In this week’s Extra! Extra! we honour International Workers’ Day, take a hard look at the federal judiciary and the social safety net, examine the political and personal aftermath of gun violence, and more.
International Workers’ Day
Himani: Today is May Day, aka International Workers’ Day. There’s been intentional political energy going towards eroding labor rights in the US for decades and The Nation article linked above provides some of the context on that. Not discussed in that piece, but globalization has further led to the exploitation or attempted exploitation of workers around the world. (There’s a long argument to be made about this, but I’m going to save that for another day and/or the comments if anyone is interested.) As Rachel notes, workers need our support and solidarity now more than ever as they are forced to choose between their lives and their livelihoods during this pandemic. But the truth is, workers have always needed our support and solidarity, in every sector. Let’s make a commitment to continue to support the labor rights of health care providers, warehouse workers, factory workers, farm workers, teachers, adjuncts – truly this list is endless – even after the pandemic ends.
Rachel: The strike today is organized around the demands for hazard pay, sick leave that’s not contingent on getting tested, better protective equipment, better sanitary procedures, and immediate disclosure of infections at facilities and shutdowns of those facilities when it happens. It’s unconscionable that those things aren’t already happening, and if possible, avoid crossing the picket line today to help make it more likely they will be in the future! (I was going to go to Target today but am going to get as much as I can at the Mexican grocery in my neighborhood instead and live without the rest for a week or two more!)
The Courts Are Not Nonpartisan
Himani: I think there’s an illusion that exists in people’s mind that somehow the judiciary branch is nonpartisan in the way that executive and legislative aren’t. As if judges aren’t people with political opinions, too? We focus so much of our energy on the configuration of those nine seats at the Supreme Court, sometimes it feels like liberals have forgotten the rest of the federal judiciary – which was responsible, for instance, for staying Trump’s travel bans multiple times before the Supreme Court stepped in and reinstated it. But Mitch McConnell has been playing this long game for years. As the article from The Guardian notes: “Trump has appointed 51 out of the 179 active circuit court judges, or almost 30% of the entire bench, and next month the total is expected to hit 53. By comparison, Barack Obama appointed 55 circuit court judges and George W Bush appointed 62 – in eight years each.” I highly recommend that article for an overview of just how much power and influence all of these lower courts have and how much they are doing to shape the future of civil rights in this country.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court continues to Supreme Court with its solidly conservative majority. In addition to the highly anticipated ruling on abortion rights, the court is hearing not one but two cases about whether contraception must be covered by employer health insurance. This summer is going to be a doozy.
Natalie: You’re right, Himani, and, honestly, the most lasting piece of the Trump administration will be the reshaping of the federal judiciary. He’s appointed young, unqualified conservatives to the bench with no reservations about stripping away our rights. Mitch McConnell will gavel the Senate back to session next week, not because they’re seeking a new coronavirus aid package, but because McConnell wants to continue to pack the federal bench…and with the prospect of a Democratic takeover of the Senate becoming increasingly likely (if the polling holds), he’s going to redouble his efforts on this front while he still maintains the power.
The Social Safety Net That Isn’t
Natalie: If you’re curious why governors would re-open their states, even in the face of scientific data that suggests that doing so is unsafe or political data that shows that stay-at-home orders continue to garner support from the majority of Americans (and boost approval numbers)…look no further than our unemployment system. Governors are sending people to work in the middle of a deadly pandemic because they want to avoid doling out unemployment benefits to their citizens. Reopening states means that furloughed workers can return back to the workforce. Re-opening states means that stipulations placed on unemployment benefits — like job search requirements, drug testing or limits on the duration of benefits — that had been waived during the pandemic can be re-established. Without the increased availability of testing or personal protective equipment, governors are sending people back to work…all because they don’t want to pay their citizens.
Himani: Less than two weeks after a devastating mass shooting in Nova Scotia, the Canadian government seems ready to pass an assault-weapon ban. Sitting on the other side of the border, where we have had nearly 100 mass shootings in just four months this year, I am a little in awe at how quickly the government appears to be moving in Ottawa, but that’s just because my bar is so low when it comes to gun control. Apparently, this same government promised a New Zealand-style assault-weapon buyback and appears to be walking back on that commitment. Meanwhile, reporters at The Guardian give a glimpse of what it’s like to move forward with your life after being a victim in a shooting.
The Rights of People with Disabilities
Himani: People with disabilities have been fighting for the right to health care for all of us. Yet, around the world, people with disabilities continue to be devalued, discriminated against, harassed and assaulted. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised difficult ethical questions about how to allocate limited health care resources, but those decisions continue to be made from an ableist framework that precedes the pandemic. And in Afghanistan, we see the compounding effects of discrimination based on gender and ability status – in a country that has an incredibly high proportion of people with disabilities, thanks to the US war in Afghanistan.
The US War in Somalia?
Himani: Speaking of American wars abroad, I have to admit – prior to reading this I had no idea the US was conducting airstrikes in Somalia? I feel like the US’s “counter-terrorism” measures are so expansive and also so under-reported, it’s a little impossible to keep track of all the places in the world America is killing civilians. And it continues, even in the midst of a global pandemic that has already caused so much devastation in so much of the world.
Natalie: I’m surprised but also, not really? With COVID-19 limiting the capacity for ground troops (belonging to the United States or our allies in the region) to engage directly, this always seemed inevitable. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a significant increase in airstrikes and drone attacks during this time…in part because it’s more efficient but also because the pandemic has weakened the “enemy,” leaving them more susceptible to attack.
The Cat Is Out of the Bag
Himani: Both of these have been well-established and on-going issues for at least a few years now. The only thing that’s changed is the veil has been lifted from a few more eyes. My question is: what will change?
Natalie: The more I read about the situation in Brazil, the more concerned I get about that country’s future. I mean, I thought Trump’s unwillingness to offer even those basic condolences to the 64k+ American lives we’ve lost due to COVID-19 was bad enough but then you read about Bolsonaro’s blatant indifference…to read about him actually saying, “so what?,” when confronted by Brazil’s death toll…and I’m just astounded. America’s testing capacity is terrible but it’s 32 times the capacity in Brazil.
The pandemic is exacerbating an already tenuous political situation in Brazil and, at least from my vantage point, it’s starting to feel like a powder keg.
Himani: This election is still happening? I don’t even know how to process what’s going on around the upcoming presidential election that I have been counting down the days towards since November 9, 2016. But it feels like we would be remiss to not include some coverage of it in this week’s news roundup. There are so many questions about who will be able to vote and how, and we all know Republicans will be shameless in their attempts to disenfranchise everyone except their base. In the midst of all this, external organizations have been critical to increasing voter access, and one of the most influential ones was just thrown into chaos. And then, of course, there are the credible allegations of sexual assault against Joe Biden, our presumptive Democratic nominee. Honestly, I don’t know what to say about that, as I myself try to make sense of the choices facing me come November.