This week’s Extra! Extra! looks at some sobering and some hopeful news related to sex workers’ rights, coverage of the insurrection in the context of the ongoing impeachment trial, an update on the COVID-19 pandemic and America’s fumbled vaccine roll out, and more.
News on Sex Workers’ Rights
Rachel: It’s maybe obvious, but while of course I understand survey methodology and reported numbers, the real number for this is absolutely higher than one-third. There is no safe contact with law enforcement while sex work is criminalized (and of course no real guaranteed safe contact with law enforcement ever, for anybody; see all our police coverage for why). To give some context to why, this truly mindboggling headline from a couple weeks ago: “8 women rescued and arrested in Central Ohio Human Trafficking single-day sting.” Being arrested precludes being rescued; any ‘help’ available for sex workers from police is premised on control and incarceration.
Rachel: On a different note, this is an exciting possibility! The article definitely spells out why Oregon is often a successful ‘testing ground’ for rolling back more puritanical legislation — “This state was among the first to take cannabis possession off the criminal books, then create a legal market for weed. And last fall, with Ballot Measure 110, voters made Oregon the first state in the nation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of all drugs, including heroin and methamphetamine,” as well as putting in motion the Multnomah County Preschool for All that was approved via ballot measure in November (more links about OR’s drug decrim farther down in this piece!). One problem for progressives is that centrists often insist more radical policy is impossible or won’t work without any evidence, while insisting that the way it’s always been done is the only way possible even when it’s demonstrably failing to achieve its stated outcomes; firsts like the ones that Oregon is making possible are really useful, even if people who are ideologically opposed to those values still won’t necessarily be swayed by evidence, it’s possible some in positions of power may be.
The Insurrection and the Impeachment
Himani: Going through this a second time with Trump… It’s just beyond frustrating. Because the reality is, this isn’t about Trump. It’s about the entire Republican party, from the insurrectionists and their explicit supporters in Congress to their quiet enablers to the so-called “moderates” who were targeted in the attack. We know that Trump will be acquitted by the Senate again, even though this time the trial isn’t a sham. Even though Republicans will now have to openly vote for an acquittal in the face of ever-clearer evidence of the horrifying violence of that day. Plaskett’s testimony was so incredibly powerful. Linking what happened on January 6th to the September 11th attacks, she’s saying out loud what so many of us are thinking, and she’s sounding the alarm about the precarious position American democracy finds itself in, in this moment in time. Acquitting Trump — who is the most obvious instigator of this insurrection, against whom no complex legal argument is required — shatters any hope of holding to account the many other countless culpable Republicans who bend and break the rules and norms in any number of ways to secure their own power and further institutionalize white power.
I think one of the things that’s been the most frustrating over the last four years is the way in which “moderate” or “traditional” Republicans like Romney and McConnell have been able to get away with acting like they have no hand in this extremism. But Romney set the stage for this rhetoric and this way of thinking, most famously with this “47% of Americans don’t pay income tax” and push to cut federal spending and government programs. The conversations around welfare and who does or doesn’t pay taxes have always been riddled with racist dog whistles. And McConnell — well, one could write a whole dissertation demonstrating how everything he’s done to enshrine minority rule in America is inextricably linked to white power. Trump, the most egregious offender is off the hook and people like Romney and McConnell will never even be brought into the courtroom even though, I would argue, they are equally culpable.
When I look at this from the federal level, I do feel incredibly hopeless about this. But then I remember that Letitia James won’t let Trump off the hook and that Fani Willis isn’t going to let the false claims about election fraud go without an investigation. I don’t know what either of these will amount to, but I hope, I really hope, it’s something.
Natalie: So, as tedious as the whole exercise might seem — particularly given, as Himani rightly points out that the likelihood that the former president will be acquitted — I want to encourage folks to watch the impeachment coverage as much as you can. I watched the events on Jan. 6th unfold in real-time, on television and via social media, but, as the NPR piece points out, we’re seeing new footage of the insurrection that we hadn’t seen before. It is unsettling to watch, to be sure… we came so much closer to calamity than even I realized on that day… but it is important for us all to bear witness. It is important for all of us to know how tenuous our hold on democracy is.
The More We Learn about the Insurrection, the More Our Fears are Confirmed
Smoking gun: The orders from Miller to the DC National Guard for January 6 included in linked article— is a must read. The DC guard were allowed no helmets, no body armor, no weapons. They were not allowed to stop or arrest protesters. Letter orders no interference with rioters https://t.co/py9y17iw0U pic.twitter.com/tjsLBVcbPn
— Holly Brewer (@earlymodjustice) January 30, 2021
Natalie: It goes without saying at this point but CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE THIS MEMO BEING ISSUED FOR A BLACK LIVES MATTER PROTEST?!
Nope. Never. Not a chance in hell.
That said, I hope that the House and Senate continue their investigations into what happened on Jan. 6, irrespective of what comes of the impeachment trial, because we need answers. Sending the DC Guard into service without helmets, body armor and weapons and prohibiting them from conducting searches or arrests…that feels like criminal negligence on the part of Christopher Miller and he ought to be held to account.
Himani: Some of the data shared in this article is really interesting, but I think they framing lacks actual historical context. Granted, their point of comparison is people who joined ISIS and right wing extremists going back to 2015, but when you look at who was part of the KKK and who participated in lynchings — it very much was your average middle class white person. In this respect, the Capitol Rioters very much are like other extremists.
Natalie: I am, admittedly, uncomfortable about this level of surveillance even though I understand it’s part of the faustian bargain that comes with having a computer/camera/phone at your fingertips…but still, there’s something wild about watching the insurrection progress this way.
Himani: I did not realize how numb I had become to the pandemic until I read this.
Himani: The anti-Asian racism that Trump fomented continues in full force one year later. This is one of the things I find frustrating about the news cycle. A topic becomes “popular” and everyone is reporting on it for about a week and then… it fades away, regardless of what is actually happening. I think it was literally this time a year ago that the articles were coming in about anti-Asian violence surrounding COVID, but since then it’s largely been radio silence.
Natalie: I think you’re right about that, Himani…and, honestly, it felt like that was more of a reaction to Trump’s racism — the root of which was disproved this week— than an actual concern about those communities. Once Trump’s out of office, the issue isn’t worth revisiting for most media outlets. According to Media Matters, there’s been only 20 minutes of coverage about the latest wave of violence on network and cable news. Unsurprisingly, both segments were part of shows hosted by women of color.
Screenwriter Nia DaCosta put together a great thread of community-based resources to raise money for those impacted by the violence in the Bay Area.
Been hunting down resources to help our Asian-Am community in light of the horrifying increase in racist violence against them. Tried to keep this as community-based as possible.
1st, a GoFundMe distributing funds to community orgs.https://t.co/eL01DtPoAn
— Nia DaCosta (@NiaDaCosta) February 9, 2021
Himani: Honestly, I have no words for this. It makes me beyond angry. And buried in this article is the fact that in doing this, the ultraconservative majority on the Supreme Court just made it easier for people to argue in favor of religious freedoms, which affects a whole host of human rights issues beyond COVID. I’m sure we’ll be seeing the implications of that for a long time to come.
Natalie: I suppose, at this point I shouldn’t be surprised about the ultraconservative majority on the Supreme Court eschewing science, but still, it grates. What’s particularly galling to me, in the case of the Supreme Court, is that they’re still not meeting in person. They’re still conducting oral arguments via telephone. Why isn’t what’s good for the goose, good for the gander?
The Vaccine Rollout
NYC has released today, for first time, data on vaccination demographics. It shows deep inequality.https://t.co/IjoYQuqP3k
— Mark D. Levine (@MarkLevineNYC) January 31, 2021
Rachel: It’s been infuriating and awful watching so many layers of American stratification and hierarchy mapped onto the COVID response, and while many of us were using the idea of the vaccine as a finish line when we could start to relax, the reality is that the vaccine rollout is just as racist and inequitable as every other part of the US’s pandemic policy. Much like every other form of healthcare, there are different realities for rich and poor and for white citizens and people of color, especially Black and Indigenous ones — it isn’t a Trump problem, it’s a problem baked into every layer of American policy and systems, and it’s heartbreaking to see still happening after so many people have lost so much and been failed for so long.
Natalie: The federal government has to start requiring states to provide information about equity or we’ll continue to see issues like this occur.
Himani: This is such a multi-faceted issue. On the one hand, there are obvious instances of racism, as demonstrated, for instance, by this analysis from NPR which shows that vaccine centers are disproportionately missing from Black and Latinx communities in the South. This is definitely at the top of the list of things that need to be regulated federally to eliminate these types of blatant disparities in access.
But the other part of this is rampant misinformation and the lack of building community buy-in. The fact that even online nurses’ groups are full of false claims about the COVID vaccines truly puts into perspective how rampant the problem of misinformation is. In theory, Facebook is working on that, but reporting from the end of January showed that the company was still profiting off of anti-vax content. Meanwhile, I don’t know that I’ve heard of meaningful initiatives being taken by health departments to engage with communities that have a reason to feel skeptical about new medical technology. (Which, by the way, that distrust is a global problem of American making.) Even without all of the misinformation about the vaccines, that would still be necessary but in this environment it’s absolutely critical.
Instead, instead of doing that work, of fixing the processes for the vaccine roll out or working with communities, America is doing what it does best: turning to punitive measures against people who are allegedly (not even, actually) breaking the haphazard rules that health departments have put in place for the vaccine roll out. Like, this case of Houston physician who faced criminal charges and lost his job for spending 6 hours scrambling to find eligible people to innouculate to keep vaccine doses from going to waste. On all sides, from every angle, no matter how you look at it, this whole situation is so incredibly heartbreaking — and so incredibly American.
Himani: We’ve talked about this here before, but the numbers from this article are staggering. Granted this is now a little over a week old, but I can’t imagine that the overall take away has changed much. As of this Vox reporting from Jan 29, 80 million doses of COVID vaccines have been given worldwide and only 55 of those were in low-income countries. The map showing when different countries will achieve broad vaccine coverage is simply staggering in the disparities.
And News on Why No Parts of the Healthcare Industry Should Be Run on Business Models
Natalie: If this pandemic hasn’t convinced you that we desperately need Medicare for All, I don’t know what to tell you.
Himani: We do need Medicare for All, yes, but also: Big Pharma needs to be broken down, and we need to stop relying on consultants who know shit all to attempt to do work that is actually highly specialized (looking at you, Jared Kushner). The fact that research is motivated by profit… I mean, that’s simply not how science works. Pharma companies have spent way more money into sales, marketing and acquisitions than they have into research and development because there is greater risk and more chances of loss in that investment, and we have all paid the price for that. And I honestly cannot think of one industry that didn’t lose something substantial in the work it delivers when it turned to “consultants” to help raise revenue and profits.
What Is Happening Over at Amazon?
Himani: The above reporting is probably the best coverage I have seen regarding Bezos stepping down as CEO of Amazon.
And Other Things That I Think Are Important Reads…
Himani: A shocking military coup took place in Myanmar on February 1. For historical context on the coup, I recommend an article published February 1 by Vasuki Shastry for The Guardian.