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Welcoming Russians Who Refuse to Fight

Counterpunch Articles -

The sudden mass exodus last week of Russian men fleeing military service is a positive development. It is a sign of shifting political momentum in Russian society against the war. So why have Finland and other European governments barred Russians from entering as tourists, which is the quickest and easiest way to escape the war? More

The post Welcoming Russians Who Refuse to Fight appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Global South’s Revolt against Biden’s Russia Policy

AntiWar.com News -

President Biden’s boast shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that the world stood united against Moscow’s aggression is increasingly detached from reality. Indeed, it has reached the point of deserving mockery. Walter Russell Mead, a scholar at the Hudson Institute, provided a devastating, early assessment of how Washington’s effort to isolate Russia was failing. "The … Continue reading "The Global South’s Revolt against Biden’s Russia Policy"

The post The Global South’s Revolt against Biden’s Russia Policy appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

A Message from Professor Noam Chomsky

AntiWar.com News -

Dear Antiwar.com Reader, Given the state of world affairs today, I am sure you are as concerned as I am about the prospects for peace in our time. With Russia escalating its invasion of Ukraine to dangerous heights, the US undermining the prospects for diplomatic settlement by insisting on a war to weaken Russia, the … Continue reading "A Message from Professor Noam Chomsky"

The post A Message from Professor Noam Chomsky appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Alabama Wants to Pervert the 14th Amendment to Gut Voting Rights. So Justice Jackson Took Them Back to History Class.

Mother Jones Magazine -

The Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority often rely on “originalism,” professing to apply the Constitution as they believe the founders intended—and did so last term to issue rulings eroding Americans’ rights to abortion and gun control. On Tuesday, during her second day of arguments as a Supreme Court justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson applied this same originalist approach in an area where her conservative colleagues avoid it. In a case out of Alabama that threatens to gut critical protections for voters of color, she delivered a history lesson on the original purpose of the 14th Amendment—laying out the background behind the clause to explain why it actually supports robust enforcement of voting rights.

In oral arguments in a case called Merrill v. Milligan, Alabama argued that the 14th Amendment, passed in 1868 to ensure citizenship and equality under the law for people freed from slavery, is in conflict with the Voting Rights Act, which requires drawing political maps with race in mind, in order to give minority groups often clustered in particular regions an equal shot at political participation.

Alabama’s contention is that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment is in tension with this element of the Voting Rights Act: The 14th Amendment mandates race blindness while the VRA requires taking race into account. As Justice Amy Coney Barrett said in summarizing Alabama’s arguments, the 14th Amendment is a rock, the VRA is a hard place, and Alabama is caught in between. This contention is a key one that Alabama is relying on to bring a case that could force the country to essentially abandon the VRA, one of its best tools to fight discrimination and facilitate political equality. 

Enter Justice Jackson. She countered Alabama’s arguments by explaining why the 14th Amendment and the VRA are not in conflict—thanks to originalism. “I don’t think that the historical record establishes that the Founders believed that race neutrality or race blindness was required,” she said. The 1866 Civil Rights Act said that Black citizens would have the same rights as white citizens. The 14th Amendment helped to make that a more permanent reality—but enshrining equality among races is not the same thing as mandating blindness to race. The amendment “was drafted to give a constitutional foundation for a piece of legislation that was designed to make people who had less rights and less opportunity equal to white citizens.” The Voting Rights Act, she continued, is doing exactly that. 

Alabama wants to pervert the 14th Amendment to gut voting rights. So Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson decided to give them a much-needed history lesson. (As it turns out, originalism isn't just for conservatives.) pic.twitter.com/1y3hgpGyjx

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) October 4, 2022


Justice Jackson’s progressive originalism mirrors the objections of Justice Thurgood Marshall more than four decades ago to the idea that the 14th Amendment, enacted to lift up Black people, was in fact a constitutional impediment to doing so. “Such a result,” Marshall wrote in the affirmative action case known as Bakke, “would pervert the intent of the Framers by substituting abstract equality for the genuine equality the Amendment was intended to achieve.”

This abstract equality is, of course, inequality. In this case, so-called race neutrality would disempower Black Alabamians in the political process to the advantage of white Alabamians. It has been a project of the political right for decades to use the 14th Amendment to uproot remedies for racial discrimination in the name of “equal” treatment for all. Tuesday’s case is the latest to ask the court to wield the 14th Amendment as a sword against such remedies, and now the court has a 6-3 conservative majority that is sympathetic to this argument. Justice Jackson, newly installed, is calling it out.

How Giorgia Meloni’s Win in Italy Helps Us Understand a US Senate Race

Mother Jones Magazine -

Editor’s note: This column by David Corn first appeared in his newsletter, Our Land. But we wanted to make sure as many readers as possible have a chance to see it. Our Land is written by David twice a week (most of the time) and provides behind-the-scenes stories about politics and media; his unvarnished take on the events of the day; film, book, television, podcast, and music recommendations; interactive audience features; and more. Subscribing costs just $5 a month—but you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Our Land here. Please check it out. And please also check out David’s new New York Times bestseller: American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy.

When a coalition led by Mussolini fangirl Giorgia Meloni won the Italian election a few days ago and placed her on the path to becoming that nation’s first fascist-esque prime minister since Il Duce, I, like many other journalists, quickly engaged in tutorials on her rise to power. One especially frightening data point was a speech she had given outlining her conspiratorial view of the world. It’s worth quoting at length:

Why is the family an enemy? Why is the family so frightening? There is a single answer to all these questions. Because it defines us. Because it defines our identity. Because everything that defines us is now an enemy. For those who would like us to no longer have an identity and to simply be perfect consumer slaves. And so they attack national identity. They attack religious identity. They attack gender identity. They attack family identity. I can’t define myself as Italian, Christian, woman, mother. No, I must be citizen X, gender X, parent 1, parent 2. I must be a number. Because when I am only a number, when I no longer have an identity or roots, then I will be the perfect slave at the mercy of financial speculators. The perfect consumer. That’s the reason why, that’s why we inspire so much fear… We will defend God, country, and family. This thing that disgusts people so much. We will do it to defend our freedom. Because we will never be slaves and simple consumers at the mercy of financial speculators. That is our mission.

The new Prime Minister of Italy.

Wow. pic.twitter.com/fkKTM8I9Fs

— Aaron Ginn (@aginnt) September 26, 2022

Meloni was saying that “financial speculators” were in league with woke activists to turn god-fearing Christian Italians into “consumer slaves.” Historian Michael Beschloss noted that “Mussolini enjoyed publicly referring to Jewish people as ‘financial speculators’ who needed to be controlled.” What makes this odious reference even more alarming is Meloni’s comment in another setting: “After our victory, you can raise your heads and finally verbalize what you always thought/believe in.” In her antisemitism-tainted speech, she was blending culture wars over identity with paranoia-driven, elites-bashing populism. This is nasty and dangerous stuff, especially given her party’s fascist roots and her explicit past enthusiasm for Mussolini.

As I read and pondered her mission statement, it rang a bell, and I recalled another politician who has been trying to conflate an economic populism of the right with culture battles over race and national identity: J.D. Vance, the author and venture capitalists who is the Republican Senate nominee in Ohio. He and Blake Masters, the GOP Senate candidate in Arizona, are both acolytes of tech billionaire Peter Thiel, an advocate of a bizarre blend of libertarian and nationalist notions. Thiel has committed tens of millions of dollars to supporting their campaigns. And this whole lot has been attempting to steer the Republican Party in an alt-rightish direction that in some instances seems friendly to authoritarianism. Seeking to understand this slice of the conservative movement, I’ve been scrutinizing Vance interviews, including a chat he had with conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham in the summer of 2021. Asked to explain Trump voters, Vance said:

What they were seeing happening was that on the one hand their communities were being decimated. They were closing manufacturing jobs. They were watching the rise of China, even as their own community declined. But on the flip side, this incredible political correctness was making it impossible to complain about it, right? If you complain about the southern border, you’re a racist. If you complain about our trade policies, you’re an idiot. If you complain about the fact that they’re teaching anti-American hate in our schools, then you’re a racist. And I think that people just got a little fed up that the country that their grandparents and parents had built was going to hell, and they weren’t allowed to say anything about it. And I think that’s really the underlying theme of [my] campaign. If we are to stop the economic plunder of this country on the one hand and if we’re going to stop the elites in this country telling you you’re not allowed to complain about it on the other.

This is rather deft demagoguery. Vance was contending that the elite plunderers were scheming with the woke crowd to shut up Middle America. With a veiled reference to critical race theory or perhaps the 1619 Project, he accused these connivers of using accusations of racism to stop folks—white folks—from complaining about the economic hardships they face. There was, in his view, no legitimate debate about race and America. Instead, unnamed fat cats assailed good ol’ patriotic Americans as racists in order to preserve their riches and to suppress these white Americans.

Cunningham cited Vance’s previous remark that CRT “is fundamentally an assault on the American founding and the people who founded the country and all the things that America has accomplished between the founding of the country and today. The left undermines America’s pride in their ancestry and history, their cross-generational story.” And Vance went on to insist that the left slyly deploys CRT and the issue of race to control decent Americans:

American patriotism is what gives us a pride of place in our own country. It’s what gives us this feeling that we belong to this country, that this country belongs to us, and that we have to build on it… And I think when the left attacks that and says, “Look this is an evil country, the founding generation were all white supremacists,” that racism is the foundational lie at the heart of America, what they’re doing is taking away that sense of pride of place that makes it possible for us to self-govern ourselves. Really what they’re doing, I think, is making us easier to control because the people who have no sense of where it came from have no sense of where it’s going. And that’s what the left is trying to do—turn us into a people that have no idea of what we’re here for or what we’re trying to accomplish.

The left, he claims, is trying to wipe out American patriotism and identity to oppress true-blue Americans. This is close to the conspiracy theory Meloni described: “financial speculators” and cultural leftists seeking to enslave Italians.

Vance spelled it out further, maintaining that the notion of white privilege “is a lie used to silence” his Americans:

Here’s what the elites do. When they say that those people are white privileged, they shut them up. Look, you’re unhappy about your job being shipped overseas? You’re worried that a lawless southern border is going to cause the same poison that killed your daughter to also affect your grandbaby? Don’t you dare complain about that stuff. You are white privileged. You suffer from white rage. You suffer from whatever ridiculous terminology you can apply. So I don’t think even they believe that. What they do is use it as a power play so they can get us to shut up. So they can get us to stop complaining about our own country. And they get to run things without any control, without any pushback form the real people.

This is a noxious formulation. Liberals and elites are cynically utilizing anti-racism to block real Americans from protesting the plunder of America by corrupt monied interests. What he would call political correctness is a cover for class warfare waged by the libs and the elites against the white middle class. Vance is melding the right’s crusade against wokeness with economic resentment, as he attacks nefarious enemies without identifying them. Who are the sinister players knowingly hurling false charges of American racism to prevent folks from questioning economic policies that have led to deindustrialization? Of course, Vance doesn’t say.

It’s intriguing to watch Vance, as a Republican, try to cash in politically on economic dislocation. The deindustrialization he bemoans traces back to the Reagan administration. And it is President Joe Biden and the Democrats who have attempted to assist the hollowed-out Midwest by passing a massive infrastructure bill and an economic package that will fund billions of dollars in energy projects throughout this region. Trump and the GOP did nothing like this when they had the chance. (How many infrastructure weeks were there?)

Vance, who has been endorsed by Donald Trump, is marrying legitimate and deep-rooted economic grievances with visceral cultural resentments, while much of his party tends to devote more energy to the latter than the former. There are many reasons why Americans ought to pay attention to the rise of fascism and right-wing extremism in Europe. One is to help us see what is happening within our own country. Now I’m not suggesting that Vance is a fascist like Meloni. But he certainly is playing with the same fire.

The Supreme Court’s Conservative Majority Wants to Gut the Voting Rights Act—Again

Mother Jones Magazine -

“Violations of the [Voting Rights Act] should not be made too easy to prove,” a young John Roberts wrote when he worked in the Reagan administration in 1982, “since they provide a basis for the most intrusive interference imaginable by federal courts into state and local processes.”

Forty years later, the court’s conservative majority seems set to complete Roberts’ crusade against the country’s most important civil rights law, severely weakening it from every angle.

In 2013, the Roberts Court ruled that states with a long history of discrimination no longer needed to have changes to their voting laws and electoral boundaries approved by the federal government, which opened the floodgates to a wave of new voter suppression efforts. Eight years later, the court made it far more difficult to strike down laws that disadvantage minority voters.

On Tuesday, the court heard a new challenge to the federal Voting Rights Act from Alabama—where civil rights protests in the 1960s inspired passage of the law—that could lead to a huge rollback in representation for communities of color.

Alabama has a Black population of 27 percent, but just one of the state’s seven congressional districts are reasonably likely to elect a candidate favored by Black voters. Civil rights groups sued during the most recent redistricting cycle and said the failure of the state to draw a second majority-Black district violated the VRA. A three-judge panel that included two appointees of Donald Trump agreed, writing that “Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress.”

But in a 5-4 shadow docket opinion last February, the Supreme Court reinstated Alabama’s original redistricting plan for the midterms.

Now, in Merrill v. Mulligan, the justices appear poised to go further. The court has already refused to strike down partisan gerrymandering; it could soon super-charge racial gerrymandering.

Alabama argued before the Court Tuesday that any consideration of race when drawing new districts was itself discriminatory, which would turn the Voting Rights Act on its head. If the Court’s conservative majority adopts this “race-blind” reasoning, it would reverse the very purpose of the law—to eradicate decades of discrimination against Black Americans and other historically disenfranchised minority groups—and stunt representation for communities of color as the US heads toward a majority-minority future. 

“The benchmark you proposed has never been recognized by this court,” Justice Elena Kagan told Alabama Solicitor General Edmund LaCour. She said that the case made by civil rights groups was “kind of a slam dunk” under prior Supreme Court precedents. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, in her first week of oral arguments on the court, noted that it was profoundly ahistorical to read the Constitution and the country’s civil rights laws without taking race into account. “The entire point of the [14th] amendment was to secure rights for the freed former slaves,” she said.

Justice Jackson tells the Alabama solicitor general that the Framers of the 14th Amendment did NOT intend it to be “race neutral or race blind,” so taking race into account to protect minority voting rights is perfectly constitutional. Progressive originalism at work. pic.twitter.com/aCXAq2CnJu

— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) October 4, 2022

Justice Samuel Alito—one of the court’s most conservative members—called some of Alabama’s arguments “quite far-reaching” but tried to narrow the case to essentially help the state win. “Your least far-reaching argument,” Alito suggested, is that the VRA “requires the showing that there can be a reasonably configured majority-minority district. It’s not just any old majority-minority district, it has to be reasonably configured. And reasonably configured means something more than just compact, it means a district that is the type of district that would be drawn by an unbiased mapmaker.”

As UCLA law professor Rick Hasen tweeted, the goal of Alito and some of the other conservative justices, including Brett Kavanaugh, seems to be to reshape the VRA to make it harder for minority voters to win racial gerrymandering cases—without making it seem like they are rewriting law. 

The case has ramifications far beyond Alabama. As a result of the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, the 2021 redistricting cycle was the first in 50 years where states with a history of discrimination no longer needed to have federal  officials sign off on their redistricting maps. That led to a dramatic reversal in past advances for minority voters in states across the South, with Republican-controlled states either failing to draw new majority-minority districts to keep pace with demographic changes or even dismantling existing ones, which had long thought to be illegal under the VRA. As a consequence, the number of majority-Black congressional districts could fall from 22 today to as few as nine after the 2022 midterms.

During its last term, the Supreme Court said that issues like abortion should be decided by “the people’s elected representatives” in the states. But by systematically undercutting efforts to make American democracy fairer and more just, the Supreme Court has made the divide between the people and their elected representatives ever greater.  

90% of The World Doesn’t Back The US Right Now

Mint Press News -

The Most Censored News with Lee Camp hosted by comedian/ writer/ raconteur/ provocateur/ saboteur Lee Camp is a twice-weekly look at the most censored stories within corporate media hosted by the new video platform Behind the Headlines – a MintPress video project that is 100% viewer supported. 

Camp both brings to light stories that are (intentionally) ignored by the corporate media and digs deeper when the mainstream media only reports on the surface-layer reality. Having been a professional stand-up comic for 20 years, a writer for The Onion, and the host/head writer of Redacted Tonight, Camp is also uniquely suited to bring humor to these topics.

Joe Biden and our government will tell you the world is united in pushing for a continued proxy war in Ukraine. It’s the whole world vs. Russia, right?

Yes, except for 90 percent of said world. As Newsweek published just last week, “Nearly 90 Percent of the World Isn’t Following Us on Ukraine.”

That op-ed was written by two ex-U.S. diplomats, reports Ben Norton of Multipolarista. They “admitted 87% of the world’s population refuses to enforce the West’s sanctions on Russia, showing neutrality over the proxy war in Ukraine.”

This neutrality doesn’t mean that 87% of the world’s population loves the Russian invasion. But it does mean they live in countries that are staying out of this proxy war. They don’t view the U.S. as the moral arbiter of world events. Perhaps it’s because together our past two presidents have had 30 rape and sexual assault allegations against them. Which I’d say is too many.

Or maybe 90 percent of the world doesn’t trust us on moral issues because, as reported in Multipolarista, the “U.S. [has] launched 251 military interventions since 1991, and 469 since 1798.”

You’re probably thinking, “251 military interventions since 1991?? That sounds INSANE! Where are you gettin’ that information from, Lee? Things-I-Made-Up-Dot-Com?”

Norton continues, “This is according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, a U.S. government institution that compiles information on behalf of Congress.”

So the U.S. government has just admitted they have been militarily involved 251 times since MC Hammer put out Too Legit to Quit! I don’t think the two are connected, though.

But basically, the U.S. government is filled with homicidal maniacs with crazy eyes like that guy who led the Heaven’s Gate Cult, and apparently, almost 90 percent of the world knows that.

Even The Wall Street Journal, a right-wing propaganda outlet for the empire, acknowledged these inconvenient facts in a report in April titled, “Anti-Russia Alliance Is Missing a Big Bloc: The Developing World.” Apparently, the Wall Street Journal views 90 percent of the globe’s population as the “developing world.”

So, what can the U.S. do about this? Well, one tactic would be to stop funding and arming Nazis, and you know, let actual peace talks happen between Ukraine and Russia rather than ensuring this horrific fighting continues forever. But we’d never do that. We’d sooner have a nude tickle fight with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Another way to deal with the “developing world” not supporting you is to join the developing world. No, seriously, the U.S. has essentially sunk to the level of a “developing” nation in the global rankings. As reported by Kathleen Frydl in Popular Resistance, “the United Nations Office of Sustainable Development dropped the U.S. to 41st worldwide, down from its previous ranking of 32nd. …the U.S. ranks between Cuba and Bulgaria. Both are widely regarded as developing countries.”

Wow! We have gone from the most developed country in the world back down to a farm team!

Watch the full report above.

Lee Camp is an American stand-up comedian, writer, actor and activist. Camp is the host of Behind The Headlines’ new series: The Most Censored News With Lee Camp. He is a former comedy writer for the Onion and the Huffington Post and has been a touring stand-up comic for 20 years.

The post 90% of The World Doesn’t Back The US Right Now appeared first on MintPress News.

How Elaine Massacre of 1919 Influenced Richard Wright, Acclaimed Author of "Black Boy" & "Native Son"

Democracy Now! -

This weekend marked the 103rd anniversary of the 1919 Elaine massacre, one of the deadliest episodes of racial violence in U.S. history. The violence started on September 30, 1919, when guards stopped two white men from breaking into a meeting between Black sharecroppers in Elaine, Arkansas, who were organizing to demand fair payments for their crops. After an exchange of gunfire, a white man was killed. White mobs, backed by the U.S. military, responded with three days of anti-Black violence, indiscriminately killing hundreds of Black people under the false claim of stopping a Black insurrection. Much of the Black farmers’ land was stolen as a result. We speak to Julia Wright, daughter of the acclaimed Black author Richard Wright, who called Elaine home and wrote about his great-uncle Silas Hoskins’s lynching in Elaine three years prior in 1916. Wright says she saw the lynching in a new light after the murder of George Floyd. “Two lynchings separated by so many years and yet so similar,” says Wright. We also speak with Paul Ortiz, historian at the University of Florida, who recalls the nationwide crusade, which included journalist Ida B. Wells, to seek justice for the Black farmers who remained and were taken into custody after the massacre, and ultimately won their freedom.

"​​A Complex and Devastating Crisis": Burkina Faso Sees Second Military Coup This Year

Democracy Now! -

The western African nation of Burkina Faso is facing its second military coup in eight months. After a day of gunfire rang out Friday in the capital Ouagadougou, Captain Ibrahim Traoré announced on public television that he had replaced Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba as president. Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch, says Damiba’s inability to improve security in the face of an Islamist insurgency was “the primary reason for the coup d’état.” We also speak with Aziz Fall, coordinator for Justice for Sankara, an international campaign dedicated to uncovering the truth behind the 1987 assassination of Burkina Faso leader Thomas Sankara. He says the legacy of U.S. military intervention and French colonialism has led to instability in the region. “People are outraged with the role of France but also the role of the United States,” says Fall.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson Makes History; SCOTUS Poised to Roll Back Voting Rights & Affirmative Action

Democracy Now! -

As public support of the conservative-dominated Supreme Court falls to a record low, justices are set to hear major cases on affirmative action, voting rights and online speech. The court opened its term Monday with new Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson becoming the first Black woman in U.S. history to hear a Supreme Court case. Although Jackson is a welcome progressive voice on the bench, “all she’ll be able to do is to highlight the extremism of the conservative majority voting bloc on the Supreme Court,” says The Nation’s legal correspondent Elie Mystal. He adds that the term ahead includes challenges to Native American sovereignty, voting rights, LGBT rights and more.

Headlines for October 4, 2022

Democracy Now! -

Los Angeles Water District Is Forcing Its Celebrities to Conserve

Mother Jones Magazine -

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

Los Angeles is living through a historic drought, but that hasn’t stopped some of its most famous residents from keeping their mega mansion lawns and ornate gardens well watered. In response, local authorities have turned to a surprisingly simple trick for keeping the wealthiest in check.

That solution is a tiny metal disc known as a “flow restrictor.” The restrictor can be installed in minutes over the pipes of chronic wasters, dramatically slowing down a home’s water flow.

Restrictors have already been placed on homes owned by multiple celebrities—including comedian Kevin Hart, rapper The Game, and Kourtney Kardashian’s ex, Scott Disick, according to water district records reviewed by the Guardian. Other famous names could be next. Addresses linked to Kim Kardashian, Sylvester Stallone, and Madonna have all been included on lists of violators who were eligible for flow restrictors.

For water authorities, it’s an experiment in holding the super-rich accountable to the same standards as everyone else. “We have taken a very firm position on being equal. It doesn’t matter who you are, how much money you make, how well known you are: all of you are being treated the same,” said Mike McNutt, a spokesperson for the Las Virgenes water district, which serves areas like Calabasas and Hidden Hills that are popular with celebrities.

With a restrictor, “you have to be really water conscious” because “you can’t use two things at the same time.”

As California’s decades-long megadrought deepened this year, water authorities across the state have issued mandatory cutbacks, enforceable with fines. But the Las Virgenes water district had a particular challenge, McNutt said: Their customers are so rich that monetary penalties are unlikely to change their behavior, even as the district mandated a 50 percent reduction in outdoor watering.

So Cason Gilmer, 36, the district’s senior field customer service representative, headed to the water district’s workshop, and started tinkering around with a mechanical solution. The result was the small yet mighty flow restrictor, a disc made out of food-safe stainless steel with a tiny hole at the center. It has the power to limit water flow so sharply that it’s difficult to shower and wash dishes at the same time, while outdoor lawn watering becomes impossible.

Popping a flow restrictor into the water pipe outside a customer’s residence takes only about 10 minutes, and the district adds a seal and a sign warning of a $2,500 fine if the device is tampered with, McNutt said.

Gilmer says he initially tested the device on his own house and it worked just as he’d hoped. The sinks and toilets “worked fine,” the shower operated at about 60 percent of normal volume, but “you have to be really water conscious” because “you can’t use two things at the same time.”

For the most part, customers, even celebrities, have been reasonable, Gilmer said, and not thrown fits when presented with the risk of having their water flow slowed to a trickle.

The lawn around Kourtney Kardashian’s pool in Calabasas had gone brown by September, suggesting that the reality star’s household had made changes after making it onto the long list of customers eligible for a flow restrictor, CBS News Los Angeles reported. In contrast, the lawn outside Kim Kardashian’s mansion was still “a perfectly-manicured green,” the TV station reported.

Scott Disick, Kardashian’s ex, did not avoid a flow restrictor at his Hidden Hills mansion, according to public records. In late July, the water district installed a flow restrictor at his mansion for two weeks. Water district records note that someone at Disick’s house “refused” to sign the commitment form that allows customers to avoid a flow restrictor by pledging to reduce water use. Representatives for Disick, the Kardashians, Hart. and the Game did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A Hidden Hills mansion reportedly owned by Madonna, which is currently on the market for nearly $26 million, narrowly avoided a flow restrictor installation in July, after documenting to water district officials that a leak at the property had been repaired. Representatives for Madonna and the real estate agent did not respond to requests for comment.

A handful of celebrities, including environmentalist Erin Brockovich and former NBA star Dwyane Wade, have made public statements about what they’re doing to use less water after being featured in local news segments about boldface names violating drought restrictions.

Others have pushed back: A representative for Sylvester Stallone said in a statement that the film star is trying to keep more than 500 mature trees on his property alive, and that he has taken other measures to reduce water use, and is working with the water district to resolve the situation.

 A residence becomes eligible for a restrictor when it has exceeded its water limit by 150 percent at least four times since December 2021. But while more than 1,600 customers in the district have met this criteria, McNutt said, they have actually installed the device very sparingly—just six or seven dozen installations through early September.

The device is only in place for two weeks, and the water district is not allowed to cut off access to potable water for health reasons, McNutt said. So far, they said, the tactic has faced no legal challenges.

Before their water use is cut, customers have multiple opportunities to talk to water district officials and change their ways. Even signing a letter of intent to meet conservation goals is enough to avoid a flow restrictor, though the district will continue to check to see that customers comply, McNutt said.

McNutt and Gilmer believe that the flow restrictor is already having a massive deterrent effect. Driving around the district earlier in the summer, they used to see lots of green lawns, despite the outdoor watering limits. By August, lawns were looking browner. News crews who want to do a ride along with water district employees as they searched for drought flouters have ended up disappointed, with few if any rule-breakers to be seen, McNutt said. Some households have even taken to spray-painting their lawns green as a way to reduce water use, he and Gilmer said.

As far as they know, Las Virgenes is the only water district in California that uses flow restrictors, but their unique approach is drawing national interest. They’ve been fielding inquiries from Texas and Florida, as well as other California water districts. Gilmer said it’s similar to devices used to slow water flow in agriculture, but that there’s nothing exactly like it, and he’s exploring getting a patent.

McNutt said he wished more American celebrities would use their own skills to focus on the water crisis: “I am asking any celebrity, any of them, to step up and use their platforms to talk about water conservation, to talk about climate change.”

Ron DeSantis’ Relentless War on Trans Kids Hits a New Low

Mother Jones Magazine -

When Emile Fox learned that the Florida Board of Medicine, the rule-making body for doctors in his state, was considering banning transgender medical care for youth, he thought about his own transition. Fox, a 27-year-old barista in Orlando, says he had suffered serious mental health problems throughout his teen years and into young adulthood. But once he came out as trans in his mid-20s, he experienced what he calls “that click.” Soon, under the supervision of a physician, he began a course of testosterone; when he heard his voice drop, he remembers thinking, “I didn’t realize I was missing.”

He often wondered how much anguish he might have saved had if he had transitioned at a younger age. But the proposed medical board rule would wipe out that option for Florida’s trans youth—and any doctors who helped them would risk losing their licenses. So in August, Fox traveled to Fort Lauderdale to plead with the board to preserve gender-affirming care for Florida’s teens. “I don’t think it’s the state of being transgender that causes mental illness—I believe it’s the general lack of support, social acceptance, and medical treatment,” Fox told the board, his voice tight with nerves, in a crowded conference room evenly divided between supporters and opponents. “Transgender people thrive and live healthier lives when they receive gender-affirming care. I’m proof of this.”

That day, the Florida board voted to move forward with crafting state rules for the treatment of gender dysphoria in youth—which can include puberty blockers for pubescent children; hormone therapy for adolescents; and, infrequently, gender-confirming surgeries. (Such surgeries almost exclusively limited to “top surgeries,” like breast reduction, for older teens.) The text of Florida’s forthcoming rules has yet been made public, but LGBTQ advocates are bracing for the board to pass a proposal in the coming weeks. If they ban gender-affirming care for youth outright, as the state surgeon general has asked them to do, it would be the first trans health care ban in the country to come from a state medical board. “It’s shocking that a state board of medicine would propose banning care for youth that is medically necessary and age appropriate, and is supported by every major medical association in the United States,” says Sarah Warbelow, legal director for Human Rights Campaign

If they choose to ban care for kids outright, it would be the first trans health care ban in the country to come from a state medical board.

After years of bathroom bills and attempts to ban trans girls from school sports, a flurry of Republican legislation is now going after trans kids’ health care, with Republican lawmakers in four states passing bills banning gender-affirming medical care for minors over the last two years. Similar legislation have been introduced in some 20 other states and in Congress, where far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia is championing a bill that would make providing such care punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Judges have so far blocked the widest-reaching laws, in Alabama and Arkansas. But in late September, the Oklahoma legislature passed its own version of a blanket ban, preventing hospitals from accessing federal relief money unless they agree not to provide minors with gender-affirming medical treatments.

In Florida, lawmakers have rejected a gender-affirming care ban every year since 2020. That’s a problem for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who spent much of the last year making political hay off laws that target LGBTQ kids. In recent months, DeSantis—who is widely believed to be preparing a presidential run—has ramped up the anti-trans rhetoric in an apparent appeal to his party’s base, with its mix of traditional religious conservatives and culture warriors concerned about “woke ideology.” In fundraising messages this cycle, the governor has repeatedly blustered that kindergarteners were being “indoctrinated with transgenderism”; in public appearances, he has falsely claimed that surgeons were operating on young children. “When they say ‘gender-affirming care,’ what they mean a lot of the times is you’re castrating a young boy, you’re sterilizing a young girl, you’re doing mastectomies for these very young girls,” DeSantis lied to a right-wing podcast host in May. “I’m fighting to protect our children,” the governor promised in an email to supporters later that month. At an August press conference, he added an applause-drawing, headline-grabbing line: “I think these doctors need to get sued for what’s happening.”

So to carry out his agenda on transgender health care, the governor has needed to go around lawmakers and take a unique line of attack: Weaponizing state agencies, including the medical board, to do the dirty work for him.

The opening salvo in Florida’s bureaucratic war on trans health care came in April, the month after the Biden administration declared that it would defend young people’s access to such care as a matter of civil rights. DeSantis’ handpicked surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo—a critic of Covid vaccines, masks, and quarantines—issued a memo advising doctors to withhold medical treatments like hormones and puberty blockers from youth with gender dysphoria, claiming that there wasn’t enough “conclusive evidence.” Even non-medical measures, like changing names, hair, and pronouns should “not be a treatment option,” Ladapo wrote. “The surgeon general did a great job,” DeSantis later commented.

The guidance flew in the face of medical consensus, including the positions of the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, and Endocrine Society, which all say that young people with gender dysphoria fare better with treatment that affirms their identities. Ladapo’s one-pager wasn’t binding, but medical providers and LGBTQ advocates say it set off alarms. “Our friends on the ground in Florida said, ‘This is probably heralding something,’” recalls Carl Charles, a Lambda Legal attorney.

“It’s probably the most frightening time that I’ve seen in my career,” one psychologist says. “I had several patients even within that first week, especially my trans youth, who were reporting suicidal ideation.”

That instinct was right. The same day that Ladapo produced his memo, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees the state Medicaid program, opened an inquiry into whether Medicaid should cover gender-affirming care. A few weeks later, AHCA launched a new section of its website, branded “Let Kids be Kids”—and on it was a lengthy report concluding gender dysphoria treatments are “experimental” and did not meet “generally accepted medical standards.” To back up its findings, AHCA commissioned papers from such sources as Quentin Van Meter, a pediatric endocrinologist and the president of a fringe group of doctors who oppose conversion therapy bans and same-sex marriage. Another analysis came from Patrick Lappert, a plastic surgeon and Catholic deacon who delivers religious lectures against what he terms the “transgender treatment industry.” (A North Carolina court recently found that Lappert was “not qualified to render opinions about the diagnosis of gender dysphoria.”)

“These agencies are manipulating what are supposed to be the processes of government that are there to protect us,” says Nathan Bruemmer, an LGBTQ community liaison in Florida’s consumer services department. “If you look at the report, and what’s on AHCA website, and what’s mentioned in the public hearings, it’s the same bad research.”

Ten academic researchers whose work was also cited in the AHCA report told Vice News it misrepresented their data, which should not be construed to justify denying gender-affirming care to kids. “The report ignores solid scientific evidence and instead repeats discredited claims, cites to sources with no scientific merit, and engages in unfounded speculation based on stereotypes rather than science,” a group of Yale University doctors and psychiatrists concluded in an independent assessment.

AHCA forged ahead anyway, finalizing a regulation in August that banned Medicaid reimbursements for puberty blockers, hormones, and gender-affirming surgeries—no matter the age of the recipient. The rule cut off potential or current coverage for an estimated 9,000 low-income trans adults on Florida Medicaid, along with an unknown number of children, according to Charles, the Lambda Legal attorney, who’s now on a team representing four trans Medicaid recipients and their families in a lawsuit against the state. The ban caused his 12-year-old clients to lose access to puberty blockers, leading to “literally irreversible changes to their bodies,” Charles says. Gary Howell, a psychologist who works with trans youth and adults in Florida, says the decision harmed the mental health of his patients, some of whom had scheduled treatments canceled or began to consider leaving the state. “It’s probably the most frightening time that I’ve seen in my career,” Howell says. “I had several patients even within that first week, especially my trans youth, who were reporting suicidal ideation.”

In August, Jason Weida, a former Donald Trump appointee who now works in the AHCA office, appeared at an event hosted by the Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the nation’s most influential anti-LGBT legal groups, to gloat about the report. “It’s thorough, it’s documented, it’s the exact quality evidence so often lacking from the Biden [Health and Human Services department],” ADF’s state legislative director gushed at Weida. “It ought to be something that ought to serve as, perhaps, a model for other states.”

“Thanks to the leadership of Gov. DeSantis, we have been able to take a parents’ rights approach to legislation over the last couple of years,” Weida responded. “Just stay tuned for more to come out of Florida.” Within three weeks, he was promoted to AHCA chief of staff.

The day AHCA published its report, Surgeon General Ladapo picked up the baton again, asking the state medical board to prohibit doctors from giving minors puberty blockers, hormones, or surgeries as part of gender dysphoria treatment. The board agreed to consider making a rule—and put it on the agenda for their next meeting.

That’s how Fox came to stand before medical board members this August, describing to them how gender-affirming care had turned around his life. Around him, supporters of the surgeon general’s petition donned big, round stickers emblazoned with the logo of AHCA’s “Let Kids Be Kids” website. “Back in my day, men were men, women were women,” one declared at the microphone. Van Meter himself appeared and repeated the debunked myth that transgender identity is a contagion spread on the internet.

Medical boards are considered nonpartisan entities. But in Florida, two-thirds of the current board have donated at least $1,000 a piece to Republicans. Four have given DeSantis more than $15,000.

Yet there were others who pushed back. Kaleb Hobson-Garcia, a senior at a Florida State University, told the board how getting the support to transition in his teen years had allowed him to thrive. Michael Haller, chief of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Florida, explained that the state’s gender clinics already followed long-established treatment standards from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. And state Rep. Anna Eskamani, whose district includes the Pulse nightclub, pointed to the national rise in anti-trans rhetoric. “I understand the objective nature of this board, which I appreciate, but the reality is we are not here in a vacuum,” Eskamani insisted. “This is coming from the governor.”

Medical boards are indeed considered nonpartisan entities, issuing licenses to doctors and disciplining those who violate state laws or professional standards. But their members—mostly doctors, plus a handful of consumer representatives—are almost always appointed by governors. Two-thirds of the current Florida board have donated at least $1,000 apiece to Republicans, according to a Mother Jones analysis of campaign finance data. Of the 15 board members, 4 have given DeSantis more than $15,000 each. Hector Vila and Zachariah Zachariah, the only doctors whose board membership predates DeSantis’ governorship, have each donated at least $20,000 to his reelection committee.

And in June, two months after the Ladapo memo declaring a war on trans kids, DeSantis added a handful of new members to the board—including Patrick Hunter, an Orlando pediatrician who has emerged over the a last year as a vocal critic of gender-affirming care for children. Last winter, Hunter penned a letter to the editor of the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics critiquing the practice of gender transitions for youth; in May, he was hired as an expert witness by Alabama officials being sued over that state’s gender-affirming care ban.

“For many of us that are aware of what’s happening, and monitoring and working and advocating to stop this speeding train from going down the track, of course we thought this was a predetermined process,” Bruemmer says. “But you got to just hope it’s not.” Howell, who shares an LGBTQ identity with his patients, says hope is his biggest struggle these days. “One of the challenges, as psychologists, is that we have to instill hope in the patients that we work with,” he says. “It’s hard when I don’t really have the same level of hope I would want to have, that things are going to get better. Because I’m seeing the reality unfold around us.”

Fox, who has insurance through his job at Starbucks, underwent top surgery in September. Now, he jokes, no matter what rules the medical board passes, “there’s nothing they can do about my chest. They’re gone.” On the day he sat down to speak with me over Zoom, he’d just taken off his bandages. He was marveling at the absence of discomfort, trying to put feelings into words. “People make their own family,” he explained, tentatively. “Whether that’s their spouse, their children, their group of friends, their coworkers, there’s that moment where you feel like you’re surrounded by your community and your family, and it clicks and you feel like you fit in. This is a similar feeling,” he said. “But it’s entirely with yourself.”


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