As the US Presidential election ramps up (in case you do not tune into US politics, Carmen has you covered in this week’s Also, Also, Also) this week’s Extra! Extra! provides yet another look at the state of political systems the world over. While democracy might be in dire straits, people are fighting for the governments they deserve. Meanwhile: some big abortion rights news that you probably didn’t see because it did not receive nearly the airtime it deserves, more Big Tech news, an update on the state of the pandemic, and more!
The Beginning of the End of Abortion Rights
Himani: This news felt like it largely flew under the radar this week, which is why it felt even more important to foreground it here. We covered this briefly back in July when the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the big abortion case of the summer. Well, here we are just over a month later with the chaser: the SCOTUS ruling this summer has in fact paved the way for restricting abortion rights. In June, Roberts wrote a separate opinion that eradicated prior legal precedent of considering the proclaimed benefit of the abortion restriction. Instead, whether or not the restrictions provide any benefit has now become irrelevant to whether an abortion restriction is legal. Now reproductive rights activists must demonstrate that the abortion restrictions provide a “substantial obstacle” to getting an abortion to a judiciary that has become increasingly filled with conservative men under the Trump administration.
It’s easy to get caught up in the legalese of this and, truly, I do think the legal justifications for denying reproductive rights are just smokescreens. The laws that were just given the go-ahead in Arkansas are truly disturbing, to say the least. As Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern report for Slate:
“The first of these laws requires clinics to report the names of abortion patients under 18 to local law enforcement. These clinics must then preserve the fetal tissue and treat it like criminal evidence. The second law forces abortion providers to spend “reasonable time and effort” acquiring a patient’s medical records for her “entire pregnancy history” before performing the abortion. The third law grants equal rights over fetal remains to both partners, with no exception in cases of rape. A patient must notify her partner before the abortion and ask which method of disposal he prefers. If both partners are minors, the patient’s parents get to decide how fetal remains are disposed of. If the patient is a minor but her partner is an adult, then he—not the patient—makes the choice. These rules effectively prohibit medication abortion, which occurs at home, where the provider cannot control the disposal of fetal remains. The fourth and final law bans the safest and most common procedure for second-trimester abortions.”
Natalie: I think you’re right to note that this news flew under the radar this week, Himani, but we’re fighting so many fires at once right now, it’s hard to keep up. This ruling by the Appeals Court and the laws themselves are offensive and continue the erosion of the right to choose. What’s particularly dispiriting about this — aside from the obvious — is that, if you accept that John Roberts’ work in June Medical was really just “an engraved invitation to states seeking to enact TRAP laws,” then the reaction from the Right has all been a dog and pony show to inflame the passion of uninformed voters. Just over a week ago, the vice president gave an interview to the Christain Broadcast Network that he was disappointed in Roberts’ recent decisions, while Sens. Cotton and Cruz were more direct with their condemnations. It was all for show, a way to gin up the evangelical base before an election.
On the State of Democracy
Himani: I’d seen a lot of news flurrying in the lead up to this election in Belarus, a country which I honestly know next to nothing about. It’s hard for me to not read this as another instance of a democracy on paper being revealed for the sham that it is.
Himani: We talked briefly about the tragedy in Beirut last week. The political and, relatedly, economic situation in Lebanon has been incredibly fraught for a very long time. This article by Alex Ward at Vox explains some of that context. Truly, I have no idea what to expect next now that the entire government has stepped down. It’s a wild thing to think about. On the one hand, the existing government had clearly failed to fulfill its mandate; on the other, as Ward writes: “Lebanon will have to find its third political leader in under a year. Whoever eventually takes the job will face an immense set of challenges, including handling simultaneous spiraling economic and public health crises and trying restore the public’s faith in a governmental elite that has long failed them. That’s much easier said than done.”
Natalie: As I read more about Lebanon, it’s interesting to juxtapose what’s happening there with what happened last year (and what’s continuing to happen) in Puerto Rico. Both have had three leaders in a very short amount of time — first Ricardo Rosselló, then Pedro Pierluisi and now Wanda Vázquez Garced in Puerto Rico — and faced economic and public health crises (both of their making and not) while trying to restore the public trust after the exposure of massive corruption. I’m interested in seeing how both states manage to pick themselves up from disaster and steer a new course.
Himani: Also back in June, we shared reporting from The Intercept on how the US News Media tipped the balance to falsely declare Bolivia’s election last October as invalid. That was one of the most jarring and eye-opening pieces I have read, and I read a lot of jarring, eye-opening news. As Glenn Greenwald wrote, the result of American meddling was that “Bolivia lost its most successful president in its modern history, and is consequently now ruled by an unelected military junta.”
Well, Bolivians are fighting to get their democracy back. Elections were supposed to be held in May and were pushed back to September and now October, prompting widespread protest and demonstrations.
Natalie: I can’t help but read this and be inspired by those Bolivians putting themselves at risk to reclaim their democracy. Also? Given what we’re seeing with this administration, I’m trying to imagine if, as a country, we’d be willing to take the same steps to preserve our democracy.
Himani: China forced through the security law in Hong Kong to be able to do this, exactly. And here we are.
Himani: Thailand has had political issues for years now, but it seems things ratcheted up a notch earlier this year when an opposition party was forced to disband. The recent arrests of activists has led to increased protests across the country.
Who Knew News about USPS Would Be What Keeps Me Up at Night?
Himani: And on the subject of the “state of democracy” this country over here that likes to market itself as the paragon of democratic government is at serious risk of becoming a failed state, in my humble opinion. Trump is doing everything he can to steal this election in the middle of a pandemic. Truly, how is this any different from what we saw earlier this summer in Russia or the situation in Belarus? All I know is that every vote matters more than ever this upcoming November.
Natalie: For the record, I should say that the destruction of the U.S. Postal Service — in favor of a privatized system — has long been an interest of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party has helped them along. In 2006, at a time when Democrats had control of both chambers, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act which required the USPS to create a $72 billion fund to pay for the cost of its post-retirement health care costs, 75 years into the future. No other agency or corporation bears this burden, only the USPS. What we’re seeing now, at the worst possible moment, is the USPS being left to die because: 1.Senate Republicans are blocking any attempt to fix what Congress previously broke and 2. Because the current administration and his ilk have a vested interest in depressing voter turnout.
Natalie: They are trying to steal an election and I cannot fathom what it’s going to feel like to wake up after a winner has been declared and finding thousands and thousands of delayed ballots just sitting in a room, uncounted…which is a scenario that feels inevitable if something isn’t done about this post-haste.
Rachel: I’m thinking of Natalie’s observation above about whether outrage and resistance could be possible in the US the way the people of Bolivia are enacting it, and wondering if we can hope for people to organize around the USPS in that way. It’s been heartening to see people in my digital communities distressed about the USPS, sharing info about it, and buying merch and stamps to try to bail it out — but I’m frustrated by the ways in which this as a primary strategy buys into the GOP’s premised “problems” with the USPS, which are money. I get the strategy of supporting the USPS by any means possible, because we really cannot function without it, but also I would be so happy to see some organizing that directly undermines the GOP’s premises here!
Updates on the State of the World, as Created by Big Tech
Himani: Uber and Lyft are already gearing up to challenge this ruling, but it is incredibly momentous. If it were to actually come into effect, as it truly should, this would drastically change the landscape of the exploitative labor practices of Big Tech.
Natalie: This has been a real test case for how progressive my politics truly are…and what convenience I’d be willing to concede, in pursuit of justice….which, frankly, is not a position I find myself in too often. On the one hand, you have these labor practices which are so clearly exploitative and on the other, there’s the recognition that, but for these labor practices, Uber and Lyft might not exist and black and brown people everywhere would still be subject to discrimination by cab companies.
Himani: This was a really thorough article that effectively captured something I had been thinking about all last week as the concerns about privacy on Tik Tok and WeChat made a flurry of news.
On Racism, Economics and the Environment
Natalie: I imagine it’d help if we had a Department of Justice willing to enforce a Supreme Court ruling barring discrimination.
Rachel: The pattern is, I think, clear, but I’ll jump in and overexplain it anyway! Eight months ago (and beyond) we were all talking about the overlaps in ideology and fascist leanings among Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and Jair Bolsonaro — and now we’re all talking about how badly the US, UK, and Brazil are failing in their coronavirus response! Wow! Who could have thought! I think there’s like, a lot to talk about in terms of why that’s the case; I think there’s an obvious intentional undermining of science as a value and an institution that’s at play, as well as just a real indifference at best to whether much of the nation’s people, especially the poor and people of color, live or die. (Important to note also that in the US and Brazil, Indigenous people have been absolutely devastated by the coronavirus in specific and intentional ways that are characterized by the administrations’ targeting of Indigenous peoples in general.)
Natalie: Does anyone really believe he gave this vaccine to his daughter? Anyone?
Himani: The short sightedness of this and all the other efforts at getting a vaccine developed and approved quickly is just beyond me. We already struggle so much with vaccine denial and the anti-vaxxer movement doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, even after devastating measles outbreaks. We already saw the devastating consequences of these types of rushed decisions in the Philippines with the vaccine for Dengue fever that was hastily pushed through clinical trials where concerns about safety were ignored. As a result, roughly ten children died and several thousands more were exposed to greater health risks, and vaccine use of well established vaccines fell substantially, leading to the death of more than 300 people due to measles. I really do worry we’re about to watch this play out on a larger scale with COVID-19, and then deadly diseases that humanity finally got under control will ravage us once again.
Change Happens Slowly, But It Does, Sometimes, Happen
Himani: It’s not enough but it’s a start, and it’s more meaningful than creating a council to talk about the issue and calling it “reparations.” For one thing, there appears to be a commitment to reallocating the money in a meaningful way; as Audrey McGlinchy reports for KUT 90.5: “Of the immediate cuts, roughly $3.5 million would go toward Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services’ response to COVID-19. Another $6.5 million would go to housing assistance for people currently living on the street, and just under $1 million would go to staff non-police officers responding to mental health calls.”
Still, it’s not nearly what activists have been calling for, and it’s only one small step towards the change that needs to happen.
Natalie: It’s not everything that activists have been asking for and it’s not all that Austin needs but it’s a necessary step. It establishes the city as a good faith actor and that’s only going to be a positive step moving forward. As Dr. King reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Rachel: I’m watching this news with a heavy heart from Minneapolis, where a seemingly heartening development of the city council declaring they would defund the police has devolved into an aimless set of values after deciding that the city’s charter can’t be adjusted to accommodate the change; after declaring the city would end homelessness, the city is literally as I type this breaking down community-supported encampments for unhoused people and arresting them. I’m frustrated with the stop-and-start nature of change in this regard, and with the exhausting level of pressure that has to be maintained to get any traction whatsoever on things that were explicitly promised. I hope that change in Austin does continue! I am incredibly grateful for the unbelievable amounts of labor and creativity it will have taken from organizers to do so.
Editor’s note: This piece was edited to correct inaccuracies about the effects of the dengue vaccine roll out in the Philippines.