This week’s Extra! Extra! brings a mix of hopeful and sobering news about trans rights, the criminal justice system, violence against women and the climate catastrophes in the Bay of Bengal and in Michigan. Also, Natalie updates us on the latest Veepstakes 2020 news.
Natalie: I am, of course, thrilled about this outcome for Adree Edmo and her attorneys, but I couldn’t help but wonder what this portends for the case brought by the late Aimee Stephens. Are we dealing with a Court that’s more receptive to trans rights than, perhaps, it’s been given credit for? Is this an anomaly? I don’t know.
Update To Veepstakes 2020
Natalie: Yesterday, my twitter feed blew up with a chorus unanimously chanting “no, no, no, no” in response to the news that Amy Klobuchar was being vetted for the vice presidency. The backlash was swift: people compared it to Hillary Clinton’s uninspired choice of Tim Kaine as her running mate in 2016 and expressed certainty that it would lead to the same outcome.
So, a few things: first, Tim Kaine was a choice foisted on the Clinton campaign by white supremacy and patriarchy which can only stand one glass ceilings being broken at a time. He wasn’t uninspired, the country that necessitated his presence is.
Second, we all knew that Amy Klobuchar was going to be vetted…we even said as much in this space just a few weeks ago. But the fact that news of that vetting has leaked actually makes it less likely that Klobuchar’s the lead candidate. The real Biden VP finalists aren’t the ones talking to the press right now. Everybody just calm down.
Natalie: I agree with much of what Roxane Gay posits here about Stacey Abrams — I said as much two weeks ago when I assessed Abrams’ chances of being Biden’s running mate — and I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that politicians aren’t auditioning to be our friends (and, having met more than my fair share of them, I’m grateful for that). There are no perfect politicians who agree with me on everything…the best you can hope for, most of the time, is that you’ll find a candidate who is open to persuasion and ”not too sure that [they are] right?” But where Gay and I diverge is on the question of Abrams’ response to the sexual assault charges leveled against Joe Biden by Tara Reid.
Or, maybe, the more precise point is: I don’t know what Abrams could have said in that situation to make anyone feel better about her or, ostensibly, about Joe Biden? I hate that we ask women about this, rather than interrogating men — Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg will never be asked about this, right? — or Biden specifically…but if they are asked, I wonder, what do we expect them to say? What would be the right answer in this situation?
Perhaps we expect something like what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, acknowledging the situation’s messiness but urging the focus on justice and rather than just politics… but if something did happen, doesn’t even that feel insufficient?
America’s Criminal Justice: The Haves and the Have Nots
Natalie: After strong indications that they’d go to trial, Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, pled guilty yesterday to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud charges. There’s a chance that the couple won’t do any jail time due to COVID-19 and will, instead, be punished with house arrest. Combined with the news that Michael Cohen will be released from prison early and Paul Manafort’s release last week, it’s clear that the coronavirus is exposing inequities that exist in our justice system.
There is one justice system for the rich and well-connected and another for everyone else…and, in the age of COVID-19, that justice system may doom a lot of people to death sentences for relatively innocuous crimes… crimes far less offensive to society than the cabal that Manafort and Cohen unleashed.
Himani: We’ve covered instance after instance of how COVID-19 is spreading like fire through jails and prisons in the US and abroad in Monday’s COVID-19 edition of Extra! Extra! That makes the news about Manafort and Cohen particularly galling. Really, this is just an extension of the disparities created by systems like bail and excessive and unequal sentencing.
But this Slate article reveals yet another twisted side of America’s criminal justice system that I wasn’t very familiar with: how young people are coerced into becoming informants and put at substantial risk by the police. In perhaps one of the most striking parts of this article:
There have been a series of botched informant operations in the last 10 years that follow the pattern of Nick Taiber’s story, only with far worse results. Rachel Hoffman in Tallahassee, Florida, in 2008 was arrested on marijuana and ecstasy possession, and threatened with very serious charges. In exchange for leniency, she agreed on doing a $13,000 drug and gun deal in a sting operation set up by the police. The police lost track of her, and she was shot in the head by the dealers. Andrew Sadek in North Dakota had a similar story: He was threatened with 40 years, so instead he started buying drugs for police at North Dakota State College of Science. Andrew disappeared and was found in a river with a gunshot wound to the head and a backpack filled with rocks. Andrew’s parents think he was murdered. The police say it was a suicide—Andrew’s way of trying to get out of his informant deal. His parents are still fighting the police in lawsuits to this day.
If The States Fail, Where Does that Leave Us?
Natalie: This is entirely the fault of Wisconsin Republicans and those conservatives on the state supreme court, rushing to inflict as much harm as possible before the clock on their majority hold runs out. It is, unfortunately, a preview of what’s coming for us all if polling continues to suggest the possibility of Democratic takeover of the Senate in November. Mitch McConnell will go down this same path… of that you can be certain.
Rachel: What’s being done to the people of Wisconsin is horrific; I’m grimly reminded of the 2000s-era Republican outcry about “activist judges,” and the mock concern that judges would serve a personal political agenda rather than the best interests of the nation. Weird how now — much like the people who were so outraged about their prerogative to not bake gay wedding cakes, but who now don’t want to wear masks — that tune has changed! I agree with the the premise of this piece wholeheartedly — the state and the judicial branch are not functioning in a manner that at all serves the people of Wisconsin — but would also gently push back against the unspoken presumption that prior to this moment Wisconsin (and arguably any state) was a successful state. As someone who used to live in Milwaukee, the state has been failing its people for a long time; as with so much else, the current crisis has just pushed it to its most extreme and made it more transparent. As before this pandemic, the answer to where it leaves us is each other; individuals and communities still have some power to take care of each other, and the more people who work together and organize, the greater that power is. The cruel reality of the pandemic is that even if our own choices are somehow unassailable, we’re impacted by the choices of others that are beyond our control, and I know how frustrating that is — while it isn’t possible to totally mitigate the damage caused by rulings like these, it’s also important to remember that even without state action, we aren’t helpless! Community power has always been able to accomplish things the state can’t, and this is more true now than ever.
Himani: I think I’m not alone in feeling like there’s pretty much nothing the White House, Congressional Republicans and Supreme Court conservatives can do, at this point, that will faze me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll continue to be horrified, but as so many political thinkers have written again and again and again since 2016, the strategy is entirely about a slow and steady chipping away at democracy that allows for a creation of two completely different narratives about what’s happening while making it pretty much impossible to hold any of these power-hungry authoritarians accountable. (This just happened again this week, by the way, when the Trump administration released emails from Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice detailing her concerns about sharing sensitive information with Michael Flynn because he was known to be in contact with the Russian ambassador. The White House and their allies are already spinning this into more fuel for their nonsense conspiracy theories about how Trump has been wronged and Biden is untrustworthy; somehow Bill Barr, of all people, is the voice of reason here. I can’t believe I’m saying that.)
Anyway, my point is, the federal government has sunk so low that, in some ways, I already think of it as a somewhat failed state. But what flies under the radar so often is what’s happening at the state-level, which is where a lot of power sits as well – especially right now, during the pandemic, because the White House has abdicated all responsibility for the situation. The article about Wisconsin is damning but unsurprising given the long-game Republicans have been playing there, as Natalie says above. And it seems that Georgia isn’t too far behind. When democracy becomes so utterly distorted by gerrymandering, stolen elections, farcical elections that are blatant attempts to distort the results, and flat out cancelled elections, we have to acknowledge that this is no longer democracy before we can begin to address the problems. But every one of those attempts to restore democratic order and fairness is met with the charge that somehow that is silencing the voice of the people when really it’s an attempt to restore the voice of the silenced majority. When things are this far gone, I’m not sure what can be done to restore democraticj processes?
Rachel: I assume we’re all tired of the discursive tic that “if this were any other time with less going on, this would be the story of the century,” but I can’t agree with Himani enough that the direction Georgia has taken in the last few years is indescribably wild and indicative of what seems to be some pretty irreparable breakdowns in US legislative infrastructures. If Wisconsin, as previously asserted, is a failed state, Georgia at this point seems functionally a rogue one, completely disregarding election sanctity and brazenly illegally consolidating power in what would be unquestionably viewed by Americans as an oppressive dictatorship if it was occurring anywhere in the global South. Again, I know we’re all tired of the refrain that “if this were happening in another country, the US would have invaded it to protect democracy,” but Jesus Christ! Would really love to hear from anyone based in Georgia right now about what they’re experiencing and how local communities are responding!
Natalie: Back in 2008, when Proposition 8 — a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in California — passed, it did so thanks to the financial support of Utahns and the LDS Church. I couldn’t have imagined an event like this with prospective leaders in Utah, discussing LGBTQ+ issues, then… and even now, the idea that four Republicans would engage in this conversation feels surreal. I guess it’s true what they say, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Let’s just hope it keeps bending.
Himani: I do have a propensity for leaning into despair, though. This article about the LGBT forum in Utah is a refreshing reminder that so many activists are doing the work to push the needle bit by bit for the rights of LGBTQ+ people, as in this particular example, and countless other instances of fighting for the rights of so many other disenfranchised and marginalized groups: people of color, people with disabilities, people who are or were formerly incarcerated.
Checking In On Those SCOTUS Oral Arguments
Natalie: “…Female justices may be three times more likely to be interrupted than male justices, and that conservative justices were more likely to interrupt than liberal justices.”
This is my shocked face.
Himani: The only thing I have to add to this is that there’s an obvious confound in the fact that of the four liberal justices on the bench, three of them are women whereas all of the conservative justices are men. This isn’t to say that all the liberal justices should be men or that there aren’t conservative women in high levels of the justice system (looking at you, Sandra Day O’Connor), but I think it highlights something important about women and power in America. Americans across the spectrum will say they like the idea of women in power, but once women start to hold those positions, every attempt is made to silence them. We have seen this play out in so many different aspects of our politics: the 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns, how people on the right and left talk about Nancy Pelosi, how the right talks about the members of “The Squad,” what happened with Katie Hill – this list is truly endless – and now we can add the day to day operations of the Supreme Court to that list.
Violence Against Women
Rachel: I’ve been thinking about the “incel terrorism” news all week with deeply conflicted feelings. On the one hand, although the headline doesn’t emphasize it, this was first and foremost a violent hate crime directed at sex workers, and in a time when sex workers are facing unprecedented risk and outrageous failures from the state. I’m haunted by the recent murder of Marylene Levesque, a sex worker in Canada who was violently murdered by an incarcerated man on day parole, who was specifically directed to see sex workers as part of a ‘risk-management strategy’ [that] was developed to allow Gallese to meet women to respond to his ‘sexual needs.'” Marylene’s safety was such a low priority to the state that she was essentially offered as a human treatment plan as an attempt to keep more valuable, non-sex-working women safer from a person who was incarcerated for murdering his wife. To that end, it does feel good to see this instance of violence against sex workers taken seriously enough for charges to be filed and for it to be taken as what it is, sexualized misogynistic violence that targets sex workers as effigies and examples.
On the other hand, given the way that we culturally understand ‘incels’ and have historically imagined their relationship to sexual economies — it’s not unusual for people to suggest that incels just see sex workers or have sexual services provided to them so that they won’t become violent, reifying the idea that killed Marylene Levesque — I’m not sure that this conviction isn’t something of a Trojan horse in that regard. And of course, it also reifies the problem of using carceral strategies and policing to address what are ultimately cultural problems — in the same way that solving gun violence at the level of legislature often ends up creating more violence at the level of mass incarceration against the most marginalized people while never reaching violent white men, I’m concerned about who will ultimately be the most impacted and the most harmed by enshrining new criminal law on the phenomenon of sexualized male violence rather than addressing its causes.
Himani: FGM is an incredibly disturbing practice that occurs all over the world although there’s a certain racism in terms of how its discussed as being mostly associated with African nationals. (In fact, the feature image for this article participates in this same racism: the article itself is about a situation in Russia but the picture looks like it was most likely taken in an African country.) This is a disturbing account of the procedure being forced onto a young girl. The girl’s mother filed a criminal complaint in 2019, and activists are petitioning for the local branch of the Investigative Committee to investigate the situation, which would be a first in Russia.
Himani: Meanwhile, abortion access in the US continues to be restricted in the US. In the latest iteration, the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans are demanding that local Planned Parenthood chapters return small business loans they received through the Paycheck Protection Program. It seems particularly insidious to compare Planned Parenthood clinics to large for-profit entities like the Lakers, Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris that had also received small business loans and been pushed to return those loans after public scrutiny.
Long-Awaited Justice for Rwandan Genocide Victims and Survivors
Himani: Twenty-six years after the Rwandan genocide where more than 800,000 people were killed in just three months, one of the leaders of the violence has finally been apprehended. He will be tried for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Colombia Peace Agreement: Four Years Later
Himani: In 2016, the Colombian government and Revolutionary Forces of Columbia (FARC rebels) reached a historic peace agreement which would end over a half century of war in the country. As part of that agreement, former members of FARC were promised protection. And yet, within the past four years, nearly 200 former FARC members have been by drug traffickers, right-wing paramilitaries and even the military itself.