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ISSUES

Debate Night: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bernie Sanders, and the Earth Vs. Space Question

On March 22nd, Senator Bernie Sanders and Elon Musk entered a debate over the fate of the world.

It began when Sanders published a very in-character tweet. "We are in a moment in American history where two guys — Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos — own more wealth than the bottom 40% of people in this country," he wrote. "That level of greed and inequality is not only immoral. It is unsustainable."

Elon Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO who briefly surpassed Jeff Bezos in early 2021 to become the wealthiest man in the world, had a ready-made response. In a Tweet, he wrote, "I am accumulating resources to help make life multiplanetary & extend the light of consciousness to the stars."

Sanders's reply remained laser-focused on his lifelong mission to fight income inequality on Earth. He wrote, "Space travel is an exciting idea, but right now we need to focus on Earth and create a progressive tax system so that children don't go hungry, people are not homeless and all Americans have healthcare. The level of inequality in America is obscene and a threat to our democracy."

Musk's starry-eyed statement has since faded into the ether of Twitter, but the context of this debate raises larger questions about futuristic technologies, the present-day interests and needs of humans on Earth, and the ongoing battle between them.

Billionaires dream of flying machines

As the Earth speeds towards irreversible climate disaster, many people's minds have naturally turned towards the stars. The distant, spinning nebulae and gleaming planets above us have long been idealized as potential escape routes for the unhappily earthbound.

But as the climate crisis grows more dire on Earth and space travel ramps up, thanks to ambitious patrons, some (like Elon Musk) have proposed that space may be our best shot at collective survival.

Famously, Musk founded SpaceX because he believed that NASA was not working hard enough to bring humans to Mars, and he feared that humanity is approaching its last chance to escape Earth before our planet becomes an uninhabitable hellscape.

His fellow Bernie Sanders nemesis Jeff Bezos has expressed similarly apocalyptic concerns. Bezos, who founded a rocket and aerospace travel company called Blue Origin in 2000, recently stepped down from his position as CEO of Amazon, claiming he planned on investing more time in his work with Blue Origin and his efforts to fight climate change.

Like Musk, Bezos aims to colonize space by investing ambitiously in new technologies that could help people reach the stars. And also like Musk, he fears for the future of civilization — and sees space as the place where these problems might be solved.

"Hundreds of years into the future, we will move all the polluting industries to space and other planets, where we have infinite resources for all practical purposes and Earth will only be (used for) light industries and residential," Bezos stated in a conversation with Amazon India chief Amit Agarwal in New Delhi.

This plan, which Bezos calls the New Inversion, is a long-term vision that would effectively move all pollution to the cosmos. "I would think, kind of [a] time frame of hundreds of years," Bezos added, reiterating that "we have to preserve this planet and we can do that using the resources of space."

The "space escape" as an escape route for the super-rich

Bezos, Musk, and their future-focused peers may claim that their plans to reach the stars are efforts to ensure a future for humanity, but their own reputations and vast fortunes have raised many questions about who this interplanetary future would actually serve.

At the moment, the future of space travel appears to be reserved for the super-rich — the sort of people who are already least affected by earthly calamities like climate change, despite unleashing the vast majority of the world's carbon emissions. For example, private spaceflight companies such as Axiom reportedly charge up to $55 million to send travelers into specially designed rooms located in the International Space Station.

It is likely that even if space travel begins to evolve in step with Moore's law (the theory that computers' processing power tends to double every two years), whatever world we build in the cosmos will remain reserved for the 1% for quite a long time. In this light, the futures preached by techno-prophets like Bezos and Musk start to look like thin cloaks for a kind of moon-eyed eugenics that would leave billions of people in the literal dust.

"The space barons are shrewdly — one might say cynically — tapping into our respect for astronauts and our idealism about what space represents," Ceridwen Dovey writes in The New Yorker. "They seem to be counting on us to be awestruck by whatever it is they do in space, and to overlook the fact that their motives are not exactly pure, nor are their methods of getting us there egalitarian."

Humans are drawn to mystery and beauty, and space is such a tantalizing frontier that it's difficult to completely write off billionaires' ambitious plans to penetrate it, even though we know their earthly work typically involves hoarding vast amounts of wealth while underpaying and mistreating masses of workers.

The ongoing battle between technological innovation and human-centered reform

Similar contradictions plague a multitude of existing plans to address climate change on Earth, and they are particularly endemic to plans broadcasted by corporate entities who have nothing to gain and everything to lose from substantial climate action.

For example, Jeff Bezos recently pledged $10 billion of his $188 billion net worth to the Bezos Earth Fund, yet his overall approach to climate and philanthropy has continuously come under fire.

First, there's the fact that despite all his talk of concern about climate change, Bezos's company continues to belch out carbon emissions, releasing around 51.17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2019 – up 15% from the previous year despite various green pledges. The company has also been slammed with reports about its poor treatment of workers, and prior to the Capitol riots, Bezos also reportedly donated thousands of dollars to conservative politicians such as progressive disruptor-in-chief Mitch McConnell.

Then there's the fact that Bezos failed to donate more than roughly 0.1% of his net worth prior to his 2020 donations — and the latter comprised less than 8% of his vast net worth, a sum that, along with Musk's wealth, is equivalent to the collective wealth of the United States's poorest 40% of people.

The $10 billion Bezos did donate via the Earth Fund was also met with criticism, particularly from groups invested in climate justice. The vast majority of Bezos's donations went to established environmental organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund and World Wildlife Fund, most of which already possess endowments in the millions. Critics said that many of these contributions will never reach communities already subject to the worst effects of climate-caused floods, wildfires, pollution, and destruction, and many of their ultimate goals involve conserving an existing status quo rather than addressing interconnected crises like racism and economic inequality.

In a statement released in December, a group of community-focused NGOs called the Climate Justice Alliance released a statement in protest of Bezos's donations. It found that "less than a quarter of the first-round grants will go to intermediary funds that support thousands of grassroots communities cultivating solutions on the frontlines of the climate emergency. The inequities couldn't be more striking."

This could also be said of the work of many of the "Big Green" environmental groups, particularly those historically focused on conservation rather than human-focused social change. Conservation movements have historically been bound up with white supremacy, and a look at the bigger picture reveals that white supremacy created and perpetuates the conditions for climate change, itself is an inherently racist crisis.

Other billionaires and corporations' efforts have been subject to similar critiques. For example, Elon Musk recently launched a competition offering $50 million to whomever could invent the best carbon capture techniques. Carbon capture technology has long been an alluring yet elusive potential solution to climate change, and it has also been the recipient of generous funding.

Despite all this investment, no miracle technology with the ability to stop climate change has ever emerged, and waiting for one feels more and more like waiting for a doomsday savior who will never arrive.

False promises further threaten any chance of climate action

An April 2020 study from Lancaster University argues against promises that glorify miraculous technologies, because "overreliance on promises of new technology to solve climate change is enabling delay."

Hinging the solution of climate change on miraculous technological breakthroughs like ice-restoration, nuclear fusion power, massive carbon-eating machines, and extraterrestrial offshoring can "feed systemic 'moral corruption', in which current elites are enabled to pursue self-serving pathways, while passing off risk onto vulnerable people in the future and in the global South," say researchers Duncan McLaren and Nils Markusson, who encourage "cultural, social and political transformation" over placing hopes in instant solutions.

It seems that any genuine "cultural, social and political transformation" will not come directly from billionaires and massive corporations, who naturally often benefit most from current cultural, social, and political structures and hierarchies. Recent corporate efforts to combat climate change have been hollow and hypocritical; and many corporations are being accused of greenwashing as they release statements and pledges that appear to be commitments to fighting climate change but that are really efforts to deflect opposition.

A January 2021 report from the Sierra Club entitled "The Dirty Truth About Utility Climate Pledges" graded utility companies on their plans to cut emissions and transition to clean energy solutions and issued many failing grades to companies that have released "carbon neutral" pledges and similar statements. "

The infuriating truth is that many utilities are not only protecting their coal plants from retirement, but are also actively planning to build out climate destabilizing gas plants," said Mary Anne Hitt, who is the Director of Campaigns at the Sierra Club. "The consequences of allowing utilities to continue to delay the transition to clean energy will be particularly disastrous for low-income communities and communities of color."

Learning from the people and the planet

So where will change come from, if not rockets to stars or carbon pledges or the latest addictive inventions of Silicon Valley coders? Perhaps the answer is not above us but rather below our feet. Perhaps we have everything we need already here on Earth.

"We already have a safe and natural technology for carbon capture and storage (CCS)," writes Francis Seymour in a report for the Center for Global Development. It's called 'tropical forests.'"

We already have everything we need to transition to clean energy, and we already have enough food to feed the world's population. What is needed is a redistribution of wealth and resources — something billionaires, conservative politicians, and oil companies have fought against since climate change was exposed as a dangerous reality in the '80s.

Slowly but surely, the idea of wealth redistribution as an investment in fighting climate change is seeping into reality in the form of modern politics. Joe Biden's infrastructure plan will be paid for, in part, by taxing the super-rich. Still, there's a long way to go.

As things grow more dire, environmentalists increasingly view a cross-racial, cross-class movement as the only feasible solution to climate change. This framework, long supported by environmental justice movements and knitted into intersectional plans like the Green New Deal, sees the solutions to climate change as bound up with ending capitalism, racial injustice, and other interconnected global plagues.

The new vanguard of the climate movement also acknowledges how important Indigenous knowledge of land stewardship and conservation, frontline communities' understanding of environmental racism and the stakes of the climate crisis, and ongoing working class and BIPOC struggles for justice are to any just transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy.

Clearly, billionaires' expensive efforts to colonize space would be low on the priority list of any intersectional response to climate change.

Is there any place for space in the climate fight?

All this being said, it's unlikely that humans will ever totally abandon our desire to explore distant galaxies. Our desire to know the cosmos is as innate as our childhood desires to explore the deep green mysteries of the nearby woods. Fortunately, we don't have to write space exploration out completely in the fight for Earth.

Actually, Jeff Bezos wasn't wrong when he said space could be key to helping us fight climate change. NASA, the UN, and other organizations have consistently reported that some solutions to the climate crisis might be found through space-based technology capable of deepening our understanding of the climate crisis and providing key evidence of its effects.

For example, satellites can detect changing temperature levels, rising sea levels, and other factors that could be vital in the current global effort to halt warming at 1.5°C. On a more theoretical level, thinking about how alien civilizations may have responded to climate change could help us address our own situation.

It seems that for now, space travel's greatest contribution is its ability to help humans look back at Earth — either to measure its changes or to feel awed by what Carl Sagan called our "pale blue dot," as many astronauts have been when they viewed Earth from space and experienced the famous "Overview Effect." (Upon seeing the Earth from space, astronauts report a newfound sense of compassion for and responsibility to the planet and for the interconnected webs of life that live upon it).

Plus, the sheer ambition of the space race provides an excellent blueprint for the kind of effort it will take to actually address the climate crisis. All in all, there is room for space travel within a just transition to an ethical future.

But for now, it seems that the "light of consciousness," as Elon Musk put it, would be best directed towards Earth's living, breathing beings rather than towards a few billionaires and their efforts to further puncture the edges of our already damaged, airless, eternally silent atmosphere.

POLITICS

What You Need to Know About the Senate Filibuster

Lately, a lot of conversation has been bubbling up about the Senate filibuster.

It's been called a "Jim Crow relic" by former president Obama, and Mitch McConnell threatened to launch a "nuclear winter" if the Senate attempts to end it. Increasingly, Democrats want to end it completely. So what is it, and why does it matter so much?

What Is the Filibuster?

The filibuster is a political strategy used by the Senate to delay, and often kill, votes on bills. Traditionally, a filibuster would mean that the resisting senator would stand on the floor and speak, sometimes for days, against a certain legislative effort.

When a senator utilizes the filibuster, they can delay a vote as long as they wish to — unless three fifths of senators, currently 60 out of 100, vote to move forward.

Nowadays, senators aren't even required to speak in order to deploy this tactic—they can essentially sign a note and curtail almost any legislation using the filibuster. (There's also currently an exception to this rule called budget reconciliation that fast-tracks bills related to the federal budget and only related to the federal budget).

The Constitution does not include a filibuster. Instead, our founding document states that bills should only require simple majorities to pass, not supermajorities. Exceptions to this are impeachment charges, the expulsion of members of Congress, overriding presidential vetoes, and creating constitutional amendments.

The Founding Fathers were very clear: They did not want a minority party to be able to dictate what should be majority rule —and in fact were fearful of this outcome.

In its first iteration, the U.S. Senate reconciled debates by voting on whether to end debates, thus moving a bill to an actual vote.

This changed when in 1806, Vice President Aaron Burr argued that this process of voting on whether to vote (called the previous-question motion) was redundant, as it was rarely ever used, and so it was ended. Inadvertently, Burr created a loophole that made it theoretically possible for senators to infinitely delay votes — and hence, we have the glacially slow, perpetually blocked governmental body that we know today.


What Has the Filibuster Been Used for, and How Has It Evolved?

One thing that stands out about the filibuster: It has consistently been used to curtail the rights of Black Americans.

Once rarely used in policy decisions, the filibuster only came into frequent use during the Civil War era, when Southern states would often deploy it in defense of slavery and while blocking anti-slavery legislation.

John C. Calhoun, sometimes referred to as the "grandfather of the confederacy," was an important figure in developing the modern, common filibuster. "He did it for the express purpose of increasing the power of the slaveholding class," says Adam Jentleson, whose book Kill Switch details the rise of the modern Senate. "What he saw at this time — this was around the 1830s and 1840s — was that slaveholders and slave states were becoming steadily outpowered in Congress. And so, he knew that if majority rule was allowed to continue, slavery was going to end."

The filibuster was a solution to this issue and one of the reasons why the government remained incapable of simply ending slavery through democracy.

The filibuster was used throughout the 1800s and 1900s, with politicians challenging its legitimacy to various degrees without success. Woodrow Wilson edited it during WWI, after the Senate used it to stop him from arming ships against German U-Boats. With the help of public outcry, Wilson established Rule 22, which allows a two-thirds majority vote to invoke "cloture" — a rule that, essentially, limits filibustering to 30 hours.

From then on, the filibuster basically remained the same, though in 1975 the number of votes needed for a supermajority was changed to 60. Because earning a 60-vote majority is still quite difficult, the filibuster has remained an effective way for minority rule to block legislation.

Even after the Civil War, the filibuster was used to codify racial violence; for example, in 1922, the filibuster was used to defeat the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. Famously, the filibuster was also used to block civil rights legislation up until 1964. In protest of the Civil Rights Act, lawmakers filibustered for 57 days, until public pressure rose high enough for a supermajority to invoke cloture. Eventually, the supermajority necessary for cloture was changed to 60; but yet again, the filibuster remained firmly in place.

Since then, the filibuster has been used for various purposes on all sides of the political spectrum. It was the reason why George W. Bush couldn't overhaul immigration legislation and why Barack Obama couldn't pass climate legislation (or all that much of anything). It is the reason why bills still go to the Senate to die.

What Would Happen if the Filibuster Ended?

Without the filibuster, the Senate would be much more volatile than it is today. It's possible that massive amounts of legislation could pass — and then be reversed, should the Senate majority's political leanings change.

But Democrats have good reason to end the filibuster now (which is probably why Mitch McConnell is so scared). At the moment, Democrats want to enact a piece of voting rights legislation called the For the People Act. Among other things, the act would increase access to absentee voting, extend early voting, allow for same-day registration, and generally would make it easier for people to vote.

"In the wake of an unprecedented assault on our democracy, a never before seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people, and a newly aggressive attack on voting rights taking place right now all across the country, this landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen American democracy," the White House said in a statement.

Naturally, most Republicans hate the For the People Act as much as they hate the idea of getting rid of the filibuster. Their looming fear: The Democrat's proposed voting rights reforms could make it much easier for Democrats to hold onto power. As of now, the bill passed in the House but of course has no chance of passing in the Senate, thanks to the filibuster.

Without the filibuster, Democrats would also have a shot at passing significant voting rights reforms, climate legislation, stricter gun control laws, and immigration reforms. They would be able to achieve their goals of fighting student debt, taxing the super-wealthy, making healthcare more affordable, and more.

Of course, the Democrats have an extremely slim majority in the Senate, and many Democratic senators are more centrist than progressive (see: Joe Manchin), meaning that achieving these goals would still require a serious fight even if the filibuster ended.

How Could the Senate End the Filibuster?

There are two ways the Senate could end the filibuster. 60 out of 100 senators could vote to end it, which will never happen in our current version of reality.

Or, senators could use a complex series of political moves sometimes referred to as the "nuclear option," which basically involves three steps: First, a senator objects to a cloture ruling. Then the presiding officer rules this objection out of order, and a simple majority of senators could then vote to overturn that ruling, thus "blowing up" traditional Senate policies.

This "nuclear option" has already been utilized across party lines. Democrats used it to confirm some of Barack Obama's nominees, and Republicans—led by Mitch McConnell—used it to confirm Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominees. (Yes, McConnell, now the world's biggest filibuster proponent, paused it so he could ram Supreme Court nominees through the system).

Actually ending the filibuster is a long shot, but Democrats know this may be their only chance to pass any significant social and political reforms. For his part, Joe Biden has not advocated for the end of the filibuster, but rather he supports the reinstitution of the "talking filibuster" — the "good old days" version of the filibuster where senators have to actually stand up and talk in order to obstruct the passage of a bill.

"It's getting to the point where, you know, democracy is having a hard time functioning," Biden told ABC.

Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema also said they would not vote to end the filibuster, though Manchin did say he supports making it "more difficult to use," which many centrist-leaning Democrats see as a promising option.

Still, despite the odds, those who support ending the filibuster see it as a life-or-death issue, as it's quite possibly the only way to make true progress on inequality, gun control, healthcare, and other issues.

Currently, it seems that the Senate is hurtling towards a high-stakes battle for the future of the filibuster, with both sides ramping up their efforts to intimidate each other. McConnell's threats to initiate a "scorched-earth Senate" if the filibuster is abolished has only encouraged those who want to end the filibuster, as it's clear he's genuinely afraid and believes there is a chance it could end.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been repeating the phrase, "Everything is on the table" in response to questions about the fate of the tactic. Indeed, everything is on the table, including the state of our present and future. The question is whether or not we can learn from the past.

ISSUES

The Trump Administration Just Executed Lisa Montgomery

Content Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of abuse and sexual violence.

Lisa Montgomery is the first woman to be executed by the federal government since 1953.

52-year-old Montgomery was killed by lethal injection at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute today. Her time of death was 1:31 AM.

Montgomery's crime was heinous by nature: In 2004, Montgomery killed 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett and removed Stinnett's unborn child from her womb. The infant, Victoria Jo, survived and is 16 today.

No one is arguing that Montgomery doesn't deserve a life in prison for her crimes (though whether she deserves a life in a mental asylum is another discussion). But her execution — part of a string of executions that the Trump Administration is ramming in before its dissolution — cannot be extricated from politics, nor can it be extricated from Montgomery's traumatic life story.

Her death was the result of a long, hard-won battle between those who believed she deserved to die and those who believed that a lifetime of sex trafficking, torture, and mental illness merited a life in prison, not government-sanctioned death.

An Early Life

Lisa Montgomery Lisa MontgomeryHuffPost

Lisa Montgomery's childhood was a nightmare in every sense. Her mother, Judy, drank during her pregnancy, and Lisa was born with brain damage. Judy would beat and psychologically torment Lisa and her sisters throughout their early years, even beating the family dog to death in front of them.

Starting at the age of 11, Lisa was raped multiple times each week by her stepfather, Jack Kleiner, who also beat her and her mother. The rapes became so frequent that Kleiner even built a makeshift shed on the side of the family's trailer where he could attack Lisa and no one could hear her screams. MRI brain scans show that Lisa suffered brain damage from his brutal retaliations to her attempts to resist.

Over the years, her stepfather began inviting friends over to violently gang rape Lisa for hours on end. Lisa's mother also participated, selling Lisa's body to plumbers and electricians in exchange for utility work and showing no empathy for what was happening to her daughter.

Teachers and doctors often suspected something was happening, but no one ever stepped up to help Lisa.

These were the formative experiences that shaped Lisa Montgomery, experiences that psychologists would later conclude amounted to torture. "This is a story about a woman who is profoundly mentally ill as a result of a lifetime of torture and sexual violence," said Sandra Babcock, a consultant to Montgomery's legal team. "Lisa is not the worst of the worst – she is the most broken of the broken."

Lisa's trials didn't end in childhood. She married her stepbrother at 18, and he continued the cycle, raping and abusing her again and again. Lisa gave birth to four children in four years before being pressured by her husband and mother into a sterilization procedure.

After that, her mental health declined and she began struggling to keep a job. She also started participating in sex work and frequently fell into trances around her children. Following the sterilization, she also often told people she was pregnant.

An Awful Crime

The crime Lisa Montgomery committed, as a journal article from the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide writes, "reflects the depth of her mental illness and despair."

Two days before the crime, Montgomery's abusive ex-husband filed for custody of two of their children. At the time, Lisa told her new husband she was pregnant, but the abusive former husband knew this was impossible because of the sterilization and threatened to expose Lisa in court.

Desperate, and likely in the midst of a psychotic break, Lisa went to the home of Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a woman she had bonded with online over their shared love of dogs. She strangled Stinnett, then removed the infant from Stinnett's abdomen. The crime shattered the Skidmore, Missouri town where it occurred, and some family members called for death as retribution.

The Fight to Stop Lisa's Execution

Lisa's crime was horrific and unforgettable. Lisa herself felt "deep remorse" for the crime "before she lost all touch with reality in the days before her execution," according to her attorney.

But still, simply based on tradition, most murders do not result in the death penalty. Instead, prosecutors must actively make the decision to push for the death penalty. Under the Bush Justice Department, since-disgraced Attorney General Alberto Gonzales chose to break with tradition and pursue the death penalty for Lisa.

Lisa's initial defense team was led by an all-male team of lawyers that included Dave Owen, who had never defended anyone against the death penalty, let alone a woman who had a history of sexual violence and trauma. Experts recommended a more experienced lawyer be put on the team, and so experienced capital defense lawyer Judy Clarke was added. Clarke quickly built up a rapport with Lisa.

But Owen apparently could not stand having to take orders from a female lawyer, so removed her from the team. The male chief investigator on Lisa's case said that it was clear that Owen was "not going to take any orders from any damn woman."

Clarke was removed and banned from visiting Lisa in prison. Of course, Lisa's male team of attorneys failed her in the trial, failing to bring up Lisa's history of abuse and trauma. Instead they disparaged Lisa's mothering skills and the state of her home. Lisa was sentenced to death.

Near the end of her life, a new team of defenders stepped up to try to defend Lisa. They investigated her mental health, finding that Lisa suffered from bipolar disorder with psychotic features, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, temporal lobe epilepsy, and cerebellar dysfunction, according Amy Harwell, a public defender who worked on Montgomery's case.

Lisa showed "symptoms of dissociation, including confused thinking, major gaps in memory, and an inability to recognize the reality of certain events," explained Dr. Katherine Poterfield, a Bellevue clinical psychiatrist who interviewed Lisa in prison. She added that Lisa's trauma was "massive," one of the most severe cases of dissociative disorder she had ever seen.

"She would not be able to keep her train of thought, and describe strange ways of thinking to describe her reality," said Porterfield. "She lives in a state of disassociation, going in and out all the time. When I asked about her childhood, she would display an inability to connect to her emotions – with a blank facial expression, blank voice, talking about herself in the third person."

While in prison, Lisa also displayed other signs of debilitating mental dissociation, believing that God could speak with her through crossword puzzles and often expressing doubts about whether what she was seeing around her was real.

Montgomery's parents' family trees both feature psychiatric and neurological issues, including mood disorders, intellectual disability, PTSD and schizophrenia. Porterfield compared the abuse Lisa suffered to "pouring lighter fluid onto a spark."

"I have never seen a case like this. I don't know of any execution in the US or elsewhere that has been carried out on someone who has been subjected to such unrelenting sexual torture and violence," said defender Sandra Babcock.

"Talking to Lisa was like talking to Vietnam and Korean war veterans who had been held in holes and bamboo cages under the most horrible conditions," said social worker Janet Vogelsang.

Lisa's own sister and family also came to her defense, begging that Lisa be kept alive and in prison for the sake of her 14 grandchildren.

"I'm bruised, but I'm not broken," wrote Montgomery's sister Diane in an essay. "My sister, Lisa Montgomery, is broken. On December 8, the federal government plans to execute her for a crime she committed in the grip of severe mental illness after a lifetime of living hell. She does not deserve to die." Diane was adopted out of the house at the age of eight and Lisa was four.

"Retribution is one method of accountability for criminal acts," writes Rachel Louise Snyder in The New York Times. "But Ms. Montgomery's life, however much she has left of it, is already irreparably shattered. For many of us, that might seem punishment enough."

For the Supreme Court, it wasn't.

Lisa Montgomery Lisa Montgomery

The Trump Administration's Bloodlust

Up until the last minute, people fought against Lisa's execution. On Monday, an Indiana judge halted the execution until a mental evaluation could be held. On Tuesday, an appeals court panel overruled the stay. Two further courts – in the district of Columbia and the eighth circuit court – issued their own separate stays.

In his ruling on a stay, Judge James Hanlon found that "the record before the court contains ample evidence that Ms Montgomery's current mental state is so divorced from reality that she cannot rationally understand the government's rationale for her execution." According to the Death Penalty Information Center, defendants who are so mentally ill they do not understand their crimes are not eligible for execution.

But still, the Supreme Court voted to uphold the execution just before midnight on Tuesday night.

The act has been widely condemned. "The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight. Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame," said Montgomery's lawyer, Kelley Henry, in a statement to the USA TODAY Network. "Our Constitution forbids the execution of a person who is unable to rationally understand her execution," she said. "The current administration knows this. And they killed her anyway."

There is a cruel irony — if it could even be called that — to Lisa's death. Throughout her entire life, Lisa was taken advantage of and tortured by people who were supposed to protect her. She was damaged beyond comprehension by men and offered no mercy.

This tradition would extend to the end of her life, when Donald Trump's administration and the Supreme Court he stacked would vote to kill her.

That a man accused of sexual assault by 25 women has executed a woman who suffered psychologically devastating sexual abuse throughout her whole life feels like an appropriate end to a horrible story. That she died on the day of Trump's impeachment trial is another kind of twisted irony.


A Spree of Executions

Throughout 2020, the Trump Administration has rushed 10 prisoners to death in a murderous spree. Joe Biden has pledged to end the death penalty, so the Trump Administration's executions are a clear attempt to exercise and cling to power before it leaves or is forced to leave office.

In the few months since he lost the 2020 US election, Trump's administration has ordered the executions of Orlando Hall, Brandon Bernard, and Alfred Bourgeois, three Black men. The last time a sitting duck president presided over an execution was when Grover Cleveland presided over the murder of a Native American of the Choctaw Nation named Richard Smith.

Others who received the death penalty this year under Trump include Christopher Vialva and Brandon Bernard, who committed crimes when they were 18 and 19, respectively, making them the first teenage offenders sent to death by the government in 70 years. In addition, Trump came under fire for killing a Navajo man named Lezmon Mitchell, ignoring the fact that the crime was committed on tribal lands, which do not implement the death penalty.

Today, 22 states have abolished capital punishment and support for the death penalty has plummeted to its lowest in 50 years. Not only is a federal death penalty extraordinarily ethically questionable—federal executions are extravagantly expensive and a drain on government resources.

Yet the savagery of Trump's administration's string of executions is yet another affirmation of his and his administration's fundamental beliefs, another example of how easily invocations of "law and order" disintegrate to violence.

"No-one has ever attempted to carry out so many executions at the federal level," said Robert Dunham, the director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "No-one in modern American history has attempted to carry out so many executions in such a short period of time... and no-one has done so in a manner that so closely disregards the rule of law."

POLITICS

Why the Georgia Runoffs Are So Important

This year, on January 5th, Georgia voters will participate in a runoff election to select their state senators. But why is this race so important, important enough to make national news and urgent enough that celebrities and activist groups around the nation are rallying to make sure as many voters as possible get out to the polls?

What's at Stake?

The Georgia runoffs will determine Georgia's two Senate seats. This is so important because the outcome of this election will determine whether there is a Republican or Democratic Senate majority.

To win a Democratic Senate majority, both Democratic candidates — Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock — will have to win their seats. If either Republican candidate, Kelly Loeffler or David Perdue, wins, the Republicans will maintain their Senate majority, and Mitch McConnell will remain Senate majority leader; as currently, Republicans hold 50 of the 100 Senate seats and Democrats hold 48, and there are two independents — Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — who caucus with the Democrats.

Democrats hold the House with a razor-thin majority, and Joe Biden, a Democrat, also holds the White House. But a Republican Senate can easily negate the efforts of Democratic governing bodies. When he was Senate Majority Leader during Barack Obama's presidency, Mitch McConnell was able to block much of Obama's legislation.

In short, in order to pass a substantial coronavirus relief bill, substantial climate crisis legislation, and many of the other initiatives Biden promised in his campaign, we need a Democratic Senate majority. While Mitch McConnell remains in charge of the Senate, every Democratic-leaning bill will face tremendous roadblocks to actualization.

As Jonathan Chait explains in his Intelligencer article, Only a Democratic Senate Can Produce a Moderate Biden Presidency, "McConnell won't bring a bill to the floor unless most Republicans support it," and, "When Biden takes office, the Republican incentive will lean heavily toward demonizing any Biden-supported initiative as a fiendish socialistic plot, making broad GOP support almost impossible."

That means, to put it bluntly: No $2,000 stimulus check and probably no future thanks to unchecked climate change. The stakes are, in fact, quite high.

What Are Runoffs, and Why Do They Exist?

A runoff occurs when there is no clear winner in an election. Georgia law proclaims that candidates must win over 50% of the total vote to win an election; if this doesn't happen, the race goes to a runoff. In the general election, Warnock won the most votes followed by Loeffler, but neither garnered the 50% needed, and all candidates went to runoffs.

Georgia's runoff elections were created in the 1960s as a way to keep white candidates in power, reports The New York Times, in a majority-white state where Black candidates had better shots at winning a plurality of the vote. Runoffs also typically benefit white candidates whose followers typically vote more frequently.

Who Is Running?

Currently, Senator Kelly Loeffler and Senator David Perdue represent Georgia in the Senate. Kelly Loeffler is a businesswoman and devotee of Donald Trump. The richest US Senator, she made headlines for selling $18 million worth of vulnerable stocks after being briefed on COVID-19, meaning she profited from the coronavirus crisis. (Lawmakers are barred from insider training, but a probe into Loeffler's activity was eventually dropped).

Loeffler's opponent, Rev. Warnock, would be Georgia's first Black senator. He is a pastor at the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King once preached, and he is a strong supporter of Black Lives Matter. For her part, Loeffler has criticized BLM for what she calls its "Marxist" origins.

David Perdue is a Senator and businessman. Similarly to Loeffler, he sold stocks prior to the 2020 stock market crash. He does not believe in climate change, opposes same-sex marriage and wants to slash the Affordable Care Act.

Perdue's opponent, Jon Ossoff, is a 33-year-old former journalist. His campaign made waves when Perdue failed to meet him in their debate, leaving him to speak to an empty room. Ossoff interned for Congressman John Lewis, who passed away earlier this summer, and has painted himself as a youthful idealist and Democratic moderate.

"Both are representing the New South," said Representative Hank Johnson of Warnock and Ossoff. "It's very symbolic. It's providential. I think Georgia and Georgians have changed quite a lot. There are people with old South ideas — but they're fewer and fewer."

What Are the Odds?

Both Democrats and Republicans are pouring millions into the race, and the Republicans have far outspent the Democrats thus far.

Georgia has not seen a Democratic Senator in 20 years. Republicans have far more money and establishment power on their side. The polls aren't looking great for Democratic candidates, though most do show a close race (though who trusts polls anymore, anyway?).

There's also a long and horrifying history of voter suppression in Georgia that is alive and well today. In addition to the racist history of runoffs themselves, Georgia has always fought to make it difficult for anyone not white to vote. After the 15th Amendment allowed Black men to vote, Georgia employed the Ku Klux Klan and other forms of violence and intimidation at the polls.

It has since closed majority-Black polling spaces, creating hours-long waits. It has required "exact match" signatures on voting records, an effort that disqualified thousands — 80% of the disqualified being people of color.

A recent seven-year investigation found that Georgia purged over 200,000 evoters from its rolls, marking them as ineligible when they actually were eligible. These methods disproportionately affected Black voters, voters living in metro areas, and voters who did not speak English. The list of Georgia's effort to suppress its voters' constitutional rights goes on and on and continues to this day.

Democratic candidates, however, are supported by organizers like those at Fair Fight who are on the ground getting people to the polls. Other organizations like New Georgia Project and Southerners on New Ground have been working tirelessly to reach people who have too long been ignored by modern politics, showing them that their vote can help make a tangible difference in their lives. And with the entire country's eyes on Georgia, it's hard to know what the outcome will be.

Either way, it's clear that there's a new organizing infrastructure in Georgia that's here to stay.

What Can We Do?

If you're from Georgia or know people there, contacting family and friends and asking them to contact their family and friends and to ask the same — a technique known as vote tripling — is definitely one of the most effective ways to get out the vote. In addition, many people are going to Georgia to do in-person ballot curing, poll-watching, canvassing, and voter aid such as keeping voters comfortable in line.

If you're not in Georgia, you can join a phonebank or text bank and make calls or send texts to Georgians all throughout the week.

And of course, donate to a Georgia organization like Fair Fight, and attend events like Popdust's fundraiser for Fair Fight, which occurs tomorrow night at 6PM EST.

ISSUES

What's Going On with the Opioid Crisis?

The Justice Department is suing Walmart, alleging that the company helped fuel the opioid crisis that's been devastating America for years.

According to the Associated Press, Walmart may have unlawfully provided controlled substances to its customers, providing thousands of people with prescriptions that should not have been filled. The suit alleges that Walmart's system made it impossible for pharmacists to properly screen and vet the prescriptions they filled, ignoring warnings from pharmacists in the process.

This comes after Walmart sued the Justice Department and the DEA, arguing that hundreds of doctors who should not have been allowed to prescribe controlled substances at all were still actively registered with the DEA.

Both suits are ongoing, but one thing is clear: A lot of powerful organizations are to blame for the opioid crisis.

How the Opioid Crisis Began

The US's opioid crisis has been festering for a long time. In 1991, the first wave of the opioid crisis occurred when a sharp rise in the prescription of opioids led to multiple deaths. At this time, many pharmaceutical companies claimed the risk of addiction to opioids was very low.

In 1995, Purdue Pharma received approval for OxyContin, leading many patients to get hooked. In 2007, they paid a $634 million dollar fine for lying about the drug's addictive nature.

Prescriptions for opioids began to increase over the next few decades, tripling between 1991 and 2011. The second wave of the crisis occurred in 2010, when prescriptions to opioids became harder to obtain and more people started turning to heroin and illegal drugs. The third wave began in 2013, when drugs like fentanyl and synthetic opioids began to rise in popularity, leading to another spike in deaths.

Today, overdoses are the leading cause of death for people under 50 years old. In 2017, there were more than 70,237 deaths related to overdoses and 47,600 were related to opioids. An estimated 130 people die each day from opioid-related misuse. The opioid epidemic has claimed a total of over 400,000 lives.

Who Is to Blame?

The opioid crisis is a complicated issue that can't be neatly blamed on any one company or action. Certainly, the root of the problem lies with Big Pharma — the Purdue Pharmas and Sacklers of the world who lied about the addictive nature of their products and relentlessly sold these dangerous products. Drug company executives and opioid salesmen also have blood on their hands.

In addition, the government is to blame. Evidence continues to find that Congress was and is influenced by pharmaceutical lobbyists, and Congress has passed legislation that crippled the DEA's power.

In addition, Department of Justice-led investigations that should've burned drug corporations to the ground failed to adequately persecute the corporations. Furthermore, the FDA also failed to act when they should have; in 2001, they approved OxyContin for anyone suffering from chronic pain, despite scientists previously finding that the drug is only effective in the very short-term.

Over-prescription and doctors are to blame, as well. Many believed they were doing the right thing but prescribed far, far more than safe limits of drugs to their patients. In addition, distributors like Walmart and other pharmacies are also to blame for not taking adequate precautions.

The root of the issue, however, can't be separated from other systemic crises, like economic inequality, a broken healthcare system, and the chronic health issues that plague many Americans.

"Greed drove opioid manufacturers to oversell and overproduce the drugs, the lawsuits allege," writes Melissa Healy for the Los Angeles Times. "Greed drove companies that distribute prescription drugs to oversupply pharmacies… And greed drove pharmacies to overdispense the drugs to patients who were becoming hooked, to criminals who were diverting them to the black market, and to addicts shopping for a fix."

Arguably, greed also prevents America — one of the richest nations in the world — from offering its citizens healthcare and the ability to live safely.

How Do We Solve the Opioid Crisis?

Solving the opioid crisis won't be simple or easy.

In an immediate sense, any solution to the crisis will have to treat friends and family members of people who suffer from addiction as well as the people themselves. Treatment will have to be made broadly available, as will ongoing support.

"We need to treat opioid use disorder like we treat other chronic health disorders — managed in primary care, using specialists for exacerbations, consultations, and particularly challenging cases," says Bradley Stein of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.

But to really solve the crisis, we'll have to take a deeper look at what's causing it. Millions of people are still suffering from chronic pain — another root of the opioid crisis — and healthcare workers will have to figure out how to treat pain without using opioids. Solutions might lie in "interventional" pain therapies or other approaches that lead to long-term relief instead of just putting a band-aid over the problem.

In addition, many people are driven to use opioids due to emotional issues or mental health issues. To treat the root causes of the opioid epidemic, we also need to treat mental health issues and treat reasons why people are suffering from such extreme emotional pain in America today.

Those solutions might lie in deepening community ties, in education, and in healing some of the economic inequality that has created so many of our issues. It might also mean making healthcare, housing, healthy food, and opportunity more affordable so people don't wind up in so much pain and distress. It might also mean reducing pollution and other issues that lead people, particularly low-income people and communities of color, to develop chronic health issues.

In short, simply cracking down on prescriptions and distributors and making Big Pharma pay up isn't the solution. It's just the beginning. The solutions of the opioid crisis are bound up with solutions to climate change and economic inequality, and until we understand the interconnectedness of it all, we'll never really treat the crisis at its source.

Visionaries Project: Christoph Carr on Black Land Ownership and Giving Flowers to Cops

Christoph Carr talks art, music, and protest.

Scholar, activist, musician, event organizer, author—Christoph Carr is the personification of a visionary. As the co-founder of Brooklyn Wildlife and Black Land Ownership, Carr has long been working to break down boundaries and to create space where art and life can thrive without outside imposition.

More recently, he's been leading unique NYC-based Black Lives Matter protests that attempt to engage directly with the police. His many projects address current, pressing needs—but they also envision a world that could be, a world of connection, deep roots, and human empathy. Here, we spoke about the stories behind his groundbreaking organizations, and the grief and strange possibility buried in the depths of 2020.

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POLITICS

Kamala Harris Will Be Joe Biden's Running Mate

Give us your best meme of Kamala destroying Pence at the debates: GO!

After months of deliberation, Joe Biden has picked Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate.

Harris became nationally recognized after she surged to prominence in the 2020 Democratic primary season. Notoriously, she called Biden out about racial issues during the first Democratic debate. "There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public school, and she bused to school every day," she said in a speech that has now become famous. "And that little girl was me."

55-year-old Harris is currently the only Black woman in the Senate. She served as California's Attorney General prior to being elected in 2016.

Harris was born in Oakland, California; her father is from Jamaica and her mother from India. She studied at Howard University and then at University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. She worked as a prosecutor in Alameda County and San Francisco before running for district attorney and then attorney general.

As a Senator, Harris was on the Intelligence Committee which interrogated Trump about Russia, and she also made waves through her interrogations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Attorney General William Barr and Brett Kavanaugh.

Since her 2020 presidential campaign concluded, Harris has focused on the Senate's response to the coronavirus crisis, as well as their response to systemic police brutality and racist violence. In the past, Harris worked closely with Joe Biden's late son, Beau, on challenging big banks in the wake of the housing crisis.

Biden announced the decision via email and text messages to his supporters. "You make a lot of important decisions as president. But the first one is who you select to be your Vice President," he wrote Tuesday afternoon. "I've decided that Kamala Harris is the best person to help me take this fight to Donald Trump and Mike Pence and then to lead this nation starting in January 2021. These aren't normal times. I need someone working alongside me who is smart, tough, and ready to lead. Kamala is that person."

If elected, Harris would be the first vice president to be female or a person of color. "I think that she will help bring a strong voice on issues of immigration and racial justice," said Rep. Ro Khanna, a Fremont Democrat who backed Harris' opponent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primaries. "Given her life story, to see someone like her selected ... it will be encouraging to so many young people of different backgrounds."

Harris's mixed record as a prosecutor and her vacillation on progressive policies like Medicare for All has come under fire from many progressives' but in this scenario, even the most radical progressives seem to agree that Biden must be elected in order to oust Trump.

Immediate reactions to the Biden-Harris ticket on social media indicated how much supporters were looking forward to seeing Harris face off with Pence during the debates: The match-up seems to be made in meme-heaven.



Perhaps meme culture is the best response to the Biden-Harris ticket, as Democrats must support Biden as the only way to oust Trump–though Biden is far from ideal. "Biden is very problematic in many ways, not only in terms of his past and the role that he played in pushing toward mass incarceration, but he has indicated that he is opposed to disbanding the police, and this is definitely what we need," said civil rights activist Angela Davis.

Davis continued, "The election will not so much be about who gets to lead the country to a better future, but rather how we can support ourselves and our own ability to continue to organize and place pressure on those in power. And I don't think there's a question about which candidate would allow that process to unfold."

ISSUES

Why Students Are Demanding Police-Free Schools

Students want police funding redistributed to nurses and counselors.

Since the killing of George Floyd, a massive wave of anti-police and pro-Black lives protests have erupted in America and across the world.

Many of these protests focus on the fact that police actually don't tend to keep Americans safer. Specifically, they pose threats to Black Americans, and this problem pervades every aspect of society, from courtrooms to prisons to schools.

Over the past few months, students (Black and brown students, in particular) have zeroed in on an effort to remove police from schools. Across the nation, student protestors have taken the fate of their schools and peers into their own hands, launching increasingly intense protests in efforts to remove police from their educational institutions.

A Legacy of Violence: The Problems with Policing in Schools

The roots of these protests stretch deep. The first police officers to appear in schools were part of a program pioneered in the 1950s that saw "school resource officers" (SROs) hired.

"Called a lliving symbol of law and orderl by some at the time, the presence of police in schools represented a larger, national tide of clarion calls to solder steel fangs onto America's criminal justice system," writes Alexander Zhang for Slate. But immediately there was pushback. "Students, some critics worried, might be coerced into self-incrimination and service as informants on their friends and families," Zhang continues.

Still, as late as 1975, only one percent of schools employed police officers. By the late 1990s, after the War on Drugs and other racist efforts targeted specifically poor, black and Latinx communities, the majority of urban schools began to employ cops—and today two thirds of students attend school with police, and NYC alone employs more police officers than counselors.

Empathy Educates Empathy EducatesPolice in schools

The modern movement to defund and remove police from schools has been in progress for years, and many dedicated student activists have spent countless hours fighting for safer police-free schools.

"It's millions of dollars spent on police," said Denilson Garibo, a senior at Oakland High School. "We're having assistant principals being cut [from] our schools. Our teachers are not getting enough money for what they do. Why are we prioritizing school police over our education?" Garibo has been fighting police for over two years, attending school board meetings and speaking about the dangers that police officers pose to Black students.

It's not hard to see where these student protestors' anger comes from. Police—an often violent, undertrained force endowed with weapons and the power to lock people up—and underserved schools full of vulnerable, impressionable kids make an inherently ugly mix.

"When you have police in schools, you have a culture clash," said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project National Office. "And that culture clash is that their job is to protect people but also they enforce the criminal code, and they were enforcing criminal code on regular teen behavior."

The School-to-Prison Pipeline: A System Targeting Students of Color

The data reveals that these crackdowns disproportionately affect communities of color, making police in schools a racial justice issue.

"During the 2015-2016 school year, Black students accounted for 15% of total enrollment but 31% of students referred to law enforcement or arrested," a report by the Civil Rights Data Collection the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights found.

Black students are, in essence, arrested at double the rate of their white counterparts. Why? Schools that have larger Black and Latinx populations are more likely to have larger police presences, automatically raising these students' chances of being arrested. "Students of color are also more likely to be enrolled in a school with an officer. While 42% of U.S. high schools in the 2013-2014 school year had officers, 51% of high schools with large Black and Latino populations had them," writes Astrid Galvan for wgme.com.

Schools comprised of largely poor, Black, and Latino populations are more likely to be plagued by the school-to-prison pipeline, a structure that filters students to prisons just like some schools filter (typically whiter, wealthier) students towards colleges.

This pipeline exists in part thanks to the disproportionately large police presences in schools that are part of underserved communities, and the dearth of community resources available to these schools.

The school-to-prison pipeline is "part of a national trend that criminalizes rather than educates students — and one that disproportionately targets black students — as "tough-on-crime" policy has resulted in millions of mostly black and brown people winding up behind bars," notes Mariame Kaba in Teen Vogue, adding that "nationally, since 1990, spending on prisons has increased three times as quickly as spending on education."

Police employed in schools are likely to target undocumented children and families, to arrest children for petty crimes that wealthier, whiter children are far more likely to get away with, and to criminalize people based on racist ideas baked into the framework of policing since its inception.

Policing Schools: Why Are There Cops In Schools? www.youtube.com

"The presence of police in schools, I believe, is fueled by a dehumanization of children of color, which suggests that there needs to be a constant surveillance of these children in schools," writes author Monique Morris.

The data is there every step of the way to support all this. According to NPR, "Data show that schools with cops are more likely to refer children to law enforcement, including for non-serious violent behaviors. In 43 states and the District of Columbia, Black students are more likely to be arrested than other students while at school, according to an analysis by the Education Week Research Center."

These studies stand for themselves, but they don't actually reveal the truly harmful and traumatizing effects that police in schools can have on individual students of color. Over the past few years, police have been filmed performing atrocious acts of violence towards students, revealing a deeper pattern and implying a much longer and more terrifying history of police committing crimes against the students they're assigned to protect.

In the fall of 2019, an officer was caught handcuffing a sobbing 6-year-old girl. In another school, an officer was filmed shoving an 11-year-old student against a wall. Both students were Black.

This is not a new phenomenon. In 2015, a video of a police officer throwing a 16-year-old Black girl across a room sparked outrage. The student who filmed the video received a misdemeanor charge and a suspension.

So if there are so many issues with police in schools, why are they there at all?

"There isn't much evidence indicating that police officers in schools make schools safer," says Dominique Parris of the research organization Child Trends. "What they do do is increase the likelihood that Black and brown children are going to be involved in the legal system early and often."

In America, there is a pervasive cultural myth—often most prevalent among white, powerful groups—that teaches us to associate police with safety. Police presence increased in schools in the wake of early school shootings in the 1990s, but a 2018 Washington Post analysis of over 200 incidents of gun violence found that police were only successfully able to intervene twice in armed shooter situations.

On the other hand, restorative justice programs that focus on relationships between students and the people there to protect them are far more likely to stop shootings and to reduce violence in general. Behavioral assistance programs based on relationships between students and counselors help prevent students from lashing out and can also help students identify unstable or potentially dangerous peers.

Visions of a Police-Free Future

Slowly, protests are working. The Minneapolis Public School board voted this year to end its contract with the Minneapolis Police Department after a number of protests. Still, other schools have resisted students' efforts to remove police officers.

Protestors don't plan on giving up, and they don't plan on being satisfied with only removing cops. Protestors who want the police out of schools don't simply want the police gone—and they know removing the police is not a solution to every problem.

Instead, protestors want the funds used to pay salaries of cops redistributed, specifically towards counselors, nurses, and other resources that might actually help students succeed rather than relegating them to prisons.

These programs are appealing alternatives to funneling students off to deeply traumatizing and damaging prison systems, which can haunt people well into adulthood, destroying families in the process. Protestors are asking schools to imagine a world in which funds used to police and punish students could be used to provide educational programs, health and wellness resources, psychological health, and social work avenues.

They're asking, in short, for schools to do what they're supposed to do: help students learn.

POLITICS

In New York, Progressive Challengers Battle Incumbents and Potential Voter Suppression

If you have questions or issues with voting, call New York's voter hotline at (866) 687-8683 or the Attorney General at 1-800-771-7755, or contact the NYC DSA at 866-700-5927.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

When Paperboy Prince went to vote for himself in the Democratic primary on June 23rd, 2020, he was surprised to see that he hadn't even received the ballot that was supposed to have his name on it.

People all over New York City are reporting similar stories, saying that they only received their presidential ballots—not their state and congressional ballots. The problem started as early as 6AM, when reports thatsome poll sites weren't giving out the full ballots came to light.

"Poll workers didn't know there were 2 ballot sheets. 30 min of relentless arguing & discussion to convince them to look and find it," wrote one voter. "Oversight not deliberate rather disorganized. Unacceptable. Others denied a proper vote."

Some say they were given incorrect ballots. Bronx Assemblymember Victor Pichardo was given the wrong ballot when he went to vote in his neighborhood.


Others have reported additional disturbing incompetence on the part of the NY Board of Elections. "Voted at 6:30am, in person. very disappointed to find out hours later I wasn't given my full ballot. Only 1 of 2 pages. Didn't vote in presidential- thought courts made it clear I should," wrote a Twitter user.

"Another @BOENYC fiasco in Brooklyn. This Flatbush poll site opened 30 min late, then told dozens of voters waiting that both scanners are broken. After waiting for 2 hours, voters now leaving ballots in lockbox to get scanned later. Volunteers are taking chairs outside for seniors," reported another.

"Also just received a report, also at Russell Sage H.S., that several DEMOCRATIC voters were given REPUBLICAN ballots for the presidential candidates & the presidential delegate candidates. What is going on? Please get to the bottom of this ASAP," wrote yet another.

"Hi @BOENYC it looks like machines are down at the Bushwick Inlet Park polling site, too. Can we get someone on this?" wrote another Twitter user.

Furthermore, many people who requested absentee ballots have found themselves without them. "A vast but unknown number of voters who requested absentee ballots have not received them," write Ben Adler and Rebecca C. Lewis for City and State. "On Sunday, a volunteer for Brooklyn congressional candidate Adem Bunkeddeko told City & State that of the voters she has been calling since Friday, approximately 40% who requested absentee ballots have not received them." Even more disturbingly, the article continues, "As is typically the case with voter disenfranchisement, the failure to send ballots seems to have fallen disproportionately on marginalized communities."

Still, this disenfranchisement is definitely not reserved to any specific groups of people. For better or for worse, anyone can be disenfranchised, stripped of their right to vote by incompetence, mistakes, or—as some propose—direct efforts to challenge progressive candidates.

So why did this happen? Part of it has to do with state lawmakers like Governor Andrew Cuomo who provided little assistance to local boards of elections. "Neither Cuomo nor the state Legislature, which was largely absent following the passage of the state budget in early April, proposed plans to increase funding for boards to handle the additional requests and hire temporary election workers to bulk up small staffs not designed for elections with a large amount of absentee voting," Adler and Lewis continue.

Gothamist reports that anyone looking to complain about voting can contact (866) 687-8683 or report to NY Attorney General Laetitia Jones at 1-800-771-7755. The NYC DSA is also accepting calls and questions about voting today and can be contacted at 866-700-5927.

Progressive Challengers Like Jamaal Bowman Put in the Work—Now Can They Get the Votes?

It's a shame to see such incompetence in NYC, especially during such an important election featuring many vibrant challengers who have worked on these campaigns for years, refusing corporate donations and instead relying on thousands of phonebanks and local canvassers.

One such challenger, Jamaal Bowman, has made headlines for his groundbreaking campaign. A former middle school principal, Bowman is running to unseat Eliot Engel, who has been in Congress since 1989.

"The election on June 23 will thus be a test of whether the energy on American streets translates into votes," writes Michelle Goldberg. "Engel is a 16-term incumbent, the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. If he's dethroned by a political newcomer calling for defunding the police, it could be as politically earthshaking as Ocasio-Cortez's victory two years ago."

"When you look at the impact of concentrated poverty that's been created by bad policy, and the trauma that results from that, and then add on top of it stop-and-frisk policing, zero-tolerance schools, you're dealing with a population of black and Latino students that consistently feel occupied," Bowman said, his experience and energy a stark contrast to Engel's.

Other strong challengers are emerging, bringing extensive experience in community organizing along with varied backgrounds. Jabari Brisport, running for State Senate in District 25, is a queer Black socialist who is also running on a campaign to provide healthcare and housing for all.

While some of these challengers' progressive ideals may have been written off a few months ago, as Bernie Sanders' were, it's clear that we are in a new iteration of America. New forms of unrest and revolutionary sentiments are shaking the nation's streets. With unemployment skyrocketing and healthcare hanging in the balance, ideas like Medicare for All and a Homes Guarantee seem not only plausible—they seem necessary.

It's hard to know whether the tremendous energy currently in the streets for the Black Lives Matter movement will translate into votes. But on the other hand, with so much voter suppression and incompetence at polling sites in NYC, it's hard to know if any of this is fair at all.

Voter Suppression and Disenfranchisement: An American Tradition

Voter suppression is, of course, not reserved to NYC. It has a very long and deeply embedded history in America, dating back to the Jim Crow laws that suppressed poor and non-white voters (like poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses) and continuing to today.

In Kentucky, where Charles Booker is vying to be the Democrat who takes on Mitch McConnell for Senate Majority Leader, talk of voter suppression is everywhere. "Fewer than 200 polling places will be open for voters in Kentucky's primary Tuesday, down from 3,700 in a typical election year," reported the Washington Post.

In Georgia earlier this month, Black voters had to wait up to five hours to cast ballots in some cases. The event was called a "complete meltdown."

Faith in American democracy has continued to erode (if it was ever there), and certainly all this will only add fuel to that fire. Does that mean that insurgent progressive champions have more or less of a chance? We'll have to wait and see, while keeping in mind that election results may be distorted by incompetence, lack of funding, or something as insidious as illegal tampering.

POLITICS

Inside ALEC: the Secretive Council that Funds Prisons and Climate Change

ALEC puts people in for-profit jails, prevents gun laws, and stops action against climate change—all from inside locked hotel conference rooms.

In the "corporate bill mill" where corporate leaders and politicians meet, schmooze, and decide the future of the planet, evil is at work.

Georgia Senator Nan Orrick, a former ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) member, describes back rooms in Vegas resorts and behind-closed-doors legislative sessions where corporations not only vote on bills—they write them.

ALEC brands itself as an educational charity, she says, but hefty donations (memberships can cost $25,000 a year) fund "education efforts" for legislators, according to a local 11 Alive broadcast—educational efforts led by multi-billion dollar corporations with specific agendas.

The Investigators: ALEC - The Backroom Where Laws Are Born www.youtube.com

In the end, Orrick left ALEC because it was just a bunch of "angry white men," she said.

But these "angry white men" have arguably guided America towards the state it's currently in, making some sort of revolution inevitable.

From the Prison Industrial Complex to Stand Your Ground: ALEC's History of Oppression and Harm

ALEC was partly responsible for the massive spike in prison populations over the last few decades—a 500% increase over the last 40 years, to be exact. In 1995, ALEC's "Truth Sentencing Act" was signed in 25 states. ALEC also pushed for mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. And ALEC helped privatize the bail bond industry and has worked to pass laws to create for-profit prisons, catalyzing what we now know as the Prison Industrial Complex.

Unsurprisingly, two of ALEC's major sponsors include the Corrections Corporation of America and the Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections).

"An In These Times investigation last summer revealed that ALEC arranged secret meetings between Arizona's state legislators and CCA to draft what became SB 1070, Arizona's notorious immigration law, to keep CCA prisons flush with immigrant detainees," write Mike Elk and Bob Sloan in The Nation. "ALEC has proven expertly capable of devising endless ways to help private corporations benefit from the country's massive prison population."

In Ava DuVernay's documentary 13th, which tells the story of Black oppression in America from the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865 until today, she dives into ALEC and how—building on momentum from the War on Drugs—it resulted in the mass criminalization of Black people, leading to a system of punishment that Michelle Alexander calls "The New Jim Crow."

13TH | FULL FEATURE | Netflix www.youtube.com

ALEC has a long track record of creating racist policies that disenfranchise vulnerable populations. For example, they were an origin point of voter ID laws that successfully prevented many voters from participating in elections. In 2011, the civil rights organization Color of Change launched an investigation into ALEC's political actions in 2011, and reported that for years, "the right wing has been trying to stop Black people, other people of color, young people, and the elderly from voting for partisan gain—and now some of America's biggest companies are helping them do it."

ALEC was also responsible for creating the "Stand Your Ground Laws," which helped George Zimmerman go home free after he shot Trayvon Martin.

Once people began connecting the dots and investigating this law across states, they realized that the bill looked almost identical from state to state—and were able to trace its origins back to ALEC.

A Foundation Built on Disregard For Human Life

Destruction is in ALEC's lifeblood. Two of ALEC's early founders were the Koch brothers, both of whom played a significant role in destroying early government action against climate change. Over recent years, ALEC has doubled down on its efforts to defend fracking and to fight against protestors and whistleblowers, passing bills that threaten to fine and imprison anyone who attempts to vandalize pipelines, and beyond.

Business Insider Koch Brothers

Other current corporate sponsors include the tobacco industry, the giant pharmaceutical company Pfizer, the National Rifle Association, Wal-Mart, ExxonMobil, and hundreds of other corporations. That means that these major corporations have a say in what bills are passed where.

ALEC has faced some resistance. After whistleblowers published a database called ALEC Exposed in Wikipedia, corporate sponsors began to face pressure to leave the shadowy lawmaking organization. Coca-Cola, Kraft, Intuit, the Gates Foundation, Google, and other companies pulled out. Hundreds of legislators have cut ties—but ALEC continues to meet year after year.

ALEC Is Still Alive and Well—and Was Fighting to Reopen in Mid-May

ALEC is still alive and well today, if quiet (or very good at diverting attention from it). According to the ALEC Exposed Wikipedia page, ALEC has been "Leading Right-Wing Campaign to Reopen the Economy Despite COVID-19" this May.

The suffering that some of ALEC's bills have caused is literally unimaginable–and genuinely apocalyptic in scale. The number of lives ruined from big pharma, gun violence, climate change, and mass incarceration is absolutely uncountable. Bills like the "No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act," the "Consistency of Firearm Regulation" Act (which prevents local areas from restricting firearm possession), and many others have each had brutal lived consequences on people's lives—and each was created in an unjust, secretive way.

Yet ALEC still insists that it's a legal organization and that its nay-sayers are simply delusional leftists.

But if ALEC really were a legal organization, wouldn't they open their doors to the media instead of forcibly removing the reporters who try to enter at its annual policy summit?

Of course the fact that corporations are running the show nowadays isn't exactly a surprise, and ALEC is just one of the many corporate lobbyist groups that are "ghostwriting the government," as one Harvard Political Review report put it. The best of these groups are probably so secretive that no one knows exactly what they're called or where they are. Certainly, ALEC is growing alongside the times, figuring out how to further its agenda as more politicians refuse corporate donations, and who knows: It may disappear completely, reforming itself as another slick corporate group in some other identical hotel ballroom, ruining lives with the flick of a few keystrokes.

But at least the people are beginning to wise up to the fact that many of our lawmakers have pledged allegiance not to the people but to corporations.

United States of ALEC: A Follow-Up www.youtube.com