This week’s Extra! Extra! Offers more reflections on police brutality and delves into some damning news coming out of Trumpland. We also look at some LGBTQ+ news from around the world and dive into some of the not-so-great situations unfolding in Europe. And to close out, a look at the state of the Internet, climate change and the pandemic.
The Endless Stream of Police Abuses
Himani: As I wrote a couple weeks ago: another week in America, another story of police brutality. The problem with America’s violent police forces is not new; it is not going away any time soon. This week, again, we had one heartbreaking story after another: a school called the police on a seventh grader in Colorado, a 13-year old with autism shot by police in Utah, more horrifying cover ups in New York. Then there’s the racist policing practices, as recently reported in Washington, DC and the disturbing depths of surveillance by law enforcement, as recently revealed amongst the Albuquerque PD. The accounts go on and on and on, and, always, I think, “And this is just what’s reported on. This is just what’s making it into my small net of news that I read.”
Since the inception of this column many a month ago, I’ve had an ongoing debate with myself whether the goal here is to try to capture “the most important things that are happening” — as if that were really an achievable goal — or to bring attention to news and perspectives that get at what (to me at least) are the heart of the issues facing us. Every week, the answer to that question is different. When it comes to police brutality, it feels particularly challenging to focus on a few acts of abuse when we all know the abuse is happening constantly.
So this week, I’m landing on the side of highlighting one bit of news that I think perfectly encapsulates why the police are beyond reform. We all know that the criminal justice system, as an entire institution, is racist. But the fact that the police unions came out and explicitly endorsed Trump should remove any doubts on the matter. As Ben Mathis-Lilley so effectively highlights in this article for Slate the choice before them should not have been hard: Biden has made it clear he is not anti-police and that he is wedded to the notion of police reform, which would increase the coffers of police departments around the country. And yet the police unions still decided to endorse the candidate who is explicitly and unabashedly racist.
LGBTQ+ News from Around the World
Himani: There are so many things about this that are so horrifying. First the fact that this asshole murdered someone because she was a trans woman. Then that this asshole got special treatment in serving his prison sentence because he’s with the US military. And finally that Duterte pardoned him in part, it seems, because he’s seeking to be in America’s good graces so that the Philippines can have access to a COVID-19 vaccine. And this is why you don’t make a fucking arms race or apply free market principles to matters of global health.
Himani: Over in Russia, a horrifying trend continues of teachers being forced to surveil student activity for reposting rainbows on social media.
Himani: So much to be upset at here, namely the cavalier disregard for the rights of people with disabilities, just callously uprooting them from their homes with no notice. And for what? Because a bunch of white, wealthy New York residents don’t want to coexist in their city with people who don’t share their class status.
I will add, because it wasn’t mentioned in the article, that part of what’s so upsetting about this is knowing that so much high-end real estate in New York (particularly in Manhattan) sits vacant, and this was the case even before the pandemic exacerbated that the existing homelessness crisis. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the homelessness crisis is largely — if not entirely — manufactured to cater to the demands of the wealthy.
Rachel: I can’t agree with Himani enough, and as seems to be my drum to beat, I also want to add once again that this is unfortunately just a new extreme of literalization with regards to something that’s always existed: ableism presents materially, beyond the abstract of able-bodied bias, in resource distribution. Care, health, safety and wellness are, at the end of the day (and under capitalism), based in who is given access to the resources they need; disability and chronic illness require a baseline level of resources to address meaningfully that isn’t profitable under capitalism to provide, and this story illustrates that, as does our homelessness crisis in general, really! If the US treated disability accommodations and support, healthcare for chronic illnesses, and effective addiction treatment as priorities and allocated resources accordingly, the homelessness crisis would already be significantly reduced.
The Latest Reveals from Trumpland
Himani: So this is truly damning. But then, when it comes to the Trump administration, so many things are, and somehow, it doesn’t seem to matter. I know that this will either be read by people who share my perspective on this upcoming election and are just as exhausted and frightened of the very real prospect of a second Trump term as I am or it will be read by people who don’t share my perspective and aren’t going to be persuaded by me.
Knowing that, well, here we go, anyways: In the latest round of Trump reveals, it turns out that Trump was well aware how deadly COVID-19 was and he knew that it was a disease that spread easily because it was at least somewhat airborne. For months now, we’ve seen how the Trump administration had spent years dismantling all of the US’s protections against a pandemic because “it was a waste of money” or because “it was unlikely to happen,” and has continued to erode those protections to play geopolitical games about vaccine development and WHO funding.
But part of what’s so shocking about Bob Woodward’s interviews here is just the blatant lying. Those other things were complex and involved many layers of policy and administration and the articles that explained those situations were long and sometimes dense. This is a matter of literal soundbites that encapsulate the entire situation. My sister reminded me, recently, that Trump is a notorious germaphobe. It all makes sense now. It’s not that he was ignorant about the virus. It’s that he literally did not care. Although as I write that, I also find myself asking, “Who’s surprised?”
I have not read Mary Trump’s book — yet, and I know she is a complicated lesbian. But I have read a lot of articles about it and a lot of her interviews because so much of what she describes hits just a little too close to home for me, personally. And so there’s a way in which it feels like, ok yes Mary Trump talks about her uncle being a sociopath, various people have said he’s a pathological liar and they mean those terms clinically, I know what it’s like to live among people like that and yet all those words can still feel so abstract, until you have a moment like this which just makes it all so crystal clear.
Himani: And on the list of things that feel like “well, duh” a whistleblower in DHS alleges that Trump is silencing the intelligence community about Russian interference in the upcoming election.
Himani: This one. I will say this one took me by surprise and filled me with a rage I can barely put into words. Last Friday, the White House issued a directive banning federal agencies from participating in trainings about racism. And this is DeVos’ response. Among the things that the agency cannot do is talk about critical race theory, which, to me, is like the lowest of lowest bars for talking about race in America.
Ironically, while the Education Department is working to actively censor any discussion of race at all, as Michael Stratford reports for Politico, they just finalized a rule that would cut funding to universities that “run afoul of the First Amendment” or “violate their own speech policies.” And we know what that means. While silencing any discussion of racism, the Education Department is simultaneously trying to force universities to give a platform to white supremacists, under the guise of “free speech.”
As always, in America, some people have rights and some people don’t.
Himani: So this bombshell dropped last week and received a flurry of attention in the media over the course of this week. Among the things I found interesting in reading about this article, however, was that the journalist who broke this news, Jeffrey Goldberg, has a pretty damning history of his own:
Trump is a serial liar & @JeffreyGoldberg is one of the planet's most unreliable reporters, having played the leading role – when agitating for invading Iraq — in convincing Americans that Saddam was allied with Al Qaeda & radical Muslims had invaded the US & South America. pic.twitter.com/nPWxEeIudO
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) September 4, 2020
[A tweet has been removed here because the author was discovered to be a racist, misogynist and transphobe.]
I think this is what gets me about this whole situation. Multiple news outlets were writing about this article as if this is the thing that could sink Trump in the upcoming election. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald wrote a compelling piece about how the media is setting itself up for yet another round of Trump reveal that turns out to be not a reveal and then ends up reinforcing all the QAnon Deep State whatever the fuck conspiracy theories.
But the question I’m left with is why is it that in America this is the news that would purportedly sink Trump’s re-election? I know why: I mean, after all, today is the anniversary of September 11th. And while that was a tragedy and while I mean no disrespect to those who serve in the military, there’s a part of me that really has to wonder about the type of person who, in the face of all the devastation Trump has wrought in the past four years (but particularly in this year), says, “I think he’s ok” or “I’m not sure how to feel about him,” but when it turns out Trump maligned the veterans and service members — well that’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I have never been one for nationalism, so perhaps this is just something I truly can’t understand.
Related Note: One of Trump’s Recent Attempts to Further Rig America’s Political System Has Been Blocked. For Now.
Himani: While encouraging this got blocked, it’s only a matter of time before this gets taken up a level or two and the decision is reversed because Mitch McConnell and Trump have almost completely packed the judiciary.
Things Are Not Looking So Hot in Europe
Himani: So I’m going to be completely honest here. I have never followed this whole Brexit deal/no-deal situation very closely, in part because all these economic trade things feel like made up nonsense although I realize they have very serious consequences in the world. As a result, I don’t really understand the situation with Brexit all that well to talk about those aspects of this situation specifically.
What I will say — and what’s lost in the headline here — is that the UK’s current renege involves moves that would violate the Good Friday Agreement, which was the peace deal reached between Ireland and Northern Ireland 22 years ago after decades of violent and tragic conflict. That anyone would think it makes sense to play fast and loose with that peace deal is just… really beyond me.
Himani: It’s pretty incredible and encouraging that Navalny is recovering from being poisoned. But also this whole situation is horrifying beyond words. Knowing that various countries around the world are working on chemical agents to try to secretly poison people certainly does not help me sleep at night.
Himani: This situation in Belarus has been incredibly upsetting for a while now. The threats against Kolesnikova are the latest horrifying turn.
The Internet Undone
Himani: This was an incredible read. I really can’t do it justice, so I highly encourage you to read this article.
Himani: At this point, I think most people know how horrible Palantir is? Well, if you don’t, this article pretty much lays it all out. What’s worth noting here is that Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of Palantir, is also a co-founder of Paypal and one of the first investors in Facebook. And he’s just one of the co-founders. Which is to say, that while this one article is about Palantir, all of Big Tech is this horrible nexus of money and power which is quietly eroding civil rights and liberties around the world.
Labor Rights Issues
Himani: This is one of those heartbreaking articles I read about immigration that leaves me feeling incredibly hopeless about the whole world. Like literally the entire world.
The Climate Apocalypse
Himani:It’s fire season on the west coast of the US and hurricane season on southeastern coast. Wildfires have already or are currently ravaging parts of Greece, Australia, Siberia and the Amazon rainforest in this year alone. This utterly bleak article is a sobering reminder of what, exactly, got us here. Humanity did this to ourselves but, more than that, we did this to the rest of the planet and its ecosystems and its wildlife.
Himani: While parts of North America and Europe have faced incredible climate change-induced devastation, the fact that North America and Europe are the “better off” places in this scenario is just… truly beyond words. And, when I think about this in terms of immigration policies, how both of these regions have handled (and continue to handle) refugee crises, once again, I’m left feeling pretty bleak about the future of the world.
The Pandemic’s Over, Right?
Rachel: All I can think about when I see this headline is how swiftly and with such (blatantly unconstitutional!) enthusiasm the White House (and at their behest, the TSA and US customs) rushed to enforce the “travel ban.” Within what seemed like moments of the White House’s announcements, people were being turned away from the border with nowhere else to go; people who had been in the air when the executive order was announced were denied entry upon landing mere hours later. For the “safety” of the country. Obviously that was always a deliberately cruel and insincere shroud, but it’s still tough not to feel a sense of whiplash looking at the same institution with many of the same folks choosing to actively end a counterpart system that actually saves lives from a real, ongoing threat. The juxtaposition once again makes crystal clear, heartbreakingly so: they could address this, and could do the right thing; they’re actively choosing not to.
Rachel: I have a home team bias here as a former Michigan state resident and grad student (though not at this university), and who knows some folks involved in this grad student union — it’s a first of its kind strike, though, and marks something I think could be pivotal to the current moment. As much good analysis has pinpointed, a key component of why the US’s pandemic response has been so disastrous has been that it prioritizes profits over people, and the survival of corporations over the survival of citizens. The degree to which we’re seeing this play out on university campuses as well — requiring students, faculty, staff, and facilities workers to return physically to campus and pay full tuition despite knowing full well that the campus isn’t capable of enforcing effective pandemic control, thus putting everyone at risk and likely making thousands of contagious returns to home communities an inevitable eventuality — is an indicator of the degree to which our institutions of learning are now functionally businesses. BUT the potential that lies in how entwined this threat is with profit means that there is tremendous power in labor movements for us to protect ourselves; a power structure that revolves entirely around profit is extremely vulnerable to the power of organized and unified workers.
So far (very very early days) the response to the U of M strike has been heartening; undergraduate students have committed to solidarity and refusing to cross the picket line, as have tradeworkers associated with the campus; the university was effectively forced into offering a deal within the first few days, which was rejected due to its lack of action on divesting from police (abolition solidarity!). No promises of course about how this strike will turn out, or about the efficacy of work stoppages in every single situation, but I think it’s extremely worth watching this space to learn about what’s possible in terms of concretely resisting the unacceptable options most Americans are being offered as this pandemic rages on unchecked.