After talking about some of the most important issues of the 2020 campaign last week, we had hoped to spend today’s edition of Extra! Extra! talking about Joe Biden’s vice presidential selection. Rumors were swirling that the former VP would announce his selection this week but, apparently, we’ll have to wait a little longer to find out which woman will join Biden on the Democratic ticket. When we know, we’ll have plenty to say about it, I’m sure.
In the interim, we used this week’s Extra! Extra! to revisit some not-so-distant history, examine the fucked up shit happening in the name of “Homeland Security,” take a look at some of the global headlines that caught our eye and check in on how COVID continues to impact our lives. Finally, we leave you with some good news… a little optimism to carry you into the weekend.
“A Race Between Education and Catastrophe”
Himani: Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the US dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. This article from Slate provides the historical context that has for too long been ignored or glossed over. It is a reminder that so often the people we idolize are complicit in atrocities, even if they change their minds after the fact; for instance: “The project to build the bomb began with a 1939 letter from Albert Einstein to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, confiding that a fission chain reaction of uranium could produce a very powerful bomb and warning that German scientists were at work on building one for the Nazi government.”
It’s also a reminder of how far people go to hide their humanity, particularly in the name of nationalism. I wasn’t expecting to read that Truman was actually haunted by his actions: “For many years after, Truman feigned total comfort with having dropped the bombs, boasting that he ‘never lost any sleep’ over Hiroshima or Nagasaki. However, the archives reveal that, in fact, he was horrified by the civilian destruction—and even ordered his generals not to drop a third bomb, so he wouldn’t have to kill more of ‘those kids.'” What would the course of history have been if Truman had laid bare his guilt and actually begged the world and, most importantly, the Japanese people for forgiveness? Certainly, it would be too little too late, but to date no US president (including Obama) has actually taken responsibility for this atrocity that resulted in so much death and destruction and so deeply changed the world.
One of the few survivors still alive today, Setsuko Thurlow, wrote an op-ed for the Daily Hampshire Gazette where she described nuclear weapons as “instruments of genocide.” Has America, ever, been held to account, let alone attempted to atone, for the many genocides it has committed?
I think a lot about the retired George W. Bush painting portraits of veterans of the so-called “war on terror” and while much can be said about whether or not that is his attempt at atonement, I’m still stuck on the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths that we don’t even have an accurate count for. Bush may be marginally more compassionate in public than Truman was, I suppose, but he’s still missing the mark by a long shot.
I think about all of this, a lot, because I really can’t separate history and everything that’s unfolding around us today. As the world appears to be arming up for another global conflict that comes closer and closer to just needing that one spark, I can’t help but wonder what different decisions this country would’ve made over the years up through today if it looked at war in terms of the total human loss rather than in terms of political gain and soldier casualties. There’s a smallness, a selfishness, an in-it-for-yourself-and-fuck-all-ness that humanity at large seems to have dug deeper and deeper into in the last 75 years. Or maybe it’s always been this way? I don’t know. But sometimes, when history seems so closely to mirror the present, I truly do wonder about that “arc of the moral universe.” But then again, I’ve never been religious anyways.
Himani: I will never forget my horror when I found out that the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in its decision in Shelby County v. Holder. As a direct result of that decision, the last seven years — and this year, this one in particular — have seen an accelerating descent back towards rampant disenfranchisement of Black people in America. But what always struck me was how that decision flew under the radar at the time. The very next day after releasing the decision in Shelby the Court ruled in favor of state same-sex marriage laws, laying the groundwork for the Obergefell decision two years later. I remember seeing all my cis white friends on Facebook celebrating those rulings for LGBTQ+ marriage rights, blatantly oblivious to the dismantling of basic civil rights the SCOTUS had just upheld the day before.
Sometimes it feels like the past and the present are truly just mirrors of each other. One upside to that, I suppose, is that there’s much we can learn from the past. There’s so much history that gets willfully buried to fit a narrative that the powers that be prefer for one reason or another. I had never heard the names of Amelia Boynton Robinson or Diane Nash before reading this article, despite the fact that they were the masterminds of the voting rights movement. In my moments of despair about the state of the world in all its past and present shame (see the section above…), I have to remind myself of all the people who have fought and continue to fight in the face of worse things than I have ever witnessed, let alone experienced. Often, of late, I find myself looking to Black women who have been fighting this fight, unacknowledged, for so long; there is so much more I need to learn about but particularly Black women leaders past and present.
Defund and Dismantle DHS 2020
Rachel: I was very struck by Himani’s words above about Hiroshima and the indelible and indefensible legacy of shame related to it, and cannot help but think about it in reference to the indescribable violence the US is inflicting on a generation of migrants right now. I don’t expect anyone in this administration, especially given their overt white nationalist affiliations, to ever have the internal experience of regret that Truman describes; as has become the slogan when analyzing the actions of this administration, the cruelty is the point, not something they see as a necessarily evil means to an end. Regardless of their internal narratives, however, I am reminded of Hiroshima in the sense that the US’s treatment of migrants will be something that forever defines the nation in history; if the US were describing any other nation doing this, it would be characterized as obvious ethnic cleansing.
One difference with this particular American crime against humanity is that given that it’s ongoing and on our own soil, citizens can and are opposing it; for instance, the two-month-long protest that’s been continuous outside the ICE processing center in Aurora:
Since May 23, when the first ICE detainee was reported to have a positive COVID-19 test result in the Aurora facility, one group decided that now more than ever, this was a matter of life or death. That group is Abolish ICE Denver, an organization that’s been keeping tabs on the Aurora facility and other ICE-related actions in the state since 2018. Three days after the first positive test result, Abolish ICE set up camp.
There’s no going back in time to prevent the many, many lives lost and the harm caused to current detainees, but organized people can prevent some measure of future harm, and can talk to other Americans around us about what’s happening so this doesn’t have to be yet another silent horror that future Americans hear about for the first time 50 years later.
Transforming Tech: For Better or Worse?
Himani: If anyone remains under the illusion that technology is somehow “objective,” I encourage you to watch this video. Also if you remain under the illusion that tech companies like Facebook don’t wield the same amount of power as entire arms of government.
Himani This is one of those issues where I feel like all I can say is, “I don’t agree with Trump” but also… the point about censorship and data privacy is somewhat legitimate…? Honestly, I don’t know. In some ways, I feel like this particular issue is a red herring because the real problem is — as with Facebook and Google and Amazon and Apple and Twitter — tech companies have way too much power. They collect too much information on their user and use it unscrupulously for their own ends; they have way too much control over content and participate in all different forms of censorship. Forcing Tik Tok to sell is a shitty move and doesn’t actually address the real, underlying problem. Would I feel better about censorship or data privacy concerns if Tik Tok were owned by Microsoft? No, no I would not. Once again, the Trump administration is following America’s long strategy of strong arming foreign policy to serve short-term political needs rather than dealing with the real issues at hand.
Natalie: One aphorism that I’ve been repeating a lot to myself lately is “better late to the party than to never show up”…it reminds me to reserve space for gratitude to the companies that do the right thing even when that right thing should have been done long ago. Twitter’s been at the forefront of that in the tech world, labeling state-affiliated media outlets, appending warnings to inaccurate tweets from leaders and most recently, suspending the president’s twitter privileges until he removed an erroneous tweet. It’s not sufficient but it’s a start and I’m grateful to see one platform stepping up their efforts to thwart those using social media to undermine the election (take some notes, Instagram).
Fears, Realized, in the Age of Corona
Natalie: We’ve talked a lot in this space about how COVID has exposed pre-existing fault lines in our healthcare system and the death of Michael Hickson is another example of that… a man, a family, caught up in the nexus of anti-blackness and ableism. It’s hard to read the facts of this case and not believe that the bias that Baylor Ethics professor, Devan Stahl, identifies — the need to supplant our own (able-bodied) views about how we’d want to live — impacted Michael Hickson’s care. If you listen to the recording that Hickson’s wife made, believing that this was anything else other than discrimination at work becomes impossible. But even if you want to give the hospital the benefit of the doubt… even if you don’t question why the doctor never mentioned Hickson’s sepsis or organ failure… why did it take 12 hours for Michael Hickson’s family to be contacted about his death? How, in a hospital that wasn’t overrun by COVID infections at that point, can that be anything other than the flippant disregard for his life?
The other thing that struck me about this story is the role of the probate court in taking medical guardianship away from Hickson’s family and to an elder care agency. That’s highly unusual and it’s hard not to believe that unconscious bias isn’t at play in that situation as well. Bias in health care isn’t just reflected in the choices doctors make about our care but also in how it treats the black and brown people who choose to advocate for themselves or their family members. If you advocate for yourself or your family member, doctors see you as insubordinate but if you’re not advocating for yourself, you can be treated as invisible.
Natalie: The Washington Post has done a series of “as told to” stories of those on the frontlines of the COVID epidemic that are all worth reading — an ER nurse in an overwhelmed hospital, a store clerk trying to enforce a mask mandate and a superintendent being blackmailed into opening his schools — but this was the story that stuck with me. Though not quite as big, my family’s a lot like the Baileys and through all of this, the idea that I’d be the source for an outbreak in my family has been the thing that’s kept me up nights. This is my actual nightmare.
And, truly, I can’t fathom why this isn’t everyone’s nightmare. We’ve seen the capriciousness with which some people will walk into public spaces — without masks, spewing about their right to control their own bodies — and it never seems to cross their minds that they’re not just taking a risk for themselves, they’re taking a risk for everyone around them. We all could so easily be Francene Bailey who, despite everyone’s assurances to the contrary, is going to live with that nagging guilt for the rest of her life. Why would anyone else want that fate for themselves?
Natalie: Seems like the perfect time to reopen schools, doesn’t it? PERFECT TIME.
Rachel: It can feel frustrating to see headlines like this that declare, seemingly for anew, things that we feel we already know about the virus, or that people should have been acting on long ago – I get it! At the same time, much of what we’ve had to go on so far about COVID-19 has been educated supposition based on ad hoc analysis of patterns, like the fact that viral spread has been low in countries even with high density when they have high mask adoption. We’ve been pretty sure for a long time that many people are asymptomatic, and that you can be asymptomatic and still contagious, but having a comprehensive study that confirms it is major, and the numbers are helpful – up to 30%! Jesus! We still know so, so little about this, and more of what we “know” will still change — we’re still finding out new things about Alzheimer’s or cancer, and have been working on those for generations — and so any new reliable research feels very exciting to me.
Beyond Corona: A World in Crisis
Natalie: First and foremost, of course, our hearts go out to everyone impacted by this tragedy. If, like me, you’ve watched video of the explosion or seen pictures of the ruins and wondered what you can do, here are a few ways to support the victims of the Beirut explosion.
While I’m loath to turn a story about the deaths of 154 (and counting) Lebanese people into a rant about American politics, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say this: in the wake of the explosion, French president Emmanuel Macron made his way to the city and offered condolences on behalf of his nation. It’s a fraught image, of course, because Macron literally represents Lebanon’s colonizers and, surely, he isn’t acting out of altruism…but, as someone living under a regime that can’t be bothered to make a simple acknowledgement of condolence (to Beirut! to families grieving loved ones lost to COVID! to anyone!), it was a stark reminder of the basic leadership we’re missing. Instead of acting like a decent human being and acknowledging the suffering of thousands of Lebanese families (it’s literally the least he could do!), the president stood at the podium and fomented conspiracy theories about the explosion being a result of terrorism, despite all evidence to the contrary. Everyday is a reminder of his incompetence, his inability to perform even the most basic human tasks…and the revelation that his advisers withheld military options, worried that he might start a war seems both plausible and reasonable.
Natalie: It’s worth reading these two stories — about Canadian grasslands and floods in Bangladesh together — to get a look at both the fight being waged against climate change and the consequences of years of inaction. The floods in Bangladesh remind us that “the people least responsible for climate change are among those most hurt by its consequences.”
Also? I’m reminded of this tweet:
Eventually, and probably sooner rather than later, climate change will make Covid look like a brief summer thunderstorm.
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) July 15, 2020
Finally, Some Good News
Natalie: I’m happy for the 200,000 Missourians who will now have coverage at a time when folks need healthcare so desperately — this is undoubtedly, some good news — but excuse this North Carolinian for still being a little salty that my home state hasn’t done the same. Credit for that goes to now-Senator Thom Tillis who blocked the expansion while a member of the legislature (did I mention that he’s up for re-election?).
Himani: It’s extraordinary to me that in our so-called “representative democracy” elected officials worked so damned hard to block Medicaid expansion and yet when the matter is placed directly in the hands of voters, it happens. Who exactly are these officials representing? I think we all know the answer to that.
Natalie: This is, undoubtedly, good news. The National Rifle Association is a stain on America. Their universal opposition to common sense gun control reveals that they are more a lobbying organization for gun manufacturers than a representative for those who value the “Second Amendment.” Credit to the Tish James, the New York Attorney General, for seeing this case through…but let’s be clear about something: despite all the machinations you’ll hear from the NRA and the beneficiaries of their largess in Congress, the call is coming from inside the house.
This is the NRA taking apart the NRA. Oliver North (yes, *that* Oliver North) tried to oust the group’s CEO, Wayne LaPierre, using a letter threatening to reveal the exact details enumerated in the AG’s case The NRA’s been involved in acrimonious litigation with ad agency Ackerman McQueen who’s also been threatening to spill the NRA’s tea for years. THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE (and I’m gleefully watching this house of cards collapse on itself).
Rachel: In a truly unprecedented move, Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital has issued a statement of apology for its past nonconsensual surgeries on infants & children with intersex traits, saying in part “We recognize the painful history and complex emotions associated with intersex surgery and how, for many years, the medical field has failed these children. Historically care for individuals with intersex traits included an emphasis on early genital surgery to make genitalia appear more typically male or female. As the medical field has advanced, and understanding has grown, we now know this approach was harmful and wrong.” They’ve committed to a policy of informed consent on genital surgery going forward, saying “Our internal, and now public, policy is that, in intersex individuals (**recognizing those with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) as potentially a separate patient population) irreversible genital procedures, particularly clitoroplasty, should not be performed until patients can participate meaningfully in making the decision for themselves, unless medically necessary.” This is a huge step forward, and all credit is due to the intersex folks who have advocated for this for so long; the tradition of trying to medically intervene to change perfectly normal and healthy intersex traits to a cissexist and heterosexist “norm,” sometimes causing chronic medical issues or dysfunction later in life in addition to the trauma of a nonconsensual major surgery based on stigma, is indefensible. Lurie is just one hospital, and at the very least this action should be one undertaken across the field of medicine; still, it’s very heartening to see it as a milestone.