This week’s Extra! Extra! reports another bit of news that flew under the radar, this time regarding gun control (it’s not good, you guys). We also cover the heinous violence against three trans women in LA this week, USAID’s erasure of LGBTQ+ people and an update on what’s going on around the US regarding police violence and the protests. And then we turn to the elections – by which I mean Russia, Belarus and the US. (For coverage on the Democratic National Convention I will refer you to Carmen’s great round up in this week’s Also, Also, Also.)
The Gun Control News That Flew Under the Radar
Natalie: I was surprised to see this decision come out of the 9th Circuit which has been, traditionally, one of the more liberal circuits. However, the Trump era, combined with the unprecedented obstruction by Mitch McConnell in the Senate during the Obama presidency, has caused a profound rightward shift in our judiciary and the 9th Circuit is no exception. This particular case (Duncan v. Becerra) was narrowly decided by a third judge panel: Kenneth K. Lee, a Trump appointee, and Consuelo Callahan, a George W. Bush appointee. Barbara M. Lynn, the lone Democratic appointee, dissented.
I cannot imagine Becerra not asking the 9th Circuit for an en banc review, as the California Attorney General has a better shot at being successful there than going straight for a Supreme Court decision.
Natalie: I wanted to take a minute to highlight these two stories: in part to make you aware, if you’re privileged enough to forget, that the epidemic of violence against trans women persists — it takes no days off — and, as a result, we are obliged to take no days off in our efforts to protect trans women and especially black and brown trans women. Whatever we’ve been doing, whatever we are doing, it’s insufficient…we have to do more.
I’m heartbroken for the victims of that violence — Joslyn Allen, Jaslene Busanet and Eden Estrada — and hope that they soon know justice.
But even if the perpetrators are locked away, what of the crowd? What of the bystanders who “appear to celebrate the assaults rather than render aid and assist the victims?” Where is their humanity?
We have to do better. We have to do more. Black trans lives matter and we need to say it, talk to our friends and families about it and do the work of creating a safer world for black and brown trans women to exist in.
Himani: In the Democratic National Convention this week, much was made of Trump’s incompetence and his “inability to meet this moment.” (I feel like I heard that phrase so many times.) But what strikes me is how effective that incompetence has been in moving forward some of the most transphobic and homophobic policies in the US and abroad at every level. This news about USAID’S newest gender policy guides seems like the most mundane bit of bureaucracy you could imagine. And yet, even in this arena, his administration has been incredibly successful at erasing trans lives and devaluing LGBTQ+ rights as a whole. Although unrelated, it’s hard not to take this as yet another tacit endorsement from this administration of the heinous actions and heartbreaking news Natalie shared above. As far as the Trump administration is concerned, not only do trans lives not matter, but trans pain simply doesn’t exist.
On Police Brutality, the Protests and Black Lives Matter
Natalie: Imagine being at the pinnacle of your career and having that moment invaded by a police officer because you happen to be black…that’s what happened to Masai Ujiri, the president of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.
His team had just done the improbable — beaten the Golden State Warriors for the NBA Championship — and he was excited to celebrate with the team. But when he approaches the floor with his credentials out (in a tailored suit, no less), a deputy pushes him back…not once but twice…and Ujiri is forced to defend himself.
That deputy, Alan Strickland, sued Ujiri and his police department, the Alameda Police Department, backed him all the way. They backed him up, despite accounts from witnesses who contradicted his story. They backed him even though, presumably, they’d seen this video that clearly disproves Strickland’s story. They backed Strickland up even though they had to know that this video would eventually come out…the Raptors and the NBA are too powerful and too monied for it not to. The Alameda Police department wanted to file baseless charges against a black man to support a deputy that they knew was lying.
A statement from our president Masai Ujiri. pic.twitter.com/ykekTq53XM
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 20, 2020
Natalie: Watch this case because, as we push to elect more progressive prosecutors, there will be more of this…more attempts to discredit and disallow those prosecutors for doing the job the people elected them to do.
Himani: The only part of Chicago politics I’ve ever really followed is related specifically to education. So I really can’t offer much insight here on what expectations or hopes people had of Lightfoot going into last year’s mayoral elections. But, as we learned with De Blasio over here in the NYC metro area, sometimes it doesn’t matter who someone campaigns as. Lightfoot’s questionable (at best) approach to handling protests extends well beyond her block, as she and her administration have worked to actively disconnect different parts of the city in the name of protecting wealthy people’s properties and business.
Himani: Last week we shared news that Austin had begun defunding its police department. Less than a week later, Texas governor Greg Abbott put forward a plan that would ban cities from raising property taxes if they defund their police departments. Permanently. Pro-police Republicans appear hell-bent on preserving police forces at the expense of communities. The state legislature still needs to vote on Abbott’s proposed law. Regardless, Austin plans to press forward with defunding the police department. It’s hard for me to read stuff like this and not feel deeply cynical about everything. Like it literally took six days for Republicans to attempt to block measures that are really just the first step of what needs to happen so that Black people can live the safe lives they deserve. Inevitably, as we get closer and closer to November, I think about just how important it is to vote.
Himani: This article was informative for me, but it leaves open a lot of questions in terms of how activist communities work together. And, at the end of the day, the Black and Latinx communities aren’t mutually exclusive, in terms of the individuals who are part of both communities and in terms of how violent police policies are used against both communities. (I’m thinking about stop and frisk in NYC, for instance, which very explicitly targeted both Black and Latinx communities.) This is one of the areas where I’d like to read and hear more from both Black and Latinx activists about how they think about police brutality in their own communities and in terms of the larger conversations happening in the US right now.
Natalie: I think Jamelle Bouie really said it best: “millions of Trump fanatics are in the grip of a deranged conspiracy theory about the abuse of children, meanwhile, top officials in the Trump administration conspired to abuse children as a matter of public policy.”
Natalie: This is horrific.
Two Case Studies in How the Pandemic Has Made Dire Situations Impossible
Rachel: The wildfire crisis and the various ways it’s being made exponentially worse this year are honestly so upsetting it’s difficult to write about. Like, where to start — the fact that many folks I know on the West Coast already had their own personal supply of N95 masks before COVID because the fires have been so bad for so long? The fact that the pandemic and lack of resourcing around PPE means that now many people can’t find masks for the fires OR the pandemic? The fact that the frontlines of wildfire fighting, which was already incarcerated folks who are forced to do this life-threatening work for dollars a day and then aren’t even allowed to work as firefighters after release have been decimated because the government has been fine with leaving incarcerated people to die of COVID in overcrowded, unsanitary prisons? The fact that the health risks of exposure to smoke and ash — heart and lung damage — will mean everyone exposed to the fires is at significantly greater risk of COVID complications and death? You see how it quickly becomes almost impossible to even process.
We talk a lot about how the pandemic has made things fall apart, and made already-bad situations worse — but the flip side of that is that the things the pandemic is worsening are often things our government and overall infrastructure have knowingly hobbled and weakened for generations, often for the sake of profit and fueled by a sickening indifference. It’s beyond just having been unprepared logistically and epidemiologically for a pandemic (although, duh, we were); it’s about having an entire economy and social structure that’s based on devaluing human life when the only way to make it through something as globally devastating as a pandemic is by working collectively and prioritizing human life over profits. As with… virtually everything in the US right now, this just didn’t have to happen!
Himani: And I will just add that the larger themes Rachel is writing about above also apply to the situation unfolding in rural India, particularly around the lack of health infrastructure.
Russia’s 2020 Election Takes a Dark Turn
Himani: This whole situation is just… it’s really one of those beyond words situations for me. Russia has regional elections coming up in September, and opposition leader Alexey Navalny was campaigning for independent candidates in Siberia. Reports from earlier today indicated that there was an attempt to block Navalny’s transfer to Germany for treatment. Just hours ago he was allowed to be relocated. As both of the articles above explain, there’s a troubling pattern of Russian dissidents being apparently and suspiciously poisoned. It also seems that this isn’t the first attempt at poisoning Navalny specifically.
Natalie: Another in a long line of Putin critics to end up poisoned, including Viktor Yushchenko, Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei Skripal and his daughter…and those are just the ones we know about.
And An Update on Belarus
America’s 2020 Election
Rachel: If you, like me, have been talking to the (somewhat less Online) people in your life about your concerns about USPS, you may have heard, like me, the response “Oh, but there’s a new policy! They said they’re halting the shutdowns, at least until after the election.” However, as this Vice piece explains… are they?
…it’s not clear what, if anything, is actually changing. Some of the changes DeJoy has made to the post office have already been implemented, and cannot easily or quickly be rolled back. And the USPS declined to provide any further comment before DeJoy testifies in Congress.
“The only thing I take from it is that he is slowing down his plans,” said a postal worker in a processing and distribution facility, “not stopping them.’
It seems like, from a layman’s perspective, this is more about quelling concern (and thus, action) than anything else, and producing exactly the response I’ve heard from people “Oh, it’s actually not a problem anymore! No worries.” I would urge you… not to assume this is the case! With respect to this issue or really like, anything.
And Here Are Just A Few of the Most Troubling Candidates
Natalie: There is a segment of the Republican Party — and some members of the Democratic Party too, if we’re being honest — who want to believe that Donald Trump is an aberration…that, once he’s gone, the GOP regain their sensibilities and we will, once again have a functioning two-party system. We know that’s not true, though, because we’ve seen the unprecedented obstruction the GOP enacted during the Obama years — they stole a Supreme Court seat from him!! — and because we’re seeing “trumpism” manifest in other candidates and those candidates have been successful, at least in GOP primaries.
From afar, Madison Cawthorn might seem like the exception…unlike Laura Loomer and Marjorie Taylor Greene, Cawthorn isn’t outwardly bigoted and he often calls for the GOP to adopt “better messaging” that’s less “abravise.” But upon closer examination — best detailed by Esther Wang at Jezebel — Cawthorn is just a better dressed Trump: he lies about how he’s made his money, he has a record of assaulting women and he has an inexplicable fondness for fascists and white supremacists.
Lest you buy into the notion that the GOP is powerless to stop the rise of folks like Cawthorn, Loomer or Greene, consider this: Virginia’s 5th Congressional District is currently represented by Denver Riggleman, a former Air Force officer and craft distillery owner. Though he won his House seat in 2018 as a Republican with a libertarian streak, the Congressman has been a pretty standard, run-of-the-mill conservative thus far. But then Riggleman made “the mistake” of accepting that marriage equality is the law of the land, presiding over the marriage of two gay supporters last summer.
The Rappahannock County Republican Party censured him, the Cumberland County Republican Committee issued a “vote of no confidence” and the Congressional District Republican Committee opted to choose the nominee via convention instead of through a primary. The process change ensured that the 5th District’s nominee would be picked by the most ardent conservatives in the district and Riggleman was ousted by a substantial margin and replaced on the ballot by an unrepetant bigot.
I mention all that to say this: if the GOP wanted to excise these cancers from their Party, they could. If they could orchestrate Riggleman’s ouster in Virginia, they could get Cawthorn out in North Carolina, Greene out in Georgia or Loomer out in Florida…but, no matter what protests you hear in the next few days, they won’t do it because just in case they can’t suppress enough of our votes, they want to have bigots on their side.
Himani: What gets me about all of this is how beholden all of these people are to Trump. It’s hard not to feel like this is the end point of America’s cult of individualism.
Also: The Corruption That Never Ends
Natalie: I’m not going to lie, I took some profound joy in seeing this story break yesterday. Profound joy.
Both in this case and the NRA corruption case (which we talked about two weeks ago), I am shocked but not surprised by the brazenness of the grifting. It is the height of privilege and arrogance to be that blatant with your grifting and believe you won’t face accountability.
Natalie: Yes. Yes, he is.
Himani: What gets me is this part: “Kushner knows all of this; he’s been through this illegal solicitation business before.” Why? Because that’s entirely what the Mueller investigation was about! And wait! “Mueller concluded that team Trump’s solicitation of opposition research on electoral opponent Hillary Clinton could constitute an illegal solicitation of a contribution from a foreign national. But Mueller decided not to prosecute Kushner and others, in part, because of a lack of evidence that Kushner knew at the time that what he was doing was illegal (knowledge of the law is necessary for a criminal conviction in this area), and because of possible challenges proving the value of the solicited opposition research. [emphasis added]”
So last time Kushner was a freebird because he supposedly didn’t know what he was doing was a crime. This time he knows. Either way, clearly, he does not care. And why would he?”