tweeted in the past about her own Bill Gates’ conspiracy theories and once claimed that she had a bad reaction to the HPV vaccine. She argued that this vaccine, which protects women against some cancers caused by sexually transmitted diseases, shouldn’t be mandatory because HPV is not contagious. To be clear: HPV is contagious.

This is your daily reminder that under no circumstances will I be getting any #coronavirus vaccine that becomes available.

Ever. No matter what.

— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) April 27, 2020

The novel coronavirus has caused approximately 100,000 deaths across the United States and infected at least 1.7 million people. The disease caused states to close non-essential businesses leading to widespread job losses and economic calamity. Absent a miracle, scientists and health officials are warning that the virus will continue to spread in some capacity until an effective vaccine can be deployed around the globe. People of color have been disproportionately infected with and killed by this virus. According to data compiled and analyzed by my colleagues, Edwin Rios and Sinduja Rangarajan, in 20 of 28 states and the District of Columbia, Black people comprise a larger share of infections than their proportion of the general population.

As my colleague Jamilah King reported, it’s important that healthcare providers reckon with the legacy of racism that has left Black people skeptical of the medical community:

In response, health practitioners, particularly those who understand institutional and systemic racism to be a pre-existing condition for COVID-19, are now scrambling to fast track messaging to Black patients that doesn’t outright dismiss their concerns. I recently spoke with several doctors from across the spectrum of health care providers waging war against COVID-19 in New York City and in Georgia, where the novel coronavirus is disproportionately killing Black and Brown residents. While each suggests that it’s still too early in the pandemic to develop a complete set of hard and fast rules, or to tout specific successes, they largely agree that it’s absolutely crucial for medical personnel to acknowledge this history of racism when treating Black patients, affirming the reasons for their distrust, and then informing them with the best information available to date.

In a study Quinn did with her colleague Amelia Jamison, another public health expert at University of Maryland, and several others, one of the fault lines in the racial differences about vaccine skepticism can be found in confidence in the government. When they studied trust in different institutions including drug companies, government institutions, and healthcare providers they found stark racial differences. “Nobody trusts the pharmaceutical companies,” Jamison explains. “But white people were generally more trusting of the government.” 

In a May AP-NORC poll, 49 percent of people in the United States said they would take a COVID-19 vaccine. Thirty-one percent said they were unsure, while 20 percent said they would not take the vaccine. When broken down by race, the difference is dramatic: Fifty-six percent of whites were willing to take the vaccine but only 37 percent of Latinos and 25 percent of Blacks would do the same. 

Fifty-six percent of whites were willing to take the vaccine but only 37 percent of Latinos and 25 percent of Blacks would do the same. 

Despite the immediate public health emergency, the hesitance to take the COVID-19 vaccine may not be surprising. Along with anti-vaxxers who believe in pseudoscience, there are also legitimate concerns about the safety of a vaccine that is produced quickly. “The ongoing illness, death, and calls to socially distance will not alone change the minds of people who distrust vaccines,” Jennifer Reich, a professor of sociology at University of Colorado Denver said in a blog post. “The longer answer is more concerning: a new coronavirus vaccine and the ways government licenses, distributes, and communicates about it risk weakening support for all vaccines.”

One of the most frequent points of reference in explaining the deep and often well-founded suspicion of the medical establishment in the Black community is the 1932 Tuskegee experiment, 40-year clinical study to follow untreated syphilis in Black men. The study began in 1932 in Alabama, with 600 men—399 of them had syphilis while 201 did not. They were told they were being treated for “bad blood,” a colloquial term that encompassed a range of ailments, and were guaranteed to receive free medical treatment. In reality, the experiment’s true purpose was to study the progression of untreated syphilis. In 1972, the Associated Press published a story revealing the lack of treatment, the lack of consent, and the suffering that this community experienced from this study. After a Congressional hearing and a class action lawsuit, the men and their families were awarded millions of dollars in a settlement. But the stain remained, damaging the relationship between the African American community and health care providers. That distrust would play out during other public health crises for years to come.

While the researching the public health response to HIV/AIDS during the late 1980s, Quinn says the Black community was worried that HIV was a manmade virus created for the purposes of genocide. Some people believed it was created by the Central Intelligence Agency to kill Black people. Even though those conspiracy theories about HIV/AIDS have less currency today, when the disease first emerged, rumors about the origin were widespread. 

In 2001, postal workers at the Brentwood Post Office and US Senate staffers in Washington, DC were exposed to anthrax after a terrorist mailed the harmful substance to US Senators. The vast majority of the postal workers were Black, while the Senate staffers were predominantly white. Following their diagnoses, both groups of employees deemed at higher risk were given antibiotics for 60 days. At the end of the 60 days, doctors recommended extending the antibiotic usage for another 40 days or receive a vaccine. Thirty-eight percent of the Senate workers and only 2 percent of the Brentwood workers chose the vaccine. Four years later, the American Journal of Public Health conducted a focus group of those same employees. Many of the Brentwood group were worried they were being used as guinea pigs and didn’t necessarily trust the vaccine because it was “experimental.”

“The fears are always there, but they’re often raised from within the community. Now, they’re seized upon in social media and used to sow distrust and doubts about the vaccine.”

The 2020 pandemic is unmatched in severity or scope, but the emerging conspiracy theories that have taken hold in the Black community feel familiar. Several have been making the rounds on social media, including that the virus is caused by 5G cell towers, and the vaccine (which has yet to be developed) will inject a tracking device inside of you. “The fears are always there, but they’re often raised from within the community,” Quinn says. “Now, they’re seized upon in social media and used to sow distrust and doubts about the vaccine.” It doesn’t help that the president has not disavowed the message from vaccine skeptics. After Diamond & Silk lost their show for promoting conspiracy theories around the virus and potential vaccines, the president tweeted praise for them. 

Earlier this month, Trump announced Operation Warp Speed, a project to develop a vaccine at record speed in order to accelerate reopening businesses, schools, and returning to a normal life. According to polling data, the majority of the American public disapproves of the job the federal government is doing, making it a challenge to convince skeptics that a vaccine produced at record speed would be totally safe. In countries thought to have done a better job handling the pandemic, like South Korea and New Zealand, trust in the top level government officials is considered to have played a key role in containing the severity of the spread. In order to implement an effective national testing, contact tracing, and isolation strategy, Americans would have to put their trust in a government that has not inspired much of it. “The problem is that all the major scenarios for reopening the US economy are premised on trust,” Foreign Policy reported in April. “Will Americans really trust an entity—whether government, business, or nonprofit organizations—that compiles and tracks such personal data?”

Problems of trust in government aren’t unique to Trump. In 2009, the swine flu vaccine was considered an emergency vaccine because it had been quickly produced. Quinn studied the willingness to take an “emergency” vaccine among all the racial groups. Black people were more likely than any others to be skeptical of it. 

Whatever the troubling history, it’s critical that the Black community take the vaccine when it is finally available. Not only are they more susceptible to the virus because of long-standing structural racism that has left them with a disproportionate share of underlying health conditions, they are also more likely to be employed in jobs that require constant contact with other people like transit workers, delivery drivers, and mail carriers. “Who’s most at risk?” Quinn explains. “We definitely need African Americans to get it. It’ll be devastating if they don’t.”

Trump’s War on Arms Control and Disarmament

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A successor to the Trump administration will have to rebuild the credibility of the Department of Justice and the effectiveness of such regulatory agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Finance Protection Agency.  It will have to rebuild the intelligence community, which has been heavily politicized, and the Department of State, which has been hallowed out.  Now, you can add the field of arms control and disarmament to the list of reclamation projects because of the hostile and counterproductive acts of the Trump administration.

Every U.S. president since Dwight David Eisenhower has understood the importance of arms control and disarmament, which serves to highlight the ignorance and inexperience of Donald Trump and his key advisers regarding disarmament issues.  Over the past two years, the Trump administration has scuttled the Iran nuclear accord, which brought a measure of predictability to the volatile Middle East, and the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which destroyed more missiles that any treaty in history.  Now, the Trump administration has walked away from the Open Skies Treaty, which was particularly important to the Baltic states and the East Europeans for monitoring Russian troop movements on their borders.

The treaty itself was first suggested by President Eisenhower in the 1950s as a way to improve the strategic dialogue between the United States and the Soviet Union.  It was ultimately negotiated by President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The Trump administration’s claim that the treaty permits surveys of civilian targets in the United States that pose “an unacceptable risk to our national security” is particularly ludicrous.  Information on U.S. infrastructure is publicly available to anyone from Google Earth as well as commercial imagery.

The U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty is particularly important as it constitutes another gratuitous setback to the transatlantic security dialogue and as a signal that the United States has no interest in any disarmament dialogue with Russia, including the need for extending the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START), the last remaining arms control agreement with Russia.  The New START limits the United States and Russia to 1,550 deployed nuclear missiles each, but the Obama administration had to bow to Republicans to accept a $1.7 trillion nuclear modernization program in order to support the treaty.  And such neoconservatives as Senators Ted Cruz (R/TX) and Tom Cotton (R/AK) are supportive of the Trump administration’s commitment to long-term nuclear modernization that has no place for arms control measures.

For the past several years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has tried to engage the United States in an arms control dialogue to include a pledge to no-first-use of nuclear weapons; no militarization of outer space; and the creation of nuclear-free zones.  The Trump administration has turned its back on all of the Russian initiatives, and the recent creation of a Space Force is one more deterrent to a conciliatory dialogue.  Such a dialogue was the central key to improving relations between Washington and Moscow during the worst days of the Cold War.

Meanwhile, opeds in the New York Times and the Washington Post have defended the Trump administration’s latest salvo against arms control and disarmament, and even suggested that withdrawal from the Open Skies agreement is a “hopeful” sign for Russian-American relations.  Writing in the Post on May 22, David Ignatius, who typically supports administration positions on defense policy, argues that Trump himself favors “more engagement” with Moscow and that the withdrawal from the international treaty is in fact a “tactical tilt toward Russia.”  Ignatius bases that view on the expectation that Trump really wants to draw the Chinese into the disarmament dialogue and, furthermore, that Russia shares that goal.  It is far more likely, in my estimation, that Beijing currently has no interest in being drawn into a three-way dialogue on arms control and that U.S. emphasis on including China in any new strategic arms treaty is in fact a “poison pill” to kill the current strategic arms agreement that expires this winter.

The Times oped, moreover, would have you believe that so-called Russian abuses of the Open Skies accord are actually undermining American security.  Tim Morrison, a Russian hard-liner who formerly served on Trump’s National Security Council, argues that Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its “invasion” of Syria justify scuttling an agreement that didn’t provide advance warning of such “military adventures.”  He fails to mention that satellites designed to provide such intelligence are not affected by the Open Skies Treaty.  Morrison fails to mention that the real value of the treaty was providing assurance to our European NATO allies regarding Russian troop movements on their borders.  (Morrison also should have mentioned that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad invited the Soviet deployment, which hardly counts as an “invasion.”

President John F. Kennedy ignored the Pentagon’s opposition to the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963, and even President Ronald Reagan ignored the opposition of Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger and Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle to complete the INF Treaty in 1987.  There are no genuine arms control specialists in the Trump administration, which is staffed by loyalists and anti-Russian hardliners such as Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and the newly appointed arms negotiator Marshall Billingslea.  Once upon a time, the United States had an Arms Control and Disarmament Agency that served as a lobby for disarmament, but President Bill Clinton bowed to right-wing pressure in 1997 and killed the independence of the agency by folding it into the Department of State.  Thus, the rebuilding task for U.S. national security policy will be difficult and time-consuming.

 

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