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POLITICS

Bill Barr Thinks COVID Lockdown Is Worse than Jim Crow and Genocide

Japanese internment camps pale in comparison to not being able breath your germs on a crowd of strangers in a bar.

On Wednesday, speaking at a Washington D.C. event celebrating Constitution Day, Attorney General and Donald Trump's lapdog William Barr noted that slavery—but only slavery—was worse than the pandemic lockdown.

Alongside accusations that the Black Lives Matter movement improperly uses Black people slain by the police as "props" for achieving "a much broader political agenda," Barr shared his thoughts on what he apparently thinks of as a much more serious injustice: "You know, putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,"

Leaving aside the familiar galactic scale of the understatement in the phrase "a different kind of restraint," it's worth noting that (thanks to his boss) there never were any national stay-at-home orders—though that approach could have saved tens of thousands of lives, trillions of dollars, and months of this confusing stasis.

More importantly, we can now take a stroll through history and look at all the horrible things America has done that apparently pale in comparison to telling people not to spread a deadly virus. As it turns out, when you signed up for HelloFresh this spring—because meal kits weren't already convenient enough without the looming threat of death—you weren't just avoiding the modern horror of the grocery store, you were giving into crushing tyranny.

Attorney General William Barr brings up slavery when referring to quarantining during the pandemic www.youtube.com

How bad is it? Well, you've probably heard about the Jim Crow era of American history—when Black Americans were legally refused service, housing, and employment, and deprived of access to adequate education, and even their voting rights. According to Bill Barr, this is worse—at least back then some people were allowed to eat in restaurants.

And you know how, during World War II, tens of thousands of Japanese Americans were taken from their homes and held in awful conditions in internment camps on the basis that they might be spies? Well at least they weren't asked to wear masks on the basis that they might be asymptomatic carriers of a highly contagious pathogen that has already killed nearly 200,000 Americans.

Oh, and about the systematic theft of land and resources from Native Americans, coupled with the destruction of their cultures and languages, deliberate exposure to deadly infections, forced sterilization, and just plain mass murder: It's true that the United States used violent, overwhelming force and numerous insidious measures to erase their heritage and move them onto smaller and smaller "reservations" of undesirable land. On the other hand, you try getting a "reservation" these days—in some places you can only get takeout.

As awful as it is to make light of these historic tragedies, it's important to call out the fact that the head of the Justice Department is speaking so flippantly about both American history and the vital ongoing efforts to prevent further deaths.

This is exactly the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that encourages people to storm government buildings armed with assault rifles. It's the logic that says we "have to get back to normal life" when that's just not possible.

Look at Sturgis, South Dakota where, each year, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally brings hundreds of thousands of visitors, and hundreds of millions of dollars. Surely the state has no choice but to "get back to normal" by welcoming that kind of important economic stimulus for the region... except that it became a super-spreader event, rippling out from South Dakota to cause new COVID outbreaks around the country, creating a public health crisis that estimates say will end up costing over $12 billion.

Unless we're planning to let a million more Americans die off—in their homes, because it would take to much to hospitalize them—we have no choice but to treat this pandemic as the emergency it is, and to "intrude" on people's civil liberties.

Barr's comments, at an event hosted by conservative Hillsdale College, came specifically in response to a question about the freedom of religion in the context of the lockdown—the idea being that it may not be constitutional to disallow church services. Obviously if specific denominations or religious practices were being targeted for discriminatory restrictions, that would be a serious concern.

But that's not happening. In states where they aren't being given special leniency to risk their parishioners lives, churches are subject to the same restriction on public gatherings as any other organization. And while people should be free to worship as they choose, their choices must fall within a certain realm of reason and decency—no one has the freedom to perform human sacrifices. Well, maybe one person does...

Trump Rally Henderson

On Sunday Donald Trump—the man whom Bill Barr's justice department is inexplicably defending in a defamation suit involving rape accusations—defied city orders by holding a rally in Henderson, Nevada. His first indoor rally since the June event in Tulsa that likely led to the death of Herman Cain, this rally has been characterized as "negligent homicide," almost certainly spreading the novel coronavirus, in addition to spreading the kind of insanity that treats mail-in voting as a threat to democracy, and masks as a threat to liberty.

And thanks to the nature of the Trump administration, the Attorney General's job is no longer to impartially enforce the law, it's to cosign the president's favorite conspiracies, encourage violent hysteria, and compare bare minimum public health efforts to the worst crimes in American History.

ENVIRONMENT

Climate Change and the Death of Hope in 2020

What does hope look like if our society is incapable of facing reality?

A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that polar ice sheets are melting in line with "worst-case scenario" climate models.

In Antarctica and Greenland, melting ice sheets have been dumping hundreds of billions of tons of fresh water into the ocean each year, at a rate up to three times as fast as in recent decades.

This process not only raises water levels—causing dramatic increases in catastrophic storm surges—it alters the salinity, current dynamics, and acidity of the oceans in ways that have dire ecological and meteorological impacts. It is guaranteed to produce both predictable crises and unforeseen catastrophes. And nobody cares.

Why would they? We're in the midst of a global pandemic that is triggering an unprecedented economic crisis. It has caused food insecurity to affect millions more families than were already struggling, and may soon result in tens of millions of Americans losing their homes.

California wildfires

On top of that, California is facing another devastating wildfire season (including another "gender-reveal" gone wrong) amid a record-breaking heatwave and the now-familiar drought conditions, all while a tumultuous hurricane season in the Atlantic is producing powerful storms at a faster rate than in any year since we started keeping track.

The world—and the US in particular—has more pressing concerns than melting ice in 2020, don't we? Well, considering the fact that the "worst-case scenario" for climate change could bring about the collapse of civilization within 30 years, no we really don't.

We can't make the changes to avoid that scenario overnight. It will take years of change that will need to be done sooner, rather than later. Oh, and now scientists are advising the need for a new model of a worse worst-case scenario...

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked unforeseen havoc on our society, but it's really just a snapshot of the kind of devastation that climate change will inevitably bring about without the kind of transformational action that is beginning to seem impossible.

Congress can't agree to help people keep their homes during an unprecedented unemployment crisis. What chance do we have that they will stand up to lobbyists and big-business donors to restructure our economy into a sustainable model? Does it even matter how big the threat is? Does it matter that everything we're facing is only going to get worse?

Because not only will hurricanes, droughts, floods, heat waves, food shortages, wildfires, gradually get worse and worse as a result of climate change—until the crises of 2020 become a fond memory—but infectious diseases are likely to reach epidemic and pandemic levels more frequently.

With traditional food sources destroyed by weather events and the changing oceans—along with animals migrating due to deforestation—people will be exposed to more exotic animals, and non-human viruses will have more opportunity to make the leap.

With more and more heat waves reaching and exceeding body temperature for days at a time, microbes that can't currently survive inside our bodies will begin adapting into dangerous pathogens.

And with tens of millions of people being displaced by catastrophic weather events and conflicts arising from scarce resources—most of them forced into crowded conditions—infectious diseases new and old will spread more rapidly.

displaced people

We will perpetually be dealing with some new epidemic. Some urgent disaster is always going to occupy our attention and energy while we continue to ignore the underlying, apocalyptic cause. And all of these problems will only make it easier for the rising strain of global fascism to demonize outsiders, and further isolate nations from the kind of international cooperation we so desperately need.

At what point are we expecting to have fewer "pressing concerns" than we have right now? In what idyllic future will we have the peace and security to start focusing on addressing the hazy, foundational threat that is likely to destabilize everything we know?

As a pandemic rages, America's two-parties continue to be incapable of cooperating to help the American people—of making the other side look good. Our aging, wealthy ruling class doesn't take threats facing younger generations and the working class seriously. And this familiar rot of a two-party stalemate is even more evident in the challenge of forming a consensus behind pragmatic, necessary action like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez's Green New Deal.

Instead of backing it, and favoring the long-term habitability of our only planet, people prefer to scoff at an imagined plan to steal their hamburgers. And corporate-owned media empires are happy to serve up the team-sports drama of it all while the end of everything we know rushes toward us. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is preparing for global societal destabilization.

The dynamics of American "democracy" under capitalism seem to be wholly incapable of saving us, and the structure of the military industrial complex will no doubt view the crises that arise from displaced people and global unrest as a series of nails to be handled by their ever-more-sophisticated hammers.

There is a famous quote of uncertain attribution that says that, within our system, "it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism." It's becoming increasingly easy to see that end to the world looming, while the armor protecting the forces of for-profit ecological ruination show no signs of weakening.

In astrophysics there is a concept known as the Fermi Paradox that questions why—if the conditions for producing intelligent life are not exceedingly rare—we do not see any evidence of other civilizations spread across the vastness of space.

The Fermi Paradox II — Solutions and Ideas – Where Are All The Aliens? www.youtube.com

There are various responses that may explain that observation, but among the most popular is the idea that civilizations just don't last. The forces of progress that allow creatures to develop technology like radio transmitters and spacecraft may lead inevitably to world-ending weapons or climate collapse.

Whether that's true throughout the universe, it seems increasingly to be the case for the only confirmed civilization in the Milky Way. For all our amazing advances, we remain stupid apes,—incapable of planning beyond next month, and constantly discovering new and clever ways to kill ourselves.

It's customary—in an article this dark—to end on a hopeful note. That makes sense. It's generally considered rude to actively ruin a stranger's day. But isn't it also rude to lie? Because I'm not convinced that there is any real hope for our civilization—not in the long run.

Sure, we can find some ways to delay and mitigate the damage. Pointing to 2050 as the likely end is probably overly pessimistic. If we do a surprisingly good job of adapting, legislating, and cooperating—and also get very lucky—we may have a couple good generations left.

In that case, most of the people reading this are likely to be dead of all the familiar causes before the total collapse of world order. Only our children or grandchildren—and however many generations after—will be forced to face the immense suffering of a new dark age.

That is the sad shade of fate that we should all be fighting for with desperate passion—because it's a hair shy of pure black void. Better than that, at this point, seems to be in the realm of fantasy.

We've already done so much irreversible harm. And the path we're on is so resistant to change. It would be wonderful—joyous—to be proven wrong, but the society and the way of life we know can't last. And there's no indication we'll be able to replace it in time.

Maybe our only realistic hope is to drastically lower our expectations. Short of saving the world as we know it, maybe we can keep portions of the planet habitable—maybe an enclave in the region around Colorado and another in the Mongolian steppe will hang onto less-than-hellish conditions. Maybe we need to start planning for the post-apocalypse.

oasis

With preparation, little pockets around the world could maintain a lifestyle that's worth living for some sizable remainder of humankind—even if they have to do without most of the luxuries afforded by global stability—the electronics, transportation, medicines, supply chains, entertainment, and communication we take for granted.

A return to something closer to pre-industrial conditions is likely for survivors of the collapse, but maybe—for some fraction of the population—life won't become a living hell.

And maybe, somewhere out in the universe, there is an some alien species that has managed to survive the pitfalls of progress and achieve a sustainable, equitable, idyllic life. Maybe they're watching us, waiting to see how we handle ourselves—to see if we learn our lesson from this impending apocalypse—before they swoop in and share their utopia.

If we peer far enough into distant uncertainty, it's possible to conceive of something better after the end of Western Civilization—after likely billions of deaths and immeasurable suffering.

Does that count as hope? Is that enough to spit up the black pill of despair?

POLITICS

Why Doesn't Kyle Rittenhouse Deserve Qualified Immunity?

The cases of Rusten Sheskey and Kyle Rittenhouse make it clear that the leniency afforded to police officers is not justified.

Amid protests of a police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin this week, three protesters were shot by a 17-year-old with an AR-15.

Two of the protesters died at the scene on Tuesday. The third was seriously injured, but survived. The shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse of Antioch Illinois, has been charged with two counts of first-degree homicide, among other charges.

The event that spurred the protests was shocking on its face, but an increasingly familiar scenario—a Kenosha police officer shot an unarmed Black man in the back seven times.

The incident took place on Sunday, August 23rd, after police officers arrived at the scene of a domestic disturbance with little information. A woman had called 911 and used 29-year-old Jacob Blake's name, but was reportedly "uncooperative" with the 911 operator, so police had little else to go on.

Sources since the incident have said that Blake was actually breaking up an argument, possibly between the 911 caller and another woman. But it turned out there was a warrant out for Blake's arrest, and police responded to the call with force.

While some details of the encounter remain uncertain, Blake was tased more than once, and two videos document police officers struggling to restrain him as he attempts to free himself and move toward the driver side door of his SUV.

Authorities identify officer who opened fire in Jacob Blake shooting l GMA www.youtube.com

The footage shows that as Blake opened the door, officer Rusten Sheskey grabbed him by the shirt and shot him seven times in the back. While all this took place, Blake's three young sons were sitting inside the SUV.

Miraculously, Blake survived those gunshots, but is paralyzed, and likely to never walk again. After regaining consciousness, a heavily medicated Blake reportedly asked his father "Why did they shoot me so many times?" to which his father responded, "Baby, they weren't supposed to shoot you at all."

Police have claimed that a knife was found on the driver's side floorboard, with the suggestion that Blake was reaching for it in order to harm the officers. Why else would he have struggled so hard to get to the driver side door? Surely he didn't think he could actually get away?

The answer is that Jacob Blake likely didn't think much at all. Nor would anyone in that situation.

A taser delivers an electrical pulse of around 50,000 volts of low amperage electricity that courses through the victim's body, causing muscles to seize violently. While the low amperage of these pulses generally protects the victim's heart from stopping, the electricity has been shown to reach the brain, where it can disrupt memory and thought processing.

Blake was effectively shot with a brain disruption device. Coupled with the body's natural fight or flight response—which causes adrenaline and other stress-response hormones to flood into the bloodstream—chances are he couldn't really get a handle on what was going on. If his instinct was to fight, maybe that means he was in fact reaching for a knife.

But if his instinct was to run—to quickly get himself and his children away from a very real threat—then no amount of arguing or reasoning was going to stop him from trying to get in his car to drive off.

Rusten Sheskey, likewise, may have been acting on instinct. The kind of tunnel vision that takes over in stressful situations may have prevented him from considering the innocent explanation for why Jacob Blake would struggle so hard to open his car door. He may also have been influenced by the kind of implicit racial bias that causes many Americans to perceive Black men as more threatening.

Or maybe there was nothing "implicit" about his bias at all. Maybe Rusten Sheskey was one of the open bigots that have actively infiltrated law enforcement, and would have taken any excuse to shoot a Black man with the intent to kill.

We don't know, and may never find out. What we do know is that, even if Rusten Sheskey is charged with Jacob Blake's murder—so far, no charges have been filed—he is very likely to be acquitted.

So why has Kyle Rittenhouse already been charged with murder?

His crimes took place more than two days after Jacob Blake was shot, yet no officers have been charged in connection with the incident. The answer is closely tied to the controversial concept of "qualified immunity."

Among calls to defund and reform America's police in the months since the horrific killing of George Floyd, one of activists' primary demands is the elimination of qualified immunity, which essentially says that police officers cannot be sued for any reasonable actions they take as part of fulfilling their duties. That includes shooting unarmed civilians if the officers perceive them—for whatever reason—as an imminent threat.

While the protections only apply to civil suits, the reasoning behind them is closely related to the logic that tends to prevent police officers from being charged and convicted in these cases. But why doesn't Jacob Blake deserve the same leniency? Were the circumstances under which he fired his rifle substantially different than what led Rusten Sheskey to fire seven bullets into Jacob Blake's back?

Again, many of the details are unclear. While there are multiple videos documenting portions of the incident, we don't know exactly what led up to the moment when Rittenhouse shot his first victim, 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum.

Reportedly Rosenbaum threw a plastic bag at Rittenhouse, and attempted to take his gun from him—possibly fearing that Rittenhouse was not in a state of mind to handle his firearm safely. If that was his fear, it was soon justified when Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum, wounding him in the back, hand, groin, thigh, and head.

Perhaps Rittenhouse was influenced by the rhetoric from conservative outlets like the Daily Caller, and from President Donald Trump himself—who famously said "when the looting starts, the shooting starts"—to view the Black Lives Matter movement and protesters opposing police brutality as violent terrorists who deserved to be met with violence. Is that different than how Rusten Sheskey was primed to view Jacob Blake?

In the aftermath, while Richard McGinniss, a videographer from conservative website The Daily Caller, did his best to tend to Rosenbaum's wounds, Rittenhouse ran from the scene, rifle in hand. He was caught on video telling a friend over the phone, "I just killed someone."

Video shows Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha on the night three protestors were shot www.youtube.com

In further video protesters pursued Rittenhouse, and when he fell to the ground, he pointed his rifle at them. Multiple protesters attempted to disarm him—and 26-year-old Anthony Huber struck him with a skateboard. But rather than surrender or drop his weapon, Rittenhouse shot at them, shooting Huber in the heart and nearly severing the arm of Gaige Grosskreutz.

When Rittenhouse got back to his feet and managed to get away from protesters, he found his way to the police, whom he approached while protesters called out for him to be arrested. Instead, Rittenhouse was allowed to return to his home in Illinois, where he was arrested the next day.

But why was he arrested at all? Why Kyle Rittenhouse and not Rusten Sheskey?

If anything, Rittenhouse has more of a claim to make in terms of self defense. While Sheskey may have suspected that Jacob Blake was reaching for some kind of weapon, Rittenhouse knew for a fact that his victims were reaching for a high-powered semi-automatic rifle—his rifle.

And in the case of Anthony Huber, he actually attacked him with a skateboard—which may even be considered "assault with a deadly weapon" in some cases. Of course his victims were more than justified in fearing what Rittenhouse would do with his weapon, but couldn't you say the same for Jacob Blake? Didn't he have reason to fear for his life and attempt to either run from the police or defend himself however he thought he could? So why is it different?

Is it a matter of duty? While Rittenhouse may not have been serving in any official capacity as a police officer, he clearly saw his role in Kenosha as very similar.

He had trained with the Grayslake Police Department through their "Public Safety Cadet" program for aspiring police officers aged 14-21. On social media he included the motto "Duty. Honor. Courage. Blue Lives Matter." with his profile picture. In an interview with the Daily Caller prior to the shooting—filmed by none other than Richard McGinniss—Rittenhouse referred to it as his "job" to use his gun to defend himself and others.

According to reports, local police treated Rittenhouse and other armed civilians seeking to take a stand against riots as their allies rather than vigilantes—handing out water bottles and giving them encouragement. This may explain why police allowed Rittenhouse to leave the scene after killing two men and injuring a third.

Clearly Rittenhouse believed himself—not without reason—to be serving alongside the police, and in a similar capacity. Did he lack the training to do so with the professionalism of an actual police officer?

The Grayslake Police Department's Public Safety Cadet program—according to an archived page—included weekly meetings, a background check, and firearms training. Considering the fact that several states require police officers to receive just twelve weeks of training—less than barbers or plumbers—Rittenhouse may have had nearly as much training as many rookie cops.

New video shows Antioch teen just before deadly Kenosha protest shooting | ABC7 Chicago www.youtube.com

Was it his age then? One of the charges against Rittenhouse is "possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18." Is there a switch that was going to flip when he turned 18 that would have made him more responsible? More capable of wielding deadly force with care? At 21 then? Or 31—the age of Rusten Sheskey?

No, the only thing that really separates the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse and the numerous police officers who have shot unarmed people in recent years is that when Kenosha Sheriff David Beth was encouraged to deputize the armed civilians going out amid protests, he refused. Does that make him a hero? No, but it does mean that his police department won't be sued—at least in this case.

Now Kyle Rittenhouse has been charged with homicide, and he or his parents will no doubt be defendants in a number of civil suits likely to be filed by the victims' families. Meanwhile, neither Rusten Sheskey nor the officers who tased Jacob Blake have been charged with anything, nor will his family be allowed to sue them.

So why doesn't Rittenhouse deserve the leniency that police receive in these cases?

Because no one does.

We should not accept the fact that armed men and women patrol our streets—often with the same defensive, violent attitudes as Kyle Rittenhouse—and can shoot unarmed civilians with impunity. It's time to end qualified immunity, shift police funding toward non-violent community services, and to make police accountable to civilian review boards with the power to actually punish them.

Short of that, we might as well give Kyle Rittenhouse his gun back, and set him and others like him loose on our streets.

POLITICS

Guardian Angels Clash with Rioters in NYC: A Better Model for Policing?

While their founder is far from perfect, their model of policing could go a long way to easing tensions

When you imagine a 66-year-old white man taking justice into his own hand to face down looters in the ongoing protests of police brutality, it sounds horrible.

And in many ways Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, would probably meet your expectations. He is a brash Republican talk show host who is hoping to unseat Bill De Blasio as mayor in 2021. He's fond of dramatic publicity stunts, he's currently advocating for more aggressive police action to break up the protests...of aggressive police action, and he referred to the East Village Foot Locker he and his fellow Guardian Angels defended from violent looters on Tuesday night as "the jewel in the crown" because he assumes that rioters "were looking for the sneakers, limited edition." In other words, Sliwa is kind of gross, but his organization is surprisingly not.

An unarmed volunteer organization that Sliwa founded in the late '70s to patrol streets and subways in order to deter crime and fight off muggers, the Guardian Angels' ranks were mainly made up of young black and latino men who wanted to fight back against the crime that ravaged their New York City communities. While that vigilante impulse has often led to violence and further injustice, the fact that the Guardian Angels were armed with nothing but their signature red berets and "karate," operating mainly through collective intimidation to deter crime in their own communities, speaks volumes in their favor.

guardian angels back in the day © Stephen Shames/Polaris

It's no wonder the organization grew so quickly, with chapters opening all over the world. Admittedly their prominence has declined somewhat in recent decades, but considering the adoption of hyper-violent vigilante symbols by many police officers, perhaps it's time for the Guardian Angel's model of vigilantism to have a resurgence—or perhaps even to be adopted for official police tactics.

Imagine a world where seeing a police uniform didn't automatically indicate someone with a gun. What if guns were reserved for certain officers and certain situations, and patrol cops relied on numbers, intimidation, and non-lethal force—including but not limited to martial arts (and maybe those sheets that Japanese police roll people up in)—to prevent, deter, and defuse violent crime. And imagine if those cops had close ties to communities they patrolled—actually lived in those neighborhoods—and had that added incentive to resolve situations peacefully.

While some cities have residency requirements for their police, these measures are often not enforced. And even in cities like New York, where police use of guns has declined, the constant threat of possible gun violence heightens tension between police and the communities they're intended to serve—especially when there is no sense that the officers have any investment in the neighborhoods they patrol.

Obviously the danger involved in fighting crime and arresting criminals shouldn't be downplayed—Sliwa and at least one other Guardian Angel were hospitalized with serious injuries following Tuesday night's confrontation with looters—and sometimes firearms are necessary in that work. But considering how many nations' police don't regularly carry guns—and the fact that pizza delivery is technically a more dangerous job—maybe the average beat cop can get by with a kevlar vest, a bodycam, and some martial arts training. Maybe these cops could be part-time or semi-professional—like an officially sanctioned neighborhood watch or citizen patrol with some training, arrest powers, and extra pocket money. If we dramatically scaled down the size of our traditional police forces, then we could afford programs with a less hostile approach to localized patrolling.

Curtis Sliwa and fellow Guardian Angel at West Indian Day parade Curtis Sliwa and a fellow Guardian Angel survey the West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn, 2007

Needless to say this is in no way an endorsement of Curtis Silwa, who faked his own 1980 kidnapping and once had his members spraypaint "KKK" and "White Power" outside their headquarters for publicity. He was and remains a jackass, but even a jackass is entitled to a good idea now and then. And considering the current backlash against excessive force and the militarization of the police, maybe the Guardian Angels' model can point the way for some of the necessary reforms.

Would it solve everything? No. After all, Derek Chauvin didn't even need his gun when he killed George Floyd—only his knee. But we have to do something, and maybe treating our police more like red berets rather than green berets could begin to ease tensions in over-policed neighborhoods—and could start to heal the painful history of oppression and institutional violence in America's minority communities.

POLITICS

Reopening Isn't About the Economy—It's About Kicking People off Unemployment

The economic impact of reopening is unclear, but the goal to keep government "small" is unwavering even in a crisis

In the coming weeks many US states will begin the process of loosening COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and "reopening" their economies.

Other states have already done so.

While the argument for reopening has been unequivocal—it's supposedly what we need to save our flagging economy from a full-blown depression—it's not clear that it will serve that function at all. Recent polling has shown that the vast majority of Americans support social-distancing and stay-at-home measures and are not enthusiastic about the prospect of going back to restaurants and crowded stores while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing. Which means that the number of customers who return as states drop their restrictions may not be enough to keep small businesses afloat.

Unfortunately that majority opinion has not received as much attention as many of the loudest advocates for reopening—who have argued that a death toll that is likely to more than double current figures is worth it, or that the whole pandemic is just a hoax. Of course it makes sense for small business owners and people who are struggling to make ends meet right now to want to get back to work, but what good will it do?

If cases spike, overwhelming local hospital systems and causing deaths and tremendous medical debt in the process, then restrictions will need to be reinstated, and the economic problems we're currently dealing with will only be prolonged. Right now we lack the widespread testing and the sufficiently improving conditions to support reopening without a vaccine. There are measures we could take at the federal level to improve the situation without such startling risks, but we are ignoring those options—treating reopening like it's the only solution available—for one simple reason: Americans hate "big government."

Since at least the 1980s our society has been flooded with anti-government propaganda. We recite mantras about government mismanagement, waste, incompetence, while ignoring successful programs at home and abroad. One of our two major parties has devoted much of its political willpower to actively sabotaging federal programs and agencies like the US Postal Service to prove their point and push for further privatization (that they, along with their donors and friends, stand to personally profit from). In this context, the kind of aggressive federal spending we would need to keep small businesses and struggling families afloat in current conditions is virtually unthinkable.

Even America's relatively compassionate party is only pushing fairly moderate measures that are likely to be whittled down and paired with massive business subsidies in the Senate—just like what happened with the Cares Act in March. In its current form the Heroes Act includes $175 billion in housing assistance, a second round of $1200 stimulus payments (with children receiving as much as adults this time), $200 billion in hazard pay for essential workers, $1 trillion in funding for states to pay their vital workers, and a six month extension of the $600 unemployment expansion.

Undoubtedly these measures will help a lot—though not as much as more generous proposals—but they ignore some major issues. The biggest problem (apart from the fact that the senate isn't going to let the bill pass as is) is that states are straining to make the basic unemployment payments that the $600 expansion is meant to supplement. As a result, many of the tens of millions of people trying to file for unemployment have been stymied by bureaucratic foot-dragging and red tape, and now states are using reopening as a way to push workers off of unemployment and protect state budgets from possible bankruptcy—an outcome which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has no interest in preventing. In some states there are even systems being implemented to report workers who refuse to go back to work, regardless of their circumstances or legitimate fears.

Mitch McConnell

Whether any of this will improve the national economy in the long run remains to be seen. What is clear is that state governments are being understandably cautious with their budgets, and the Republican party is playing their usual political games with lives, health, and livelihoods on the line. The result is that states are reopening, and millions of workers are about to be pushed off unemployment. The next stop is cutting retirement benefits, and fully dissolving any remnant of a social safety net this country has.

As we enter what is likely to be another global depression, it's worth keeping in mind that these programs are among the measures that helped us get through the last one under FDR and that countries that chose a different path were pushed toward a scarier form of politics that has lately been threatening resurgence: outright fascism. Let's try not to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s.

POLITICS

Why You Should Join Workers From Amazon, Walmart, and FedEx in the May 1st General Strike

Whether you're unemployed, working from home, or an essential worker, there's a lot to fight for right now

According to a report published in The Intercept on Tuesday, essential workers at major companies like Amazon, Walmart, Instacart, Target, Whole Foods, and FedEx are planning a walkout as part of a May Day general strike, fighting for workers' rights.

A lot of Americans probably don't know the history of May Day, or the fact that May 1st is known as International Workers' Day—or Labour Day—in much of the world. That ignorance, and the fact that we have our own Labor Day in September, can best be understood as part of a deliberate effort to undermine class consciousness and solidarity in the US, and is all the more reason why more workers need to participate in Friday's strike.

The power structures of our country have long maintained a hostile relationship toward labor and have successfully suppressed unionization and other efforts by workers to agitate for their rights. But this May 1st is the perfect time to correct that tendency and join the world in celebrating workers–because the historic event that International Workers' Day commemorates took place here in America in 1886, and it upset the established hierarchy in a way that should serve as inspiration for people currently struggling to make ends meet.

Haymarket Riot

Prior to 1886, May Day had traditionally been celebrated in European cultures with a variety of festivals celebrating spring, but that year American workers took the occasion as an opportunity to fight for their rights. A massive, nationwide work stoppage began on May 1st and continued for several days, with thousands of striking workers demonstrating in every major city. At the time, workers were often made to work long hours in dangerous conditions, and they were fighting for the eight-hour workday—so if you've ever gotten overtime pay, or just enjoyed clocking out at 5:00, then you have them to thank.

On May 3rd police efforts to quash the protests in Chicago resulted in at least one death and several injuries.The next day an unknown assailant came prepared. When police once more attempted to disperse the crowd in Haymarket Square with violent tactics, that person threw a dynamite bomb. The explosion and the ensuing gunfire killed seven police officers and at least four civilians. Dozens more were badly hurt. Police then rounded up hundreds of organizers, and four men—none of whom had thrown the bomb—were hanged after a lengthy, internationally publicized trial.

Haymarket hanging

It would take another 30 years of fighting before a federal law established an eight-hour work day for any private industry—and even longer before FDR's administration made it standard across most types of work. But those four men became martyrs for the cause of workers' rights and galvanized people around the world to take action. According to historian William J. Adelman, "No single event has influenced the history of labor in Illinois, the United States, and even the world, more than the Chicago Haymarket Affair," yet few Americans are aware of these events or the holiday they spawned. While the violence and death that took place back then was obviously regrettable—and no one should be hoping for its recurrence—we are about due for another turning point in labor history.

The cracks in our system are being exposed like never before, and millions are falling through. Tens of millions of Americans find themselves suddenly unemployed or underemployed. Shockingly few have been able to sign up for unemployment benefits, and the federal government's $1,200 checks are being treated as a long-term cure-all. People aren't making money, yet most of them are still expected to pay their rent in full, and many have lost their health insurance amid a viral pandemic. It's no wonder people are protesting for their states to reopen; but seeing as that would plainly backfire (and is a push being secretly driven by wealthy backers who won't have to risk their lives), we need to direct that energy toward measures that would actually help.

Fast food workers striking ABC

Meanwhile, many of the people who never stopped working—in healthcare, retail, food service, and other industries deemed "essential"—are being asked to risk their lives working without safety equipment, hazard pay, or even adequate sick leave. These conditions would be unacceptable at the best of times, but now—at the worst of times—we have no choice but to fight back and demand immediate relief and lasting reforms.

A rent strike is a good start, but a general strike—in which workers across industries and around the country participate—sends a real message. So if it's at all possible for you to join the general strike on Friday, May 1st, and/or participate in a (safe, socially-distant) demonstration, consider what you'd be fighting for: A rent and mortgage freeze; liveable stimulus payments; guaranteed healthcare; and hazard pay, sick leave, and PPE for all essential workers.

These are the absolute bare minimum measures that can get us all through this crisis, and if we don't demonstrate the collective power of the American working class—to drive or shut down the economy—we will continue to be deprived of even these. It's time to stand up.

POLITICS

Why Was New York's Presidential Primary Really Canceled?

The coronavirus pandemic provides cover for crass political maneuvering.

April 28th was the original date for New York State's primary election.

Last month Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that it would be postponed until June 23rd, but on Monday the state's Board of Elections removed Bernie Sanders from the ballot, effectively cancelling the presidential primary for New York voters.

Sanders had previously suspended his campaign but was staying on the ballot in remaining elections in order to increase his delegate count and his leverage in shaping the party's platform at the Democratic National Convention this summer. A similar strategy in 2016 helped Sanders to reduce the sway of unelected superdelegates on the party's nominating process. Unfortunately for voters who wanted to support that strategy, a state law signed earlier this year allowed the board to remove Sanders from the ballot.

The official reasoning is that the election process would undermine the state's efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit New York City harder than anywhere else in the country. Given the new infections that resulted from Wisconsin's primary election on April 7th, no one can blame officials for being concerned, but many had assumed that the state would simply shift to an exclusively mail-in ballot process.

A charitable interpretation would say that there wasn't enough time to coordinate such a large-scale task, but that's not the whole picture. Whatever the logistical challenges of providing safe voting access to the all of New York's voters, state officials have made it clear that this move also served to prevent an embarrassing result for their preferred candidate and to defend the party orthodoxy against the demands of the country's young progressive movement.

"What the Sanders campaign wanted is essentially a beauty contest that, given the situation with the public health emergency, seems to be unnecessary and, indeed, frivolous."

That was what Co-Chair Doug Kellner said during a live stream announcing the board's decision. It's unclear what he might have meant by the "beauty contest" comparison, though perhaps it was a reference to the fact that the candidate he prefers looks really bad right now. With an increasingly credible accusation of sexual assault leading the trending hashtags #DropOutBiden and #BidenDropOut on Twitter in recent days, establishment insiders who favor Joe Biden's candidacy have a vested interest in treating the nomination like it's already decided. Kellner voiced that sentiment bluntly, saying, "I think it's time for us to recognize that the presidential contest is over,"

But it's not over. It's very rare for a candidate to have clinched the nomination this early in the process. Joe Biden could easily make up a face-saving excuse to drop out and make way for a candidate without his baggage. He is currently several hundred pledged delegates short of a majority, with nearly half the states still waiting to vote—Ohio's mail-in primary is taking place today. But even assuming that he stays in the race, the final delegate count remains a key way to shape the policy conversation at the convention. While Biden has a distinct lead over Sanders—to the point where even a major scandal like the Tara Reade allegations is unlikely to change the outcome—holding the election in some form would have allowed for New York's voter's to be heard.

As senior Sanders campaign advisor Jeff Weaver put it, "While we understood that we did not have the votes to win the Democratic nomination our campaign was suspended, not ended, because people in every state should have the right to express their preference. What the Board of Elections is ignoring is that the primary process not only leads to a nominee but also the selection of delegates which helps determine the platform and rules of the Democratic Party,"

New York, with its young, left-leaning electorate, represented Bernie Sanders' best remaining chance of adding to his delegate count. Now the Board of Election has undermined that chance and ensured that New Yorkers won't get a say at all. With a critical election coming up in November, and the future of our nation resting on our ability to oust Donald Trump, they found a surefire way to reinforce young voters' sense of distrust and dissatisfaction with the Democratic party establishment.

POLITICS

Donald Trump Is Encouraging His Supporters to Spread Death

Whether he knows it or not, that is the effect of his rhetoric

In recent days protestors have gathered in Michigan, Ohio, and North Carolina to call on state officials to end social distancing and shelter-at-home requirements.

It's understandable. The economy is suffering under the strain of the COVID-19 quarantine. It has decimated the stock market and resulted in an unprecedented spike in unemployment, and people want to get back to their lives. They want to reopen the country, and so does President Trump—whose ardent supporters have been among the most vocal and visible protestors. He's worried that if this situation continues on his watch, the economic damage may hurt his chances at re-election, as businesses small and large suffer losses that threaten their very survival. Leaving aside the fact that reopening too early will result in worse economic damage, there is another group that doesn't seem to concern him as much and whose survival actually depends on continuing the quarantine: People. Hundreds of thousands of people.

mass grave in New York A mass grave in New York

So when Donald Trump was suggesting that "large sections of the country" could re-open for Easter, it was cause for concern. But with the impact of the pandemic still far from its terrifying peak in hotspots like New York city, it seemed likely that Donald Trump would back off his overly-optimistic stance—and he did.

That's often how things work with Donald Trump. He will make a show of how tough and no-nonsense he is with some dramatic posturing that seems to fly in the face of the experts and will then be cowed by behind-the-scenes efforts to make him see reason. Unfortunately for the country, most of his followers are not similarly attended to by an entourage of people trying desperately to steer them away from catastrophic idiocy. So now that Easter has come and gone and Donald Trump is continuing to hint that he may soon reopen the country—maybe even against the wishes of governors in individual states—chaos was bound to ensue.

While some of the protesters have remained in their cars—honking their horns and blocking the passage of at least one ambulance—others crowded together to scream their rejection of science in one proud voice and one shared cloud of breath.

For Donald Trump, the political effect of his latest hints and ambiguous comments about wanting to reopen the country and authorizing governors "to implement ... a very powerful reopening plan" while telling them, "You're going to call your own shots," is that he can have his cake and eat it too. While taking no direct measures to reopen the country amid continued medical advice to extend restrictions, he can still communicate to stir-crazy and cash-strapped supporters that he's doing everything he can for them and that maybe they should talk to their governors.

And that's just what they've been doing. In Michigan—where Operation Gridlock was so effective that even emergency vehicles couldn't get through—protestors directed their frustration at Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, with chants of "Recall Whitmer" and "Lock her up." In North Carolina, at the ReopenNC protest, more than 100 angry citizens assembled to protest Governor Roy Cooper's stay-at-home order and to spread conspiracy theories that the COVID-19 death toll is being inflated—though the opposite is true.

In Ohio the scene was particularly disturbing, with dozens of protestors gathering at the statehouse in Columbus with Guy Fawkes masks, Trump hats, and signs reading "This is tyranny," and "Quarantine the sick not the Contitution [sic]." Eventually a group pressed close together against the locked glass doors to shout their feelings with no concern for social distancing.

What these people need is financial assistance that isn't delayed by politics or targeted at millionaires and massive corporations, as well as reassurance that the current approach is necessary and effective—that our leaders are unified in following the guidance of health experts. What they get instead, from Trump and top Conservative voices, is constant waffling and hedging about the cost to the economy and tacit endorsement of these dangerous protests.

Just as he has had every opportunity to decry violence done in his name, Donald Trump could end these protests. If he were open and honest about the fragility of our hospital system and our country's best hope of getting through this crisis intact, then he could quell much of this unrest and dispel false narratives equating this virus to the flu or car accidents. Instead he feigns careful consideration while effectively encouraging defiance that will inevitably result in more infections and more death.

Stay home and stay safe.

POLITICS

Why Is Bernie Sanders Endorsing Joe Biden—While Staying on the Ballot?

The senator from Vermont is fully behind Joe Biden's candidacy, but that doesn't mean he's abandoned his own agenda.

Joe Biden is a deeply flawed candidate—it would be pointless to deny it.

His unwillingness to embrace increasingly popular progressive policies has made him an unappealing option for younger voters who have more or less shunned him in every primary so far, while his legislative and personal history have the potential to put him in a defensive position as we enter the general election.

He is perhaps correctly viewed as the candidate that the Democratic party defaulted to after a contentious primary season failed to produce the centrist frontrunner that party insiders and donors were hoping for. He is the concept of "anyone-but-Trump" embodied in a hollow, flavorless candidacy who is nonetheless plagued by exactly the kind of scandals that would otherwise make Trump vulnerable to criticism.

While he has secured the Democratic nomination for himself on the basis of an argument for his "electability," many critics have called into question whether he actually meets that standard. But one thing is certain: If Joe Biden is going to beat Donald Trump in November, it won't be without a lot of help from the young progressive movement in this country. That's where Bernie Sanders comes into the play.

Watch Bernie Sanders endorse Joe Biden www.youtube.com

On Monday the senator from Vermont and former front runner for the Democratic nomination began the long arduous process of convincing progressive voters and activists to rally around a candidate that they find fundamentally dissatisfying. After suspending his campaign last Wednesday, Sanders came out with a statement calling on his supporters to back Biden in order to "defeat somebody who I believe ... is the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country."

It would be disingenuous for Sanders' endorsement to focus on Biden himself—whose approach to politics Sanders has thoroughly criticized both specifically and in the abstract—but it's far a more important message than claiming, once again, that Biden is his good friend. Sanders is addressing the significant and terrifying threat that our country faces in the form of Donald Trump. He's a man who called a pandemic a hoax when swift action could have saved lives, then used it as an opportunity to reward his loyalists at the expense of the public health, all while promoting dubious cures, undermining important regulation, forcing states into expensive bidding wars, and inciting dangerous xenophobia. He is, in short, a reckless, self-aggrandizing, would-be fascist.

In the three years that Donald Trump has held power, he has made tremendous strides in consolidating power for his party, America's economic elites, and himself. If he manages to get reelected, the problem is going to get worse. Whatever you think of Joe Biden, it's important to acknowledge how much better he would be for this country. It's important for the progressive movement in America to (however grudgingly) put their full force behind Joe Biden and get out the Democratic vote—particularly in swing states. While Biden's VP pick (promising rumors suggest Elizabeth Warren) has a lot of potential to help in that process, Bernie Sanders' endorsement is an important first step. So why is Bernie Sanders staying on the ballot in upcoming races?

The answer is that Bernie Sanders still represents a huge coalition of Democratic voters, and he wants to be able to represent their interests at this year's democratic convention. If he is able to secure a large number of delegates for himself, that will hopefully give him the sway he needs to push the party platform to the left on important issues like Medicare for All and student debt relief.

So while Bernie's endorsement is crucial for inspiring unity in November, voters in states like New York, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania will still have the opportunity to voice their preference for Sanders' policies.

POLITICS

The Coronavirus Reveals How Fragile American Society Has Become

Look on our works, ye mighty, and despair!

There is a saying that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.

Entrenched systems of power have established bulwarks against the kind of institutional reform that younger Americans have recently been pushing for. By controlling the political conversation through lobbying, control of mass media, regulatory capture, and authoring of legislation, the ultra-wealthy maintain the status quo in a way that makes changing it seem impossible. The problem is that change is desperately needed if we are going to maintain any semblance of civilization.

While political dynamics have become so rigid that the boundaries of what we can achieve begin to feel impenetrable, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that the vital structures of our society—a society that is superficially so robust—have been so weakened that a collapse in one form or another is inevitable. We are the world's superpower, yet faced with a slightly more contagious, slightly more lethal virus than the flu, we are powerless. How did it get to be this bad? How were we so blind to it?

To clarify, depending on the part of the country you live in, it could seem like I'm exaggerating. It may not seem "so bad," or like we're on the verge of collapse. Not long ago the president and many of his loyalists on Fox News and AM radio were still calling dire forecasts around the coronavirus a hoax. At the time it seemed reckless but not unhinged from current events—which were still largely unaffected. In much of the country there is little cause for alarm, so few people are doing much to change their behavior. That's about to change, and the areas hit worst will soon be making the dire choices that Italian hospitals were recently faced with—which patients are we going to hook up to ventilators, and which are we going to allow to die. We are already started on a path that leads to overflowing hospitals in every major city.

Seattle coronavirus A makeshift testing facility in Seattle, Washington Getty Images

The problem is that our entire economy is set up around the same kind of short-term thinking that drive publicly traded corporations. The mentality that "government should be run like a business," leads to cost-cutting measures that only look to the current budget, with minimal consideration given to the kind of intermittent crises that we are bound to face—like a viral pandemic. If it's not particularly likely to happen before the next election cycle, it's better not to even worry about it. This is the kind of thinking that led Donald Trump's administration to push for cuts to the CDC and to disband their global health security team in 2018.

But the systemic issues go much deeper than that and started long before Trump took office. Trump and his ilk can't be blamed for the fact that the US has two hospital beds for every 1,000 citizens. Nor are they responsible for the fact that almost every aspect of America's critical infrastructure receives a near-failing grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. This includes airport congestion—which has already become an issue with the current pandemic—and important shipping routes that we will rely on to maintain the movement of necessary goods as conditions around the country worsen.

Add to those issues the fact that we have a massive population of prisoners sharing tight quarters with poor sanitation, a substantial homeless population with no way to quarantine, a dearth of worker protections like paid sick leave, and it becomes hard to imagine how we'll get through this unscathed. And, of course, this is still ignoring the elephant in the room—a for-profit healthcare system that discourages millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans from seeking medical advice or treatment until it's too late.

Coronavirus Stock Market Getty Images

Meanwhile, the economic hardships imposed by the necessity of social distancing are being exacerbated by an economy that is heavily reliant on the whims of financial speculators who create an echo chamber of divestment that heightens every crisis. The stock market, in other words, is going crazy in the worst possible way. It's too soon to say how thoroughly the weaknesses in our system will be tested by the developing pandemic, but even in the best case scenario they are going to be strained to a terrifying extent.

Fortunately, there are efforts underway to shore up some of the most obvious breaking points so we can avoid complete societal collapse. They may turn out to be too little too late, but even if they get us through this current disaster, how long will it be before the next one hits? The best models of climate change predict that we are nearing an era that will be ruled by powerful natural disasters and refugee crises that will threaten economic stability and critical infrastructure and may heighten the threat of infectious diseases. Temporary, reactive measures cannot save us if the next crisis hits a little harder or when multiple crises overlap.

A strong social safety net like the one the US tried to develop under FDR would serve to mitigate the damage from this kind of crisis. But modern American politics has worked for decades—in an effort that became an object of worship under Ronald Reagan—to whittle the welfare state of the New Deal and the Great Society down to a fragile bare minimum.

We need to take seriously the voices of politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who have called for the kind of broad, sweeping legislation that stands a chance of upending the rigid political dynamics that maintain the status quo. The Green New Deal would be a good start. The alternative, one way or another, is the end of our civilization and the world as we know it.