War of Russia against Ukraine. View of a civilian sports club gym and sporting goods store damaged following a Russian rocket attack the city of Kyiv

The Antiwar Dilemma In Ukraine

Will relentless war imagery lead the people of the U.S. to reexamine this country’s militarism in this century and its role in other wars in places we’ve done our best never to see from the inside?

By Nan Levinson, Tom Dispatch

I’ve been watching this country at war for many years now and, after 9/11, began spending time with American veterans who came to disdain and actively oppose the very conflicts they were sent to fight. The paths they followed to get there and the courage it took to turn their backs on all they had once embraced intrigued and impressed me, so I wrote a book about them. While doing so, I was often struck by a strange reality in that era of American war-making: in a land where there was no longer a draft, most Americans were paying remarkably little attention to our ongoing wars thousands of miles away. I find it even stranger today — and please note that this takes nothing away from the misery of the Ukrainian people or the ruthlessness of Vladimir Putin’s invasion — that the public seems vastly more engaged in a war its country is not officially fighting than in the ones we did fight so brutally and unsuccessfully over the past two decades.

War of Russia against Ukraine. View of a civilian sports club gym and sporting goods store damaged following a Russian rocket attack the city of Kyiv

Here, for instance, are just a few notes I took recently while listening to NPR: A woman calls one of its talk shows, feeling guilty about celebrating her daughter’s birthday in style when Ukrainians are suffering so horribly. A panel on a different NPR show discusses why Americans feel so involved and its members consider all-too-uncomfortably the rationale that the Ukrainians “look like us.” The show’s host does note that they don’t actually look like all of us, but no one suggests that decrying atrocities is easier when they’re committed by another country, especially one we never much liked to begin with.

Need more? Scott Simon, a popular NPR host, concludes an opinion piece about a 91-year-old Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust and died during the siege of Mariupol this way: “Whether in Bosnia, Rwanda, Xinjiang, Bucha, Kharkiv, or Mariupol, ‘Never Again’ seems to happen again and again.” Note the absence from that list of Afghanistan, Iraq, or Yemen.

And what about that people-like-us biz? “We are all Americans,” Le Monde declared after the 9/11 attacks. Are we all Ukrainians now? And does that explain the amnesia and whitewashing of American war policy in this century — or the implicit racism of it all? There’s something odiously revealing about our tendency to divide people caught in this planet’s wars into worthy and unworthy victims, the first deserving our sympathy (of course!), the second evidently deserving their fate.

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Standing Rock Solidarity Rally in protest to the Access Oil Pipe line in North Dakota at Pioneer Square in downtown Portland Oregon

Is Jessica Reznicek A Terrorist For Setting Fire To Dakota Access Pipeline Construction?

Amid tightening protest laws, the activist is appealing a district court’s ruling applying a “terrorism enhancement” to her sentence.

By Naveena Sadasivam, Grist

This story was originally published by Grist. You can subscribe to its weekly newsletter here.

On election night in 2016, Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya set fire to a bulldozer and construction equipment at a Dakota Access Pipeline construction site in Iowa. Over the next few months, the activists used oxy-acetylene torches to melt holes in pipeline valves at three other locations in the state. It was at the height of the Indigenous-led protests against the 1,172-mile-long pipeline, which opponents like the Standing Rock Sioux tribe argued would pollute local water sources and contaminate soil. When Reznicek and Montoya’s actions failed to halt pipeline construction, they held a press conference and publicly took responsibility for their actions.

Standing Rock Solidarity Rally in protest to the Access Oil Pipe line in North Dakota at Pioneer Square in downtown Portland Oregon

And at the state level, in part responding to the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, lawmakers in at least 17 states have passed legislation to increase jail terms and monetary penalties for offenses such as vandalizing and tampering with so-called critical infrastructure. In recent years, nonviolent climate protesters have been charged with trespassingtheft, and terrorism.

At issue in Reznicek’s case is whether her conduct was “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.” Prosecutors in the case argued that Reznicek’s conduct fit this description because she held a press conference in front of the Iowa Utilities Board office and used a crowbar to dismantle an Iowa Utilities sign.

“They were trying to say to the government, ‘If you do this kind of thing, we’re going to go out there and take the law into our own hands and end the pipeline one way or the other,’” the government prosecutor said at the hearing. “That is incredibly dangerous and exactly what this enhancement is designed to stop.”

Robert Richman, Reznicek’s attorney, argued that her actions did not target the Iowa Utilities Board and that her statements and actions did not indicate she tried to “influence” or “retaliate” against the agency. “There’s no question that Ms. Reznicek was unhappy with the decision of the Utility Board to allow the pipeline, but the damage to private property was calculated to stop the pipeline, not to punish the board,” he said.

In a 2021 statement to the court, Reznicek, who has long been associated with the Catholic Worker Movement, which promotes a social-justice oriented interpretation of Catholicism, said she is “not a political person” and “certainly not a terrorist.”

“I am simply a person who cares deeply about an extremely basic human right that is under threat: Water,” she wrote.

The appellate court is expected to issue a ruling in the coming weeks.

john fetterman on stage

The Manchin-Sinema Wing Of The Democratic Party Lost Big Last Night

Despite support from conservative super PACs, Conservative Democrats got routed in Tuesday’s Democratic party primary elections.

By Ryan Grim, Bad News

A Republican super PAC on Tuesday fell short in its bid to intervene in a Democratic primary against Pennsylvania state Rep. Summer Lee, a 34-year-old Black woman and rising star in the party, who fended off the tsunami of outside money to best anti-union attorney Steve Irwin. The spending, from the GOP-backed super PAC linked to AIPAC – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – left Irwin behind by less than 1,000 votes.

john fetterman on stage

A super PAC funded by the pharmaceutical industry blew more than a million dollars in an effort to salvage the career of former Blue Dog Chair Kurt Schrader, the Oregon Democrat who cast the deciding vote against drug price reform in the Energy and Commerce Committee, and organized with Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-NJ., to derail President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda. His opponent, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, lambasted him repeatedly as “the Joe Manchin of the House.” Because Oregon votes by mail, and some ballots were blurred and unreadable in areas favorable to Schrader, results may not be known until early next week, but despite a funding disparity of some 10-1, the incumbent is on the ropes.

Back in Pennsylvania, Conor Lamb, despite having won the endorsement of nearly every Democratic high-official and county organization in the state, was beaten handily by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, despite Fetterman suffering a stroke on Friday and spending election day undergoing surgery to have a pacemaker implanted. Lamb had the backing of the real Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., which his opponents used against him, to paint him as a Democrat who’d buck the party’s agenda in the Senate.

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cash on table with sticky note that says student debt

The Government Gave Out Bad Loans. Students Deserve A Bailout.

To protect future generations, Americans need forward-looking reforms for our higher education financing system. Congress should finally pass a proposal that guarantees enough Pell Grants and other debt-free financial aid for any student trying to earn a college degree.

By Charlie Eaton, Amber Villalobos and Frederick Wherry, New York Times

At least 43 million Americans have student loan debt, ranging from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Until now, there’s been no hope of a bailout.

Just as some argued that the subprime mortgage crisis was a matter of millions of people choosing to borrow too much, others have said that the student debt crisis is primarily the fault of the debtors. This myth hides that it was a harmful policy decision to encourage disadvantaged students to borrow for college in the first place. In 2008, the federal government was willing to bail out banks after their risky lending practices devastated the economy. We need a similar such bailout today. But unlike in 2008, this bailout would go to the victims of a crisis, not its perpetrators.

cash on table with sticky note that says student debt

For the last three decades, our government’s lending practices devoured borrowers’ incomes, prevented homeownership, and contributed to despairing anxiety. Lenders have denied borrowers access to loan relief programs and for-profit colleges have hounded prospective student borrowers, even when they knew graduates would get little return on their investments. By the time President Barack Obama left office, student loans were just as speculative and commonplace as subprime mortgages.

President Biden has signaled that we must make amends for this debt trap by bailing out the generation of borrowers who have been wronged. But the $10,000 of debt cancellation per borrower that he’s suggested will not be enough.

In 1975, only an estimated one in eight college students used federal student loans to pay for college. During that period, Pell Grants covered much of the cost of attending most public universities, and grants were available to anyone from middle- or low-income families.

But a surge of economically disadvantaged students pursued higher education in the 1980s as factory closures, automation and union-busting decimated the middle class. At the same time, President Ronald Reagan persuaded Congress to cut Pell Grant awards.

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bernie sanders at podium, a future to believe in written on podium

Bernie Sanders Calls on DNC to Ban Super PACs in Primaries

“A super PAC is a super PAC, whether it is funded by Republican billionaires or Democratic billionaires,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday urged the Democratic National Committee to ban super PAC money from the party’s primary process as special interest groups and billionaires pour money into elections in the hopes of defeating progressive candidates, including Summer Lee in Pennsylvania and Nida Allam in North Carolina.

bernie sanders at podium, a future to believe in written on podium

“The Democratic leadership has, appropriately, condemned Republican ‘dark money’ super PACs which spend huge amounts of money to elect their right-wing candidates,” Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote in a letter to DNC Chair Jamie Harrison. “I am concerned, however, that I have not heard any criticism from Democratic leaders about the many millions of dollars in dark money being spent by super PACs that are now attempting to buy Democratic primaries.”

“The goal of this billionaire-funded effort is to crush the candidacies of a number of progressive women of color who are running for Congress,” the Vermont senator continued. “I am writing to you today to demand that the Democratic National Committee make it clear that super PAC money is not welcome in Democratic primaries. I believe the party should make a public statement about our values and simultaneously consider actions that punish candidates who refuse to adhere to this principle.”

Sanders’ letter was sent the day of Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary elections, which will feature Lee’s run against corporate lawyer Steve Irwin for a U.S. House seat in the state’s 12th Congressional District and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s contest against Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) for a spot in the U.S. Senate.

Both contests have attracted national attention and torrents of super PAC cash. The Intercept‘s Akela Lacy reported Monday that in “less than a month, the United Democracy Project—the political action committee for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC—poured more than $1 million into ads in Pennsylvania’s 12th District.”

“The bulk of the messaging attacked Lee, though just over $100,000 went to materials supporting Irwin,” Lacy noted. “In total, United Democracy Project has spent more than $2.3 million on the race so far.”

In the Senate primary, meanwhile, some of the top financiers in the U.S.—including Bain Capital billionaire Joshua Bekenstein and Lone Pine Capital billionaire Stephen Mandel—have dumped money into Lamb’s super PAC.

“The billionaire class is playing an outsized role in propping up Conor Lamb’s sagging electoral chances,” The American Prospect‘s Alexander Sammon wrote last month.

Sanders, who called out AIPAC by name during a rally for Lee last week, argued in his letter Tuesday that Democratic candidates should have to “compete with each other based on their ideas and grassroots support, not on the kind of billionaire super PAC money they can attract.”

“A super PAC is a super PAC, whether it is funded by Republican billionaires or Democratic billionaires. Dark money is dark money, whether it is funded by Republican billionaires or Democratic billionaires,” Sanders wrote. “There is no question but that the continuation of super PAC money in Democratic primaries will demoralize the Democratic base and alienate potential Democratic voters from the political process.”

“Let us try to create a Democratic Party which is truly democratic,” the senator added.

Panhandle Area, Florida, United States - circa 1995 - Ku Klux Klan KKK Night Rally, men Wearing White Robes, hoods, Burning Cross with High Flames

The Right Wants You To Stop Talking About The Buffalo Shooter's Ideology

It’s apparently unfair to point out the clear, direct connections between the massacre and the Great Replacement conspiracy parroted by conservatives.

By Eoin Higgins, The Flashpoint

On Saturday, an 18-year-old man named Payton Gendron killed 10 people in a TOPS supermarket in Buffalo.

Of the 13 people Gendron shot, 11 were Black—in his livestream of the shooting, he’s heard saying “sorry” to a white man he shoots. The other victims seem to have been hardly even spared a thought.

Panhandle Area, Florida, United States - circa 1995 - Ku Klux Klan KKK Night Rally, men Wearing White Robes, hoods, Burning Cross with High Flames

Gendron’s motivations for the shooting were made clear in a 180-page manifesto he published online. The far-right document, which included multiple anti-Semitic references and made clear he was expressly targeting the store and area because of the area’s large Black population, left little to the imagination.

The manifesto included a nearly word-for-word repeat of Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s interpretation of the racist Great Replacement narrative, a far-right conspiracy theory that claims Democrats and/or Jews are trying to dilute the white American electorate by importing immigrants of color.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s paid even the slightest attention to Carlson over the past few years. The TV dinner heir and child of total privilege who claims to speak for the common man has long had an affinity for the most racist of conspiracy theories.

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cop arresting person probably racially motivated

Was The U.S. Really Ever Trying To Win The War On Drugs?

The US spends around $48 billion on the war on drugs each year. The massive spending doesn’t do much to stop drug use, but it has been a major boon for arms and security contractors and human rights abusers around the world.

By Mattha Busby, Jacobin

Excerpted and adapted from Should All Drugs Be Legalized?: A Primer for the 21st Century (Thames & Hudson, May 2022)

When the former Bolivian president Evo Morales implemented the legalization of coca leaf growing in 2004, he knew he was taking a risk. The man who made his name as leader of a militant coca growers’ union then expelled the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers who had backed a violent coca eradication campaign that often left farmers without viable alternatives. In terms of limiting coca production and reducing violence, legalization worked.

cop arresting person probably racially motivated

Morales — later forced to flee Bolivia following a US-supported coup — had argued that the increased demand for cocaine in North America should not rob indigenous people of ancient traditions going back potentially eight thousand years, as well as coca’s benefits. He called on the UN to remove it from its list of prohibited drugs.

“This leaf represents . . . the hope of our people,” Morales told the General Assembly in 2007, holding a coca leaf aloft. He negotiated successful crop substitution plans in an attempt to limit Bolivia to twenty thousand hectares of coca-growing fields — leading to a 12 percent decrease in the area used to grow it by 2011 (before limits were increased in recent years to service demand).

The US state department said Bolivia, which was implementing socialist reforms under its first-ever indigenous president, had “failed demonstrably to adhere to its obligations under international counternarcotic agreements.” The United States withheld approval for Bolivia’s antidrug policies (dictating whether they received aid or trade benefits from the country), even though it certified allies Colombia and Peru, which both saw coca cultivation rise. Eventually, Bolivia unilaterally withdrew from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, amid objections from Western states, before re-acceding in 2013 with an allowance for the chewing of the coca leaf.

Morales tweeted in 2021 of US authorities: “The so-called ‘war on drugs’ is an excuse to attack progressive and anti-imperialist governments. It is a cover for your geopolitical interests.” His measures brought peace to coca-growing areas that had been riddled with narco killings, police violence (including rape threats), and farmer protests, which were forcibly put down — while the US demanded an end to coca production and handsomely funded such efforts.

A 1995 Human Rights Watch report said US aid to Bolivia “supported programs and policies deeply flawed by human rights abuses, including prolonged detention of suspects even after their acquittal, due process violations by antinarcotics police, alleged torture, and impunity for law enforcement personnel accused of violations among both the Bolivian and US forces.”

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hands holding wheat in front of ukraine and EU flags

The Global Food Crisis Is Not Caused By War Alone

The war in Ukraine and the food crisis it has compounded will result in growing poverty and privation.

By Tom Stevenson, London Review Of Books

Egypt’s​ Ministry of Supply is headed by Ali Moselhi, a former Mubarak crony whose career was resurrected in 2017 by the country’s current military ruler, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. For weeks now Egyptian media have carried reports from Moselhi on how much wheat is left in the country’s permanent stores. Bulletins like these would normally be ignored as artefacts of the strange world of government communications (the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation used to send me regular updates on the water level at the Aswan High Dam). But the most recent figure amounted to about eleven weeks of supplies. Egypt imports more wheat than any other state in the world. Declining grain reserves matter, since subsidised bread is the main method for averting mass starvation of the poor. This is not a unique situation. In its ‘strategic wheat reserve’, Saudi Arabia stockpiles enough for more than a year of bread-making – about 3.3 million tonnes. A lot of it is stored in massive silos just north of Buraydah, in the centre of the Arabian peninsula, surrounded by irrigation farms visible in satellite images as green crop circles dotting the hamada.

hands holding wheat in front of ukraine and EU flags

This may seem impressive, but Saudi reserves are tiny compared to the 650 million tonnes of grain which China has stored up. One site at Dalian, on the Liaodong Peninsula in the north-east, has 95 grain elevators, each a monument to hard memories of the mid-century famines. Until 1996 even the US, with its vast Midwestern farmlands, used to keep four million tonnes of wheat in reserve.

National grain supplies are an emotive subject: they are a test of the basic competence of the administrative state. An empty central granary once meant imminent political collapse. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and US sanctions on Russia have severely disrupted grain exports from both countries. Between them, Ukraine and Russia produce about 15 per cent of the world’s wheat. The International Fund for Agricultural Development estimates that the area around the Black Sea is the source of 12 per cent of globally traded caloric intake. In addition, modern industrial farming is heavily reliant on hydrocarbons. As energy prices have risen so has the cost of fertiliser. The result has been a steep rise around the world in the price of all major staples except rice. Suddenly investment bank analysts are consulting soil fertility tables. Political commentators are paying attention to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s food price index. It has been climbing since the summer of 2020, but April saw the third major jump in succession.

The price spikes are already having global effects. In March, Algeria restricted food exports. In April, flour mills in Kazakhstan were closed down thanks to a lack of cheap Russian wheat. In Turkey, inflation has hit 61 per cent and the price of food is rising even faster. The main producer of Indonesian instant noodles (19 billion packs per year) has warned of shortages.

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buffalo NY skyline

Buffalo Shooting Spotlights Taboo Link Between Capitalism And Racism

We are not being honest about what’s happening if we ignore how hypercapitalism brought us to this moment.

By Matthew Cunningham-Cook, The Lever

I was going to sit down and finish up some longer writing projects this weekend. But then the shooting in Buffalo happened, where it appears that a white supremacist 18-year-old drove 200 miles to kill Black people in one of the most African-American neighborhoods in New York state.

It’s a horrifying tragedy, immediately harkening back to the 2015 mass murder at Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s church in Charleston, South Carolina. Law enforcement officials say that the murderer had researched the mass murder of 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2018.

buffalo NY skyline

As a Black person, I have the biggest news-generated pit in my stomach since George Floyd’s murder. It feels as if American society is becoming unmoored from its foundations and we don’t have any coordinated approach — as people on the left, as workers, and as Black people and people of color — for how to respond.

The central problem with the social media age is its neverending cacophony. Silence and contemplation are never allowed. As a result, responses to mass murder almost immediately begin to conform to folks’ prior views — on gun regulation or on white supremacy, typically, but also a broader set of assumptions about how society is and should be organized. When tensions are so high, honest conversations are difficult.

And yet, those conversations must happen — and we cannot honestly talk about racist mass murder without talking about capital and the profit system.

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Protesters at the Walter E Washington Convention Center expressing support for Rep Ilhan Omar (D-MN) at the annual AIPAC convention

Pro-Israel Groups Targeting Progressives In Primaries

AIPAC and DMFI are leading scorched-earth campaigns in Democratic primaries. Progressive Jews warn the tactics are all too familiar.

By Austin Ahlman, The Intercept

In the closing days of the 2020 general election, a PAC associated with Democratic Majority for Israel spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads warning Americans about the dangers of electing a wealthy, out-of-touch New Yorker. Those ads were not geared toward undecided voters in swing states who were considering a vote for Donald Trump. Instead, DMFI was trying to reach Democrats in a dark-blue district in California who were preparing to vote in a low-profile race between two Democratic congressional candidates.

Protesters at the Walter E Washington Convention Center expressing support for Rep Ilhan Omar (D-MN) at the annual AIPAC convention

Their target was Jewish progressive Sara Jacobs. A local anti-poverty activist and heir of the Qualcomm fortune, Jacobs was locked in a contentious fight for California’s 53rd Congressional District against fellow progressive and San Diego City Council president Georgette Gómez, a queer Latina and daughter of working-class immigrants. Both supported most cornerstone progressive issues such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

The key difference between the two candidates — the difference that brought almost half a million dollars in spending from DMFI — lay in their stances on Israel. In a December 2019 interview with San Diego Jewish World, Jacobs spoke passionately about using U.S. policy and its assistance to Israel to promote peace with Palestinians. She also criticized a number of efforts — such as legislation condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — that hard-line pro-Israel organizations supported.

“The window for two states may be closing faster than we would like for logistical reasons,” she said. “I think all U.S. assistance needs to be viewed through the lens of ‘does it move things closer to peace?’”

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