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#1608 Widespread Loneliness is a Solvable Social Problem (Transcript)

Air Date 2/7/2024

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast, in which we take a look at the loneliness epidemic that long predates the COVID lockdowns, which of course only made things worse. But it's not primarily a cultural or even a technological problem in origin as many believe. The issue, I think, largely has to do with how our built environment is designed, and then social and technological aspects compound the problem. 

Sources today include the PBS NewsHour, Studio Leonardo, The Happy Urbanist, a TED Talk, Changing Places, Strong Towns, Not Just Bikes and Vox, with an additional members-only clip from Andrewism.

Surgeon General discusses health risks of loneliness and steps to help connect with others - PBS NewsHour - Air Date 5-2-23

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: Your declaration in this report very clearly link loneliness to matters of life or death, to put it plainly. This one number stuck out to me; it found social isolation increases the risk of premature mortality by nearly 30 percent. [00:01:00] How and why did you come to focus on this topic?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY: Well, I had certainly had firsthand experience with loneliness in my own life, and also in my care of patients, where I found so often people come into the hospital for one condition or another, but there was loneliness lurking in the background.

But it was only when I began my tenure as Surgeon General that I started to realize, in talking to people across the country, that loneliness was extraordinarily common. In fact, we are now finding that one in two adults report measurable levels of loneliness. And it turns out that young people are most affected than any other group.

And here's why this is so concerning: it's because we have realized that loneliness is more than just a bad feeling. It has real consequences for our mental and physical health. It increases our risk of depression, anxiety and suicide. But social disconnection also raises the risk of heart disease and dementia and premature death on levels on par with smoking daily and even greater than the risks that we see associated with [00:02:00] obesity.

So, however you look at it, loneliness and isolation are public health concerns that we have to prioritize.

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: We see, according to your numbers, that things were already trending this way, that it was then accelerated during the pandemic. In fact, one of the numbers you highlight was, between 2003 and 2020, social engagement with friends decreased from 60 minutes a day in 2003 to just 20 minutes a day in 2020. Before COVID, how do you see that? What was driving that trend?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY: Well, there are a number of factors. And I'm glad you mentioned COVID, because COVID has poured fuel on a fire that was already burning. It's exacerbated loneliness and isolation.

But this has been building, Amna, for decades. We have in fact seen a decrease in participation in community organizations, in faith organizations and recreational leagues over several decades. We have seen that technology has fundamentally changed how we interact with one another and how we communicate with one another and, unfortunately, has often replaced what used to be rich in-person [00:03:00] connections with online connections, which often are of lower quality.

And, finally, we see that people are just experiencing tremendous change in their lives. They're moving more. They're changing jobs more often. And that can disrupt a lot of our social relationships.

It's not that these trends are necessarily bad, in and of themselves. But what we have to do now in modern life is intentionally build in the infrastructure we need for connection in our individual lives, as well as in our communities.

Our Loneliness Epidemic is Infrastructuralized - Studio Leonardo - Air Date 6-2-22 

RACHEL LEONARDO - HOST, STUDIO LEONARDO: Let's start by looking at this at a macro level. On the left, we have Los Angeles, California. And on the right, Copenhagen, Denmark. Nice places, right? Two well-known cities. 

But I don't really want to focus on how one differs from the other in terms of their climate or even their culture, although this does have an impact on that. What I want to touch on is the characteristics that actually make one of these cities lonelier than the other. 

And I know what you may be thinking: these are pretty standard maps. [00:04:00] The information on them is fairly basic. It's what you would see in Google or Apple Maps or Waze or whatever applications you use while driving around. It doesn't seem to present much more information than just that. But I actually want to show you something different. Every map that you have ever seen consists of at least one of six elements; that is, the city block, the buildings, the streets, the public space, the topography if we're getting technical or the landscape that we're in, and the last one is the overall land use.

So if we go into our maps again, we can actually start to highlight some of these elements. You begin to see how predominant the streets are in L. A. versus that of Copenhagen and the open space Copenhagen offers in comparison to L. A. 

Now I know these are two completely different cities; L. A. is significantly larger than Copenhagen, the climate is different, and there are other factors that have led into them being constructed the way that they have been.

But this is interesting, no? I mean, [00:05:00] if you think about it, L. A. is known for its heavy traffic. And the age-old American solution to traffic problems is adding more car lanes to the highways or roads, to which the response is more cars on the roads, which creates more traffic. And so we continue to make our roads wider and wider, only to find that the traffic problem is getting worse and worse. And what happens when you add more lanes is you take away space that could be used for bike lanes or open public spaces. 

I mean, picture this. You're standing on the sidewalk. Maybe you're trying to walk from your job to the gym. And on one side of you, you have huge skyscrapers, and then the other is a four to five lane road with cars barreling down it at least 40 to 50 miles per hour. That scenario doesn't feel like a very safe or inviting place to [00:06:00] be in. 

Now imagine you're walking down the street and the buildings are more proportionate to you, and on the other side of the street there are trees and maybe some housing and the road is actually blocked off to traffic. You can walk in and out of the street without feeling the danger that you would potentially get hit by oncoming traffic. 

And if you think about it, this isn't just some theory, right? If we look at Harvard's website, we see that a group of researchers have reported that about 61 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds experience severe loneliness.

Now when we look at the Danish website, we actually see that 22 percent of young adults between the same age range experience loneliness. Which means that young adults in the US in that same age group experience loneliness at a rate three times higher than that of a Danish person. 

VIDEO CLIP: Coincidence? I think not!

RACHEL LEONARDO - HOST, STUDIO LEONARDO: The people in Europe are known for walking more, whereas in the US we are always known for taking a car. The roads [00:07:00] dominate the L.A. map and there's barely any green space inside of the city. You always have to go outwards to find hiking trails, and even still you can't walk or bike there. You're pretty much always taking a car. 

And when we look at the map of Copenhagen we can visibly see that there's a balance between these elements that we mentioned before in the map. There is more green space. There are these small, narrow roads that spark your curiosity and make you want to walk down them. And when you are actually there on street level, these elements combined well, not only make the city feel safer, but also more inviting. 

Copenhagen is a city whose land use is catering towards the people who are inside of that city, whereas Los Angeles, and actually many US cities, are designed to cater that experience towards the people driving inside of their cars. Huh. 

So then if most American cities you have to use a car to get from [00:08:00] point A to point B, that means I reduced the amount of time that I'd be spending outside on a daily basis. And when I'm not outside as much, and my neighbors and friends aren't outside as much because they're also using the car to get from point A to point B, then we are less likely to randomly run into each other on the street. Which also reduces my chances to feel like I'm a part of a community. Because there is no casually bumping into or indirectly meeting up with friends.

And when we don't have community, that's when we start to feel lonely. 

VIDEO CLIP: I think she's got it. 

RACHEL LEONARDO - HOST, STUDIO LEONARDO: So when we take away our natural ability to be able to interact with one another, we actually begin to build our houses larger, so that we can fill the void of this loneliness that we're feeling with more space. But when we have more space as [00:09:00] individuals, then we actually make it more difficult to interact with one another on a daily basis, which also makes us feel more lonely. This process is cyclical. 

And this is the infrastructuralization of loneliness. It's a fact that between 1950 and 2022 that our home sizes have tripled. And really, for what? How often are you using all of the space in your homes? 

I think the harsh reality is that we are distracting ourselves from feeling lonely by building bigger houses. But that distraction is temporary. And once we feel like we've had our fill, we just build even bigger houses. And I don't think that that's solving our problem. 

Look, I'm not trying to condemn anyone's lifestyle. Oftentimes, we don't even realize that maybe this is why we are more prone to being lonely as a nation. And fortunately, I do feel like we are catching on to this. 

[00:10:00] Architectural and urban design firms like Optico in Tempe, Arizona are creating carless communities to fill a demand that people are now desiring. These communities have little to no access to cars, which makes the residents there feel safer. You're reducing noise pollution, and it just adds a quaintness that you can't get when you live next to huge roads. They offer this European vibe that we all seem to love so much. And that vibe is actually because of a well-balanced mix of the six elements that we mentioned before.

In order to begin changing the infrastructure of the US, we have to show that there's a demand for this, right? Encourage your cities and towns to throw a block party and close down the street for a weekend and use that as a test to see if this is something that would be better for the area that you're [00:11:00] living in.

These changes will come slowly. Infrastructure is not something that's built overnight. But I'm excited to see that there are people who are working on this right now and looking to make those changes. 

Original Barcelona video - @The Happy Urbanist TikTok - Air Date 12-15-23

JON JON WESOLOWSKI - THE HAPPY URBANIST: When did we go from a casual socialization culture to a planned socialization culture? The answer is complicated, but fascinating. Every sort of socialization we do in America has to be done with intent. Whether it's parents scheduling a play date, showing up for soccer, meeting a friend for coffee. And all this effort translates to being exhausted if you're an extrovert, and being lonely if you're an introvert, because you're less likely to want to do all that. But I think it's a hardware issue. 

Think of our cities, the public realm, the design of the landscape as hardware, and human activity within it as software. I think I got this idea from Coach Balto. One of the reasons we don't have more serendipitous, spontaneous interactions with our neighbors like we used to in the past and like they do in other countries is because of how we built our cities and this [00:12:00] became true to me when I was in Barcelona. Check this out. The typical neighborhood in Barcelona looks like this. You can live anywhere in the neighborhood and be a 15 minute walk from school, business, groceries, church, park, plaza, cafes, whatever you need. So, this facilitated more neighborly living. On your way home from walking your kid home from school, you might stop at the plaza. And this happens every day after school in Barcelona. Parents hang out in the periphery, kids get together and play in the middle. And this is where introverts would chime in and tell me like, I don't want to hang out with people every day, that sounds exhausting. But you're thinking of it from a planned socialization mindset. Because if this is something that's happening day in and day out with little pressure, you can show up, go off to the corner with your headphones on, or open up your laptop and get work done. But if you do overhear an interesting conversation or see someone you've been meaning to connect with, you can do it. 

As an introvert, it makes your life so much easier because you're not having to put yourself out there. And all these plazas are lined with cafes and bars, so a lot of the [00:13:00] time the parents are hanging out having a drink while the kids play. Oh, by the way, unstructured free play is so healthy for kids, it's like one of the best things you can do to decrease potential future anxiety and depression. And in our planning socialization culture, where every kid's outing has to be facilitated by an adult driving them there, an adult with nothing to do, kids are losing autonomy in that unstructured free play. This is giving them that back. What's interesting about cities that have these neighborhoods, the cities develop by copying and pasting these neighborhoods over and over again. So that, as the city grows, you just have all these different neighborhoods, each with similar and different personalities. And your walk or your commute to work or school, whatever it is, it's 15 minutes, is at a human pace. You smell smells, you see sights, you can hop into a store if you need to, or stop and say hey to someone. You're introduced to new types of people and new ways of living life. 

But let's contrast all this with planned socialization cultures and how they came about. In America, we decided to [00:14:00] divide up the city based on uses. The idea is that the commute is still 15 minutes, but it requires a car in order to get those times. But unlike being a pedestrian, when you're isolated inside of steel and glass, you don't care about the places you're driving through. Even now, you can think of places you'd be more than willing to drive your car through that you wouldn't want to walk to as a pedestrian. This is why Jane Jacobs says that when we truly call a place interesting, we mean it's interesting from the pedestrian's perspective. And because of this, we create a lot of what are called liminal spaces. Spaces of transition that don't feel comfortable to exist in. Think of an empty parking garage or a really wide street. These are places people don't want to be. But they're required in order to make these commutes feasible for these planned events.

The problem is, this is so inefficient that the city's footprint has to continue to grow in this same pattern. So that Nashville, even though it's similar in size to Barcelona, population wise, landmass-wise it takes up an [00:15:00] area 13 times that of Barcelona. This is expensive and part of the reason why our city's infrastructure is crumbling. That's 13 times more roads, power lines, sewer lines for the same size tax base. This also means when we go here to the store, we're not seeing people that we encountered at work and on our way to the coffee shop. We're just encountering people we happen to see at that store. It's a lot looser social capital, and social capital is one of the biggest indicators on whether or not someone can bust out of poverty and have increased economic mobility.

What's strange is America didn't used to be this way, and most of the world isn't this way. This is how cities naturally developed, a strong neighborhood copy and pasted over time to build out a city. You might think, It's America, land of the free, home of the brave. We have liberty, and this is what we chose to build. But that's not exactly true. This is what people 70 years ago chose to build, and they made laws to outlaw anything else. And these laws and plans were actually quite [00:16:00] nefarious. America's success started before this started happening, and our success is likely in spite of this, not because of it. One of these is better for our kids and for our mental health. One of these happens as a result of freedom and liberty and personal choice. One of these has to be enforced by sort of authoritarian laws. One of these creates liminal spaces that we don't like to inhabit. One of these bankrupts our cities and keeps marginalized people marginalized. 

And it's about this point that people come in and they like to comment something like, Well, capitalism, that's why. But I'm not going to accept those comments right now. Because Paris and London aren't capitalistic. If America became this, capitalism would find a way to thrive within this, like, casual socialization structure. It feel like, a lot of times, capitalism is an excuse used by those who don't want to take action. Because you want to know something? A lot of these laws and things that are happening are at the municipal level. They're at your city. You're being held up by city [00:17:00] councilors who win their elections by 50 votes. These are the things that can be changed. A small group of committed people can reshape their community for more spontaneous., whimsical, and delightful interactions by simply repealing laws that are on the books right now. I don't want to make it sound too easy or that it's too straightforward, but it's easier than you think and you're more capable to help influence it than you think.

How cohousing can make us happier (and live longer) | Grace Kim - TED - Air Date 8-7-17

GRACE KIM: Co-housing is an intentional neighborhood where people know each other and look after one another. In co-housing, you have your own home, but you also share significant spaces, both indoors and out. But before I show you some pictures of co-housing, I'd like to first introduce you to my friends Sheila and Spencer.

When I first met Sheila and Spencer, they were just entering their 60s and Spencer was looking ahead at the end of a long career in elementary education. And he really disliked the idea that he might not have children in his life upon retirement.

They're now my neighbors. We live in a co-housing [00:18:00] community that I not only designed, but developed, and have my architecture practice in. This community is very intentional about our social interactions. So let me take you on a tour. 

From the outside, we look like any other small apartment building. In fact, we look identical to the one next door, except that we're bright yellow. Inside, the homes are fairly conventional. We all have living rooms and kitchens, bedrooms and baths, and there are nine of these homes around a central courtyard. This one's mine, and this one's Spencer and Sheila's. And the thing that makes this building uniquely co-housing are not the homes, but rather, what happens here, the social interactions that happen in and around that central courtyard. When I look across the courtyard, I look forward to seeing Spencer and Sheila. In fact, every morning, this is what I see. Spencer waving at me furiously as we're making our breakfast. 

From our homes, we look down into the courtyard. [00:19:00] And depending on the time of year, we see this. Kids and grown ups in various combinations, playing and handing out with each other. There's a lot of giggling and chatter. There's a lot of hula hooping. And every now and then, Hey, quit hitting me, or a cry from one of the kids. These are the sounds of our daily lives and the sounds of social connectedness. 

At the bottom of the courtyard, there are a set of double doors, and those lead into the common house. And I consider the common house the secret sauce of co-housing. It's a secret sauce because it's the place where the social interactions and community life begin. And from there, it radiates out through the rest of the community.

Inside our common house, we have a large dining room to seat all 28 of us and our guests. And we dine together three times a week. In support of those [00:20:00] meals, we have a large kitchen so that we can take turns cooking for each other in teams of three. So that means, with 17 adults, I lead cook once every six weeks. Two other times, I show up and help my team with the preparation and cleanup. And all those other nights, I just show up. I have dinner, talk with my neighbors, and I go home having been fed a delicious meal by someone who cares about my vegetarian preferences.

Our nine families have intentionally chosen an alternative way of living. Instead of pursuing the American dream, where we might have been isolated in our single family homes, we instead chose co-housing so that we can increase our social connections. 

And that's how co-housing starts, with a shared intention to live collaboratively. And intention is the single most important characteristic that differentiates co-housing from any other housing model. And while intention is difficult to see or even [00:21:00] show, I'm an architect, and I can't help but show you more pictures. So here are a few examples to illustrate how intention has been expressed in some of the communities I visited. 

Through the careful selection of furniture, lighting, and acoustic materials to support eating together, and the careful location and visual access to kids' play areas around and inside the common house, and the consideration of scale and distribution of social gathering nodes in and around the community to support our daily lives.

All of these spaces help contribute to and elevate the sense of "communitas" in each community. What was that word? Communitas. Communitas is a fancy social science way of saying spirit of community. And in visiting over 80 different communities, my measure of communitas became how frequently did [00:22:00] residents eat together.

While it's completely up to each group how frequently they have common meals, I know some that have eaten together every single night for the past 40 years. I know others that have an occasional potluck once or twice a month. And from my observations, I can tell you those that eat together more frequently, they exhibit higher levels of communitas.

It turns out, when you eat together, you start planning more activities together. When you eat together, you share more things. You start to watch each other's kids. You lend out your power tools. You borrow each other's cars. And despite all this, as my daughter loves to say, everything is not rainbows and unicorns in co-housing, and I'm not best friends with every single person in my community. We even have differences and conflicts. But living in co-housing, we're intentional about our relationships. [00:23:00] We're motivated to resolve our differences. We follow up, we check in, we speak our personal truths, and when appropriate, we apologize. 

Skeptics will say that co-housing is only interesting or attractive to a very small group of people. And I'll agree with that. If you look at Western cultures around the globe, those living in co-housing are just a fractional percent. But that needs to change, because our very lives depend upon it. 

In 2015, Brigham Young University completed a study that showed a significant increased risk of premature death in those who are living in isolation. The US Surgeon General has declared isolation to be a public health epidemic. And this epidemic is not restricted to the US alone. So, when I said earlier that co-housing is an [00:24:00] antidote to isolation, what I should have said is that co-housing can save your life.

Fifteen-minute cities: inside the new model reshaping the world’s urban landscapes - Changing Places - Air Date 8-8-22

MARIAM SOBH - HOST, CHANGING PLACES: How did we get to a place in our world where most of what we need and do is located so far from our homes or immediate neighborhoods?

Jo Davis: I think you've got to look really back quite a long way to get to that answer. The industrial revolution was fundamental in all of that, and then that moved through the 19th and 20th Century with zonal planning. So, in effect, what we did is we put homes in one location, and we zoned the employment in another location, and the shops in the other. And of course then, with the growth of the car, that was absolutely fine. So, that's how we got to zonal planning. What obviously has changed in the UK is that that was based on a 1947 planning act. But we then turned around to the 1990 planning act, it was all about sustainable transport. It was actually all about actually, what does sustainable city mean? And therefore, we had to question whether actually those barriers to connecting places [00:25:00] was failing us.

MARIAM SOBH - HOST, CHANGING PLACES: Yeah. In some cities like London, the theater district is in the West End, and more niche high streets like those in Kensington and Hampstead are located on the other side of the city. Is the urban plan of our current cities restrictive by design, or just by folks buying into this idea that this is how things are, and this is just how it will continue to be?

Jo Davis: Well, it's really interesting. The starting point is that still, 80% of our population has a car. So, immediately, this first thought is to go by car or to travel by car. So that connection is done by car in the first instance. Second point that you just raised, which I think is largely important, more so in the UK than possibly elsewhere globally, is the fact that actually the history of how our cities has evolved influences where things are located, but also how you travel around places. And that's been really important, therefore, in actually allowing us to redress this point and to actually challenge whether [00:26:00] traveling to leisure and traveling to shops by car is the only option. And those barriers are being broken down there.

MARIAM SOBH - HOST, CHANGING PLACES: Let's hear from Professor Carlos Moreno, the man at the forefront of the 15-minute city.

Carlos Moreno: We need today to redefine our urban lifestyle, because this urban alternative lifestyles are not sustainable. One of the most relevant contribution is our crazy commute for going from my home to our office, two, three hours for a round trip. And at the same time, all actions linked with this hectic urban alternative lifestyles, we need to change not only preserving our environment, but for preserving our social link.

MARIAM SOBH - HOST, CHANGING PLACES: Prior to Mayor Anne Hidalgo's commitment to making [00:27:00] Paris a 15-minute city, there were places like cities... Amsterdam prided themselves on being very accessible, but was that simply because of the size of the city, or was that planned out? And are you seeing anything similar to that in the UK?

Jo Davis: So, I think without question that your Paris and your Amsterdams, they were planned out. That approach was in policy. That 15-minute walking place was in policy. Whilst it's best practice in the UK, in terms of the time and country planning association in the Royal Time Planning Institute, it's not policy, it's not dictated. So, therefore our ability is influenced by that. But then what's really happened in the UK, which I think is really interesting is that we started to challenge what makes a good place. And instead of designing for the car or designing for specific locations, what would you think is not what it looks like on the outside. How does it function? How does that space function? How do people move through it? In the city centers, what do people need to have a successful lifestyle? So actually [00:28:00] therefore moving away from the need from a car into actually I need a really good cycle route, or I really need a really good place to sit outside to enjoy my environment. And certainly COVID in the UK fundamentally changed that when everybody flipped from eating inside to outside. So therefore those spaces, that road space and the quality and the air quality of those spaces to allow people to sit outside fundamentally flipped overnight. And that's really changed, not through policy and dictate, but actually through people's demands and wants and expectations of the city. 

MARIAM SOBH - HOST, CHANGING PLACES: When it comes to the UK, are there cities that are committing to becoming 15-minute cities? And on the flip side of that, are there cities that are just dropping the ball?

Jo Davis: Not necessarily 15-minute cities in the way that you are perceiving them in your kind of your Paris and your Amsterdam where there's a dictate to that. In terms of the quality of those locations, all of the cities attest about walkability. What makes a good, safe city for people to [00:29:00] move around it, live in it without reliance on the planet or on the car? That's what's changing. So in effect it's a parallel process to 15-minute cities, but it's being taken from a different angle.

Speaker 10: I can't speak for all Vancouverites but it's definitely something that appeals to me. Yeah, and that's just because I decided many years ago to go car free. And that's as a result of living in Japan for a year and relying on mass transit. Tokyo was highly transited. There were trains and transit everywhere to go everywhere and was so convenient. So I came back to Vancouver and I just wanted to see if I could live that lifestyle here. And I'm very pro 15-minute cities.

MARIAM SOBH - HOST, CHANGING PLACES: Can you tell me about how and why Bristol, England, from your point of view, has adopted a 15-minute city ethos and how it will benefit the [00:30:00] city and its residents in the long term?

Jo Davis: So I think Bristol is ahead of the game. So when it had its cycle strategy in 2000, so it was the European Cycle City, that changed the goalpost into the way that people were intended or encouraged to move around the city. So, we started to create the Brunel Mile that went from the train station right away to the city center and into the residential areas. That created the opportunities and the space for people to walk and cycle safely across the city. We're seeing policies that require every development on the harbor side to have a harbor-side walk in front of it so you can do a circular walk around it. So there's a number of really good policies that have been put forward by the city, through its planning process to blend that kind of 15-minute city center and that removal of cars from the city. So, it's a carrot and stick approach.

You Don’t Have To Move To Live In A Better Place - Strong Towns - Air Date 1-9-24

ERIC WEBER: What I say, let's just do it as a community and get it done and get a thank you from the city, like, Thank you for taking care of this problem. Thank you for being a part of our [00:31:00] community and saying, I care about this community. This is what we're doing. And give it the stamp of approval instead of the, well, Did you see what they did?

HOST STRONG TOWNS: This is Eric, and he's the kind of person that any city would be lucky to have. He embodies the Strong Town's principle of seeing needs and meeting them. And he runs the Union Gospel Mission. As you can tell, he's not one to wait when he sees an opportunity to make a difference.

ERIC WEBER: That's our outreach department for domestic violence. We have a youth area over here. Fridays at one to three, they get free haircuts. A community art space. This is our dentist office area. This is a teaching kitchen. This is a women's center right here. I'm not gonna send a 17-year old boy over to the men's center without his parents, right? So, we decided to create, this used to be a big empty space, and so we created a place.

HOST STRONG TOWNS: Eric and the Union Gospel Mission aren't the kind of people who just wait for things to get done. And the local conversation isn't either. After painting crosswalks in front of the Union Gospel Mission for an event, [00:32:00] both groups noticed this similarity and decided to start the CRC, or the Community Revitalization Collective mentioned earlier. 

ERIC WEBER: Like, if we're gonna feed more people and do bigger things, I'll go get it. And so sure enough, I showed up with it. He's like, we need a refrigerator. I'm like, here you go. There's your refrigerator, you know? You know? Like, what do you need now? You need pots and pans? We got that, too. You know? So it's one of those things, how can I help our community? How can they help Jordan and his team do better stuff in our community?

HOST STRONG TOWNS: Do you see it now? For five years, people in Strong Town Sioux Falls were grabbing coffee, painting crosswalks, talking cities, making connections, slowly and slowly, and then all at once it comes together. Those years of relationships and built trust mean that they don't just have to talk.

LOCAL NEWS CLIP: An organization built around bringing people together received a $100,000 grant to study the Whittier neighborhood and bring forward ideas for the area.

JORDAN DEFFENBAUGH: There were plenty of grants we applied for that we didn't get. [00:33:00] There were plenty of projects that we dreamed up in these meetings and they never happened. But, that iteration, that prototyping that we did, put us in a place where we were ready to get and receive that $100,000. If we got that $100,000 the first year, we would have screwed it up.

HOST STRONG TOWNS: What Jordan is saying is reminiscent of what Jane Jacobs called cataclysmic money, where a neighborhood sees disinvestment for a long time and then is presented with a ton of money all at once, which can change a neighborhood radically and quickly. So, there is risk with receiving a large grant like this.

JOHN PATTISON: If we were to get these big grants, like they got in Sioux Falls, too quickly, before we have really cohered as a team, before we tried things, before we've developed a leadership team, critically, before we've developed a reputation in our community, that can be disastrous. You really need the [00:34:00] resilience that comes from trying things, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, but growing stronger and more robust.

HOST STRONG TOWNS: And luckily the group in Sioux Falls did go through this process. They knew what they were doing because they spent time listening to their community's needs. By staying involved at the community level, they were then ready to act when groups like Habitat for Humanity had similar goals. Habitat was already a major player in town working to revitalize the Whittier neighborhood through what they call the Quality of Life Framework, which begins with the dreams and concerns of a neighborhood and works up from there.

MARCUS BRANDENBURG: Um, and so through that process, after a few meetings, I started noticing that there's more and more individuals that were joining us, but wasn't quite sure what that connection was. And then I found out it was Strong Town members that started to come to the CRC and actually started to help us with some of these projects throughout our community.

HOST STRONG TOWNS: There's also something special about this approach that we should take note of. The grant that the CRC received isn't being [00:35:00] used all at once on a huge project. It's being used to continue that same process of listening to a community's needs, fixing the next smallest thing, and then iterating to figure out what works. One way that they keep tabs on the community's needs is simple: hosting events based around food. 

MARCUS BRANDENBURG: So sometimes, you know, starting at the lower levels, you know, just serving a taco or painting someone's house or, you know, doing yard work. It may seem kind of, you know, that it's not really making an impact, but it is because it helps those networking aspects, like I was saying. It's building relationship. It's, uh... and then it's just amazing how that develops over time and how things just all come together and connect. 

HOST STRONG TOWNS: With things coming together, Sioux Falls is securely in the making moves stage. Sure, they're nowhere close to being Amsterdam or Copenhagen, but even if they had the billions or trillions needed to make those massive changes immediately, the community would fight that kind of top down massive initiative.

It's [00:36:00] frustrating, sure, but if we want to live in a resilient, vibrant, and unique place, those changes need to come from a swarm of locals, all across town, making incremental changes, listening to the needs of neighborhoods, and winning people over by addressing those needs. To do this, you're going to have to touch some grass, get outside, make some friends, and then grab a paintbrush, a trash picker, or a hammer and get to work.

There are so many reasons that people move, and we aren't saying that you shouldn't. But if you're pro/con list even suggests that you might stay, we think it's not only worth your time to leave your place better than you found it, but it's also a really meaningful way to live. We all want to live a good life in a prosperous place, and you can move the needle in that direction. You have allies in your city waiting for you to do something. Friends and teammates who are ready to meet you and a lot of stroads to, um, to unstroad.[00:37:00] 

Why American public transit is so bad? - Vox - Air Date 10-22-20 

LARA BULT - HOST, VOX: This is Cincinnati in 1955. It's what a lot of American cities used to look like. There were some highways, but most of the city was on a grid, which made it easy to get around either on foot or on public transit, like streetcars. But around the same time, a huge government infrastructure project changed the US dramatically. New interstate highways were built from coast to coast, many of them running right through the downtowns of many cities. Today, Cincinnati looks like this. Instead of a grid, there's a tangle of highways that make some neighborhoods almost impossible to get to on foot. And if you don't drive, it's hard to get around the city at all.

The same thing happened in countless other cities too, like Detroit and Kansas City. And as cities expanded outward along those highways, one kind of American neighborhood flourished, entirely residential, filled with single family homes. And because they were spread out instead of dense, they also changed how Americans got around. Living there required you to [00:38:00] travel a lot farther for just about anything. By 2020, a study found that the average workday distance traveled for Americans was seven miles.

ADIE TOMER: Now if you're a driver, that doesn't sound long at all. In fact, in your head you might be thinking, that only takes 10 minutes. It's a biking distance that is both strenuous and potentially unsafe, and for pedestrians it's a nearly impossible distance to traverse in any kind of reasonable time. By seeing these kind of travel distances, we understand the consequences of what we've built: automobile-oriented neighborhoods. 

LARA BULT - HOST, VOX: A later approach to neighborhood planning has created places that look more like this: neighborhoods designed to put you closer to what you need, that center around a transit hub, with buildings that contain not just housing, but office space and businesses too. This is called transit-oriented development. And the people who live in these places are less likely than the national average to drive, and more likely to walk, bike, or take transit. But developing new neighborhoods like this is an extremely long-term project. [00:39:00] 

JONATHAN ENGLISH: If we're going to address these issues, we have to accept the world that we live in now, and make transit work in that world, rather than dream of a new world.

LARA BULT - HOST, VOX: Jonathan English is an urban planner in Toronto, and he thinks getting more Americans to use public transit doesn't have to be so hard.

In a research project, Jonathan created these maps of American cities, and drew lines on them wherever there was a reliable public transit route, which he defined as this. 

JONATHAN ENGLISH: A bus that comes every 30 minutes, till midnight, 7 days a week. The absolute bare minimum of a transit route that you can count on.

LARA BULT - HOST, VOX: These were the results in Denver, Portland, Charlotte, and Washington, D. C. You can see a familiar design in them: service-oriented around a downtown, but that doesn't really connect neighborhood to neighborhood. And this was the result in Toronto. 

JONATHAN ENGLISH: When you go to a Toronto suburb, it's not very unfamiliar to any American. You see [00:40:00] houses with big driveways, two car garages, winding suburban streets. The difference is that the bus goes past those single family homes every five minutes, and it runs 24 hours a day. 

LARA BULT - HOST, VOX: And that difference changes everything. Even car owners in Toronto ride the bus. And Jonathan says the lesson for American cities is obvious.

JONATHAN ENGLISH: That shows that it is possible that if we invest in basic operations and improving basic local service, that the riders will come. Something that we can do in a matter of weeks. 

LARA BULT - HOST, VOX: In other words, it's mostly a matter of whether we choose to fund that. 

This chart shows how public transit gets funded in the US, mostly by local and state governments, and by the fares people pay to ride, which makes state and local elections super important for public transit. Right now, the federal government contributes the smallest part. And even that part is limited in what it can pay for. Very little federal transit funding [00:41:00] helps pay for day-to-day operations, even though that's often where transit systems need the most help. Instead, most federal money gets directed to what are called capital investments, flashy new physical infrastructure projects that often get a lot of media attention. 

JONATHAN ENGLISH: So you end up with a billion-dollar rapid transit project or light rail or bus rapid transit project where the vehicles don't actually run all that frequently.

NINA LIMBECK: I still really value being on a train line and I would never live anywhere that wasn't a 15 minute walk from the train, because I think that's so much a part of my experience as a Chicago resident being able to access it if I need it. But it's pretty poorly designed. 

LARA BULT - HOST, VOX: Most Americans live in places that were built for cars. If we want to change that in the long term, we'll have to build communities that look differently. 

Right now, Americans drive because it's the most convenient option. But that also means that you don't actually need to transform a whole country to get more people to ride public transit. You just need to make it convenient [00:42:00] enough that they want to.

The Great Places Erased by Suburbia (the Third Place) - Not Just Bikes - Air Date 11-21-22

JASON SLAUGHTER - HOST, NOT JUST BIKES: Lacking public space, many suburbanites try to recreate a third place, but in their own private fiefdom. You might have a neighborhood barbecue in your backyard, join a private social club, or God forbid, build yourself a man-cave. And the kids will play on their own in your own backyard instead of playing with other kids in your local park.

But all of these lack the important characteristics of a true third place. You're unlikely to run into anyone you don't know and you're almost certainly not going to meet anyone who isn't demographically similar to you. Most suburban neighborhoods in North America are built with all houses at about the same price point.

This means that all of the people you'd meet in your homemade hang zone are probably the same socioeconomic status that you are. And one of the benefits of a third place is meeting people who aren't exactly like you. 

And private recreations of public places remove all spontaneity anyway. There's nothing wrong with planning to have friends over, but if it's your only option for socializing, then [00:43:00] you miss out on the chance encounters and bumping into familiar faces like you'd get from your local.

Maybe you can drive to your favorite bar, but if you have to drive there, you're probably not meeting people who live near you. And a place where you go out with friends and never talk to anyone else is very different from the neighborhood pub where you run into the same people on a regular basis. Plus, if you have to drive there, you can't hang out all night getting absolutely sloshed, or at least you shouldn't. North America has a lot of problems with drunk driving due to its insane zoning laws, but that's a topic for a future video. 

Of course, the most famous suburban attempt at recreating a third place in suburbia is the shopping mall. Whether you're a teenager who can't go anywhere without a driver's license, or a senior who wants to go for a walk but your suburb has no safe sidewalks, the mall is the suburban alternative to the town square.

But we can't rely on malls as third places either. For one thing, a lot of malls are shutting down. Up to a quarter of them will be gone soon, according to some [00:44:00] estimates, and their replacement, the big box store, is even worse. But more importantly, malls don't do what a third place does. They are designed to be attractions that draw people from all over, not just from your local community, and therefore they don't build any kind of social cohesion. You're unlikely to recognize familiar faces at the mall unless you work there, and you're really unlikely to strike up a conversation with any of them unless you're one of those pushy kiosk guys. 

Some cities are trying to recreate third places themselves. In Washington, D. C., office workers can reserve tables and chairs in certain public parks to work and socialize. But, again, this eliminates the spontaneity that is inherent to a third place. You can't just pop by and see the regulars. It's a whole thing that you have to plan. Also, reserving a public table to do even more work on your laptop is kind of defeating the purpose of a place outside of work. 

However, one interesting third place that's still hanging on in many places in the US is [00:45:00] the local barbershop. This is common in many Middle Eastern cultures, but also in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the US as well. The barbershop can function as a third place where men can hang out and chat, even if they're not there for a haircut. 

Of course, there are still historical walkable neighborhoods in North America where third places are more accessible, but unfortunately, their numbers have been declining since the 2008 recession, and the lockdowns during the pandemic accelerated this trend. According to the same American Community Life Survey, in 2021, just 56 percent of Americans report having a spot in their communities they go to regularly, and that was 9 percentage points lower than in 2019. Unsurprisingly, the same survey showed that Americans who do have a local spot generally live in denser, walkable urban areas and not suburbia.

Ultimately, US and Canadian cities will never have really great third places as long as zoning stays broken. As of right now, [00:46:00] third places don't exist in most new neighborhoods in America, mostly because they can't, and trying to recreate their benefits in a world that is specifically designed to exclude them is always going to fail.

The concept of a third place can seem a bit nebulous at times, and it's easy for people to dismiss it. I've heard suburbanites say, I'd much rather hang out in my basement with my friends than go out somewhere. Which may be true, but, I really think that some of this sentiment comes from people who have never really had a good third place nearby before, a place you can easily stop by whenever you want, without driving and without taking a trip out of your neighborhood, because, once you try it, you don't really want to live without it. 

Ultimately, if a neighborhood truly prioritizes third places, it's going to be a better place to live in general, even when you're not spending time in them. A neighborhood that plans for third places will necessarily be more walkable, more accessible, and a better place to live. It could even turn your neighborhood into somewhere where everybody [00:47:00] knows your name.

What is Mutual Aid? - Andrewism - Air Date 3-24-21

ANDREW SAGE - HOST, ANDREWISM: Mutual aid is more than donating to someone's GoFundMe or delivering groceries to the elderly during the pandemic though. Mutual aid is a long term commitment to anti capitalism, to building community relationships, to reciprocity and exchange, and to removing community dependency on the capitalist state. 

Peter Kropotkin is well known for his observations of mutual aid in nature and in the various social organizations humanity has undertaken. In his book Mutual Aid, A Factual Revolution, he explores the collaboration of insects, birds, and non-human-mammals as they practice mutual aid in the furtherance of their species, and in some cases, other species too. 

Humans throughout history and prehistory have also practiced various forms of mutual aid, regardless of their sociopolitical organization, in order to survive—mutual aid always finds a way. Kropotkin speaks of the communes of the Ariège in southwest France, where neighbors would come together to enjoy chestnuts and wine, and work together while making nut oil, crushing hemp, and [00:48:00] shelling corn. All worked and provided for all, with no concern for remuneration or transaction.

Communities were also organized to share butter and cheese, maintain canals, protect land and provide free medical care. And such activities, not relegated to past picturesque French Countrysides. For example, here in Trinidad, when folks lime, as in hangout, whether at home, on the beach or wherever people bring drinks and snacks, helps to cook and clean, organized jobs, and so on. Mutual aid, communal care, you can find such practices anywhere you go. 

Long before Kropotkin put pen to people, mutual aid has been the central practice of colonized peoples across the world, both pre and post colonialism. It's not new, but many practices were purposefully destroyed by settlers through genocide, assimilation, and capitalism.

States have always viewed such communal relations as a threat to their existence, and have consistently taken [00:49:00] efforts to erode such relations. Mutual aid has been the foundation of peace and prosperity, as well as the refuge in times of war, disaster, and misery, keeping people together when they need it the most.

Today, mutual aid is especially significant in the context of social movements resisting colonial, and capitalist domination, where wealth and resources are extracted and concentrated, and people can only survive by participating in the corrupt system. In such a context, the coordinated, collective care of mutual aid is radical and generative. Mutual aid has tremendous potential.

As an organizer, I'm all too familiar with folks in need. Eviction defense, child care, healthcare, transportation, and so on. It's hard for people to get involved in building tomorrow when they're trapped in a crisis or crises, struggling to survive today. That's where support comes in. But not just any old support. Support that has a political [00:50:00] analysis of the conditions that produce these crises. Support that targets systems, not people. Support that breaks stigma and isolation. Support that uplifts. Mutual Aid. 

Effective mutual aid exposes the system's failure and shows an alternative. It builds faith in the power of people to organize themselves, destroying apathy and hopelessness. And it also builds new transformative skills for collaboration, self determination, participation, decision making, conflict management, meeting facilitation, coordination, and so much more. A lot of organizers build these skills during the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests, as far back as the Occupy movement. 

Skills share plays a very important role in mutual aid, and I'm not talking about that skill share sharing skills is a way to build autonomy by giving everyone opportunities to learn skills they can then go on to share with others. And although reciprocity is a key aspect of mutual aid, [00:51:00] that doesn't mean we're constantly measuring contributions. In some cases, you really can't pay back certain skill shares, because of how vastly valuable they may be. And that's okay. Shed the tit for tat transactional view of relationships, and just provide for the greater good because you can and want to. As indigenous anarchist Regan de Lugans put it, mutual aid is about community knowledge. Community knowledge is community strength we do not withhold. 

Cultivating community solidarity is essential, bringing people of all walks of life together. Mutual aid can also foster the community's ability to boldly defy the illegitimate limitations of rules and authorities. Here, I'll paint an example for you. 

Organizers from Mutual Aid Disaster Relief traveled to Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria to support in whatever way they could, and ended up discovering a government warehouse that was neglecting to distribute huge stockpiles of supplies.

They showed their [00:52:00] Mutual Aid Disaster Relief badges to the guards and said, "we are here for the 8am pick up." When the guards replied that their names were not on the list, they just insisted again, "we are here for the 8am pick up." They were eventually allowed in, told to take whatever they needed. After being let in once, aid workers were able to return repeatedly. They made more badges for local organizers, and this source continued to benefit local communities for months afterwards. 

In the face of disaster, We need to take bold actions, without waiting for permission, to save lives and communities, and to reimagine ways of interacting with the world. We need to break norms of individualism, passivity, and respect for private property above human need. And besides extreme cases of disaster, understand that mutual aid is more than survival or scraping by. It's how communities can thrive. However, as mutual aid has gained popularity, we have to recognize certain errors, pitfalls, and [00:53:00] challenges that mutual aid organizers have faced and will face. 

Mutual aid is not charity. First and foremost, we can't let the media machine turn mutual aid into a synonym for charity. We have to be able to protect radical ideas from assimilation into the status quo. Always ask yourself, "is it mutual? Is it aid? Because charity is not mutual aid, and mutual aid is not charity.

People default to the framework of charity because that's what dominates our mainstream understanding of what it means to support folks in crisis. It's a giver receiver relationship. One group, usually wealthy donors of the government gives, and another group, usually struggling to survive poor folks, receive.

Of course, there are projects that are more horizontal and collective, but if it's a giver-receiver relationship, it's not mutual aid, cuz it's not mutual. I'm not saying these projects are a bad thing, nor am I saying you shouldn't give to people. I'm just saying, don't [00:54:00] call it what it isn't. Charity constantly frames rich folks and corporations as benevolent and good for the community and generous, while the uphold and legitimized systems that cause such poverty. The massive charity industrial complex is one big operation freely donors to avoid taxation secure government grants, and decide what projects even get support without any say from the people they're supposedly helping. If we're talking about the charity model as a whole, it's often tainted by notions of Puritan morality.

Charity often has eligibility requirements like the means testing of government welfare. These requirements usually demand sobriety, clean records, piety, curfews, job training, course participation, cooperation with the police and so on. It's a big effort to determine the worthiness or unworthiness of those in need, pathologizing and criminalizing usually poor black people. Plus, there's so much effort in our culture to stigmatize those who receive aid, so a lot of people desperately try to avoid those conditions [00:55:00] by jumping into exploitative jobs and such. 

When we're organizing, we have to work against these forces, not with them. Remember, mutual aid must have a strong political analysis of the systems that produce these crises, expose these failures, and demonstrate an alternative. 

Mutual Aid is not saviourism. Mutual Aid projects must avoid saviourism and paternalism. That's that charity mindset playing up again. The benevolent, superior saviour swooping down in to save these desperate people by replacing their old ways of life with smarter, more moral, and more profitable ways of life. They "save" people with "innovations", that decimate housing, displace residents, privatize schools, destroy infrastructure and gentrify neighborhoods. It's just colonialism. Mutual aid projects have to resist those saviour narratives and support folks through a conscious analysis of savourism and a constant centering of self [00:56:00] determination for people in crisis.

Final comments on what you can do today to improve your social connections

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with the PBS NewsHour speaking with the surgeon general about the health implications of loneliness. Studio Leonardo explained why loneliness stems from our built infrastructure. The Happy Urbanist explained the planned socialization mindset. Grace Kim in a TEDTalk explained the benefits of co-housing. Changing Places looked at the concept of the 15 minute city. Strong Towns described how to build community to make change in your area. Vox explored why US public transit is so bad. And Not Just Bikes touted the benefits of third places. That's what everybody heard, but members also heard a bonus clip from Andrewism describing the concept of mutual aid. To hear that and have all of our bonus contents delivered seamlessly to the new members only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting [00:57:00] a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information 

Now to wrap up, I have a quick bonus clip for you. This was sent in by one of our transcription volunteers, Brian. It just caught his attention. He thought we'd be interested in hearing it. And I was, and it turned out very coincidentally to fit very well with a show we were already working on.

mychal3ts on Instagram: A library grown up and library kid come up to me at the library desk and the library grown up says, Can you help us check out our books? I say, Yes, that's my job. So I start checking out the books and, as I do, the library kid waves at me. So I wave back and I say, Hi! And the library kid says, Hi! What's good in your life? And the library grown up chuckles and says, You're trying so hard to make that a thing, aren't you? And I love that they're trying to make that a thing. 'What's good in your life?' as part of a greeting to other human beings. We, as human beings, when we say, Hi! How are you? We're not ready to listen to how that person is. If I say, Hi, how are you? And you say, I'm crippled by anxiety. [00:58:00] I am unhinged. That is not part of the response that we're expecting. It's a five second greeting. Hi, how are you? We don't want to know how are you, how you're doing, but this library kid does by saying, What's good in your life? And I love the power behind that.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: So, I definitely liked that idea, but, forgive me, I cannot bring the same level of, uh, energy that that guy was able to bring to Instagram. But I will talk about it in a slightly more subdued way. Now, we talked on the show today about the built infrastructure around us and how that impacts our interactions with each other. And I would say that our standard greetings, as he was describing the, you know, Hey, how are you?, it's sort of the verbal equivalent of built infrastructure. It's just, it's all around us. It's what we do. It's something we don't consciously think of. Right? If you wanted to take a really conscious approach, you could dramatically change your greeting, like the guy described in that video, and you could say [00:59:00] like, What's good in your life?, and you say it, you know, really earnestly and with emphasis while looking the person in the eye and letting them know you actually want to hear their response. But honestly, that's not what most people are going to do. But even making a modest change from How's it going? to What's good?, could make a subtle but profound impact by always framing the question in the positive rather than the neutral. You know, you may spark positive thoughts in the other person's mind, as opposed to the negative ones that may naturally come up when you ask that question slightly differently. And they might appreciate it, or they might put them in a slightly better mood, or it might very slightly improve your interaction with them. Any number of small positives that could happen that could compound over time. 

Now, the only note I would add on this is that we shouldn't stop there lest we add to toxic positivity. We shouldn't [01:00:00] only ever ask about the good, right? If we're actually connecting more deeply, it's definitely important to demonstrate that you're open to hearing about people's problems, their sadnesses, anything like that as well. So, small aside. 

Now, moving on, on the topic of third places, as we heard described today, I have some thoughts. I had a place like this in my, like, late teens-early twenties. It was just the pizza place where my friends and I, you know, most of us all worked in the same place. And it was like the habit of plenty of people to show up at that restaurant anytime we were bored, not just when we were working. So, if you, and some other people did that, then you'd just end up meeting spontaneously. And that's kind of the essence of a third place, right? You didn't have to make a plan. You just went to the place and allowed the socializing to happen to you. So I can [01:01:00] totally vouch for the statement made in the show today that once you've lived with a good third place in your life, you really don't want to go without it. 

Now, unfortunately for me and apparently most of society, that was really the only third place I've ever had and I have been lamenting the loss of it for 20 years. But I would argue that the third place problem goes beyond the lack of good third places themselves. There's also the lack of general free time and energy for so many of us, which is why I also love the point made in the show about the planned socialization mindset, that that way of socializing drains energy, because it's so much more work. And they point out that it affects everyone. Extroverts get exhausted from having to make plans all the time and introverts can't even muster the energy to make plans in the first place and so they default to staying in. 

Now I'm a pretty solid introvert, which does not mean I don't want to hang out with people, but [01:02:00] it does drain my energy. And so if just the process of getting the socializing started also takes energy. Then that's a real double whammy for someone like me. That's why having the third place at my old pizza job worked for me. Because you just show up and the socialization happens without extra effort and energy being expended. But, you know, let's just say that you're not 19 years old with hardly any responsibilities, as I was, and you and the people you know are all fully in the planned socialization mindset because your lives are busy and it doesn't feel like you have another choice, I actually do have some advice on pulling some of the benefits from third place spontaneity into our over-scheduled lives. And it doesn't even require building permits and urban planning experts. 

I heard this idea, you know, once a long time ago, about [01:03:00] how a particular individual likes to facilitate social gatherings for themselves. They would pick a window of time, maybe three to five hours, something like that on a weekend afternoon and plan to be in a specific place for that whole window, like, you know, a cafe. They would bring things to entertain themselves a book, a project to work on, and then they would tell everyone who they knew, who was sort of in the area, who they had any interest in hanging out with, where they were going to be and when, giving an open invitation with, you know, like, the clarity that, Hey, I'm inviting a bunch of people, if you can make it, come whenever you like, stay for as long or as short as you like. I'll be there. I'd love to see you. If you can't make it. No problem. Right? Just totally open, no pressure invitation. That way, other people could figure out for themselves what worked with their own schedule and [01:04:00] responsibilities. Can they make it or not? And at what time and for how long. These are the sorts of details that are the exhausting part of hashing out a planned socialization. But if there's just an open invitation during a window of time at a specific place. Then there's no need to go back and forth about details at all. Just show up if you can, stay until you need to leave, or if you can't make it, maybe I'll catch you next time. Right? Easy. No pressure. Semi-spontaneous socialization. And that's something that anyone could start doing today. 

So, try that out if you think it suits you. And then when someone does come to your semi-spontaneous social meetup, talk to them about the benefits of co-housing and how one of the biggest benefits is the endless supply of semi-spontaneous social gatherings with essentially no planning ever required. 

That is going to be it for today. As always keep the comments coming in. I would love to hear your thoughts or questions about [01:05:00] this or anything else. You can leave a voicemail or send us a text to 202-999-3991, or simply email me to [email protected]. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our Transcriptionist Trio, Ken, Brian, and Ben for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who already support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships. You can join them by signing up today at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patrion page, or from right inside the Apple podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good and often funny bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content, no ads, and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes, all through [01:06:00] your regular podcast player. You'll find that link in the show notes, along with a link to join our Discord community where you can also continue the discussion. 

So, coming to from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show, from bestoftheleft.com. 

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#1607 The Tangled, Flammable Web of War in the Middle East (Transcript)

Air Date 2/3/2024

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast in which we will attempt to understand as many of the interlocking elements as possible in the current Middle East conflicts sparked most prominently by the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Sources today include Democracy Now!, The Inquiry, Intercepted, and Americast, with additional members-only clips from Intercepted and The Majority Report.

From Red Sea to Iran, Will Israel's Gaza Assault Spark Wider War - Democracy Now! - Air Date 1-17-24

SPENCER ACKERMAN: I think that in my years of covering the “war on terror,” this is the most dangerous moment for the Middle East that I’ve seen professionally. You talk about there being the possibility of a full-blown regional conflict. We’re at least at half-blown now. Consider what the battlefields are and have been in this conflict: Gaza, obviously the most important one, the most devastating to humanity, where the Palestinians are experiencing what could and [00:01:00] probably should be understood as a genocide, but also southern Israel, northern Israel, southern Lebanon, northwestern Syria, Beirut, northeastern Syria, Erbil, Baghdad, southwestern Yemen, the Red Sea, Pakistan, as well. 

This is now a conflict with battlefronts ranging across the region, each of which facing pressure to escalate as their various combatants’ objectives are not fully achieved. We shouldn’t think that absent an active act of deescalation, that this won’t continue spiraling outward throughout 2024.

JUAN GONZALEZ - CO-HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: And, Spencer, this whole idea that we hear almost every day some member of the Biden administration say that they’re trying to prevent an escalation of the conflict in the region, when in [00:02:00] fact their actions are quite the opposite?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: That’s right, Juan. We heard the Biden administration say most recently that it was deeply concerned about escalation in Lebanon. Well, just in the last 24 hours, the Israeli Air Force has been bombing southern Lebanon, bombing what it says are Hezbollah positions there, but also the United States has taken direct action, not just in the Red Sea, but also on Yemeni soil itself multiple times, three times at least, including most recently yesterday. And, as well, recently it carried out its first drone strike in Baghdad since 2020, which has now strained US-Iraqi relations. So, the United States, while it might say that it’s seeking to contain the conflict, is caught up in the logic of escalation.

And that means we shouldn’t give the Biden administration a pass on this. These aren’t automatic gravitational forces. [00:03:00] These are the accumulations of choices that Biden and his team are making to involve the US more deeply in this spiraling conflict, all of which could be stopped if the United States used its immense influence over Israel to restrain it or stop it from carrying out its collective punishment of Gaza.

JUAN GONZALEZ - CO-HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: We often hear, as well, about the Axis of Resistance, supposedly controlled or financed by Iran, but very little about the Axis of Empire, of the UK, the United States and Israel in the region. To what degree does this axis have more right to control the affairs of the region than those who are actually from countries there?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Quite well said, Juan. Without ceding any of Iran’s claims to regional hegemony, the United States [00:04:00] and its allies act as if they are the representatives of the natural and just order of the Middle East, and not, in fact, Western impositions upon the aspirations of the citizenry, the people of these countries, to determine their own affairs.

And we are seeing that quite starkly most recently in Yemen, where one of the most war-devastated countries in the Middle East, as a result of not only US strikes against al-Qaeda targets, what the United States says is al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, stemming from something like over the past 15 years, but also a US-backed Saudi and Emirati campaign that lasted seven years before a ceasefire took hold in 2022, that brought not only famine but cholera to this country, that has been engulfed in a foreign-backed, foreign-sponsored [00:05:00] and foreign-accelerated civil war. Nevertheless, even among people who don’t accept the Houthi movement as the legitimate rulers of Yemen, saw massive demonstrations after the United States and its Western allies started bombing Yemen in retaliation for the Houthi attempt to relieve the siege of Gaza. So we really have on full exposure the rejection of US claims to standing for peace and stability in the region.

Houthis Are Not Iranian Proxies Helen Lackner on the History & Politics of Yemen's Ansar Allah - Democracy Now! - Air Date 2-1-24

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Helen, could you give us some background, though? What are the origins of this movement? And how is that they came to play such a prominent role in Yemen? 

SUZANNE MALONEY: Yeah. So, the Houthi movement started in the 1980s, 1990s. I think what you need to understand is that, in terms of religious sects, Yemen is divided into two basic sects: a [00:06:00] Sunni sect, called al-Shafi’is, who basically live in the majority of the country, and a branch of Shi’ism called the Zaydis, who live basically in the mountainous highlands of Yemen. And the Houthis are al-Zaydis. And again, within the Zaydi movement, there’s a certain variety, in the sense that the Houthis, I would say, are extremist Zaydists, and they’ve developed their ideology and their policies to strengthen their own branch of Zaydism. And they basically emerged in response to the rise of Sunni Salafi fundamentalism within their own area in the far north of Yemen. And so there have been conflicts and problems arising since the 1990s.

Between 2004 and 2010, there was a series of six wars between the Houthis [00:07:00] facing and fighting the then-regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Each one ended with a ceasefire which was promptly broken. The reason the last one in 2010 was not broken was as the result of the uprisings in 2011, known as the Arab Spring in various places. And that was a moment when the Houthis joined with the revolutionaries and basically took a position against — they continued their position against the regime. 

During what was supposedly a transition period between the Saleh regime and what should have become a more democratic regime in 2014, the Houthis then changed their alliances, and indeed Saleh changed his alliance, so they operated together against the transitional government. And then, eventually, that allowed them to take over the capital Sana’a in 2014 [00:08:00] and then to oust the existing transitional government in early 2015.

And that’s when, really, the war started, which was then internationalized from March 2015 with the intervention of what was known as the Saudi-led coalition, which was basically a coalition led by the Saudis and the Emiratis, with a few other states with minor roles, but supported actively by the U.S., the Europeans and the British and others.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sorry, just to clarify, what was the point at which the Iranians started backing the Houthis? Was it in the moment when the Saudi-led bombing began, in 2015, or was it prior to that? And if you could also clarify the distinction between, as you said, the Yemenis are Zaydi Shias, and to what extent Zaydis are ideologically or theologically [00:09:00] aligned with the dominant form of Shi’ism in Iran, and what that has to do with Iran’s complicity or support for Houthis, whether or not now they do as Iran says?

SUZANNE MALONEY: Yeah. Thank you for these, for bringing up these points. The Iranian role at the time, in 2015, when we’re in the internationalized civil war started, was minimal. The Iranian involvement with the Houthis, and prior to that and since then, has always been connected with, partly, theological connections, but differences. So, in that sense, the Houthis are differentiating themselves from other Zaydis by having adopted a number of the rituals and activities and approaches of the Iranian Twelvers. It’s all a matter of how many imams they trust or they believe in after [00:10:00] the Prophet Muhammad. But in practice, the Houthis are getting closer to the Iranian Shi’ism over the last decade, but they are still quite distinct. So the alliance is much more a political alliance.

And the Iranian involvement, which was really very, very insignificant at the beginning of this war, has increased over time, and is primarily — has been, for a while, mainly financial and of providing fuel and things like that to the Houthis, but more recently has been much more focused on military activities and primarily on the supply of advanced technology. If you look at the Houthi weaponry — and I’m no military expert — but the Houthi weaponry originally was basically a lot of Scuds and other Russian-supplied materials and also some American-supplied materials to the Saleh regime. And these have been [00:11:00] upgraded and improved and changed, to some extent, thanks to Iranian support. So, in that sense, the Iranian involvement has become greater.

But it’s very important to note that the Houthis are an independent movement. The Houthis are not Iranian proxies. They are not Iranian servants. They don’t do what the Iranians tell them to do. They make their own decisions. If their decisions and their policies coincide with those of Iran, then there’s no issue. But if they don’t do it. So it’s very important, I think, to destroy this myth of Iran-backed Houthis in a single word as if it’s a conglomerate. That is not the case.

What does Iran want - The Inquiry - Air Date 1-25-24

PHILIP REEVELL: The Axis of Resistance...

NEGAR MORTAZAVI: ...is a loose coalition of mostly non-state actors across the Middle East -- in [00:12:00] Lebanon, Hezbollah; Shia militias in Iraq; Hamas; the Houthis -- that are essentially allies of Iran. 

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: Negar Motazavi is a journalist, host of the Iran podcast, and senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D. C.

NEGAR MORTAZAVI: So these allies essentially are seen by Tehran ideologically as a resistance to their big enemy, the United States, and also their small enemy, Israel, in the region. 

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: In 2002, US president George W. Bush described Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil," which posed a threat to world peace.

NEGAR MORTAZAVI: And so the Axis of Resistance is an opposite play on that "axis of evil," saying, no, we're not evil, we're actually resisting you, the United States, that has caused all the trouble in our region. And we won't stop fighting and resisting until this ends. 

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: Several [00:13:00] military personnel were injured in a recent missile and rocket attack on an air base in western Iraq, which hosts US troops. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group said to be linked to Iran, has claimed responsibility.

Negar Murtazavi says it's important to know that Iran's direct airstrikes into neighboring countries lies beyond the axis. 

NEGAR MORTAZAVI: The skirmishes on the Iran-Pakistan border is fairly unrelated. That has to do with a separatist ethnic Baluchi group, which has had trouble with the central government. The Iranian government sees them as a terrorist group and has been going after them. It's something that Iran is dealing with simultaneously. 

So all of these, I would say, are connected to each other in the big picture, but the Pakistan border is on the other side of the country, and not really part of this big Axis of Resistance that we're talking about vis-a-vis Iran and Israel.

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: Most of the Axis of Resistance groups have been designated as [00:14:00] terrorist entities by some western states. Coalition members have different aims but share a broader goal. 

NEGAR MORTAZAVI: The Houthis in Yemen were an insurgency that emerged about two decades ago as a resistance for the demands of their own ethnic population. The Lebanese Hezbollah was also a resistance in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. So at some point, Iran has realized that, okay, this group has shared goal in resisting what they see is this bigger enemy: the US meddling, israeli presence in the region. And so they have connected to them.

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: Yemen's Houthis consider Israel an enemy. The group has increased attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea since the start of the Israel-Gaza war, in order to show support for fellow Axis of Resistance member Hamas. In response, the UK and US have carried out a second round of airstrikes on Houthi bases in Yemen.

NEGAR MORTAZAVI: The groups do take cues from Tehran. They get financial support. They get [00:15:00] weaponry. They get logistical support. They get political support. But they also have autonomy. They're not part of the Iranian armed forces, but they do work in tandem. 

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: So what does Iran get in return? 

NEGAR MORTAZAVI: This is an insurance policy. This is a way for them to fight the world's most powerful army, which is the US, and also the region's most powerful army, Israel, in an unconventional and asymmetric way. 

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: That approach was influenced by lessons learned in the 1980s when Iran was invaded by its neighbor Iraq. The eight-year war that followed was deadly and expensive.

NEGAR MORTAZAVI: So since then, essentially the thinking is, okay, the Iranian government decided we're not going to let our soil be attacked again. But we also don't have a strong enough army and weaponry to be able to make that happen. So they've set up these allies who can create trouble if ever needed [00:16:00] for their enemy. And we're seeing that really unfold in the Israel-Hamas war since October 7th, how each of these groups -- the Houthis in the Red Sea, Hezbollah in the northern border with Israel, are able to create headaches for Iran's enemies when it comes to the situation of war and conflict. 

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: However, the full extent of Iran's commitment to the coalition isn't clear.

NEGAR MORTAZAVI: The Iranian state at times would like to emphasize the fact that these groups are autonomous. And that they only support them because of the shared goal. But then when it comes to other instances, they do boast of their support that they provide to this group. So it's a double-sided strategy when it comes to their relationship with the Axis of Resistance.

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: An example of that mixed messaging followed Hamas's deadly attack on Israel that sparked the current war in Gaza.

NEGAR MORTAZAVI: I actually believe US intelligence that concluded that Tehran wasn't involved in the planning of that [00:17:00] attack. And so we saw Iranian officials coming with two levels of claims. One is that this is something that they ideologically support, but at the same time there was an opposite message saying that this was an independent, 100 percent Palestinian operation. And that's your cue essentially saying that we weren't as much involved in the planning of this attack and so they want to maintain some form of plausible deniability when it comes to the cause of the October 7th attack. 

CHARMAINE COZIER - HOST, THE INQUIRY: Working in tandem doesn't mean that axis members are unified. 

NEGAR MORTAZAVI: So the coalition is not necessarily seeing eye to eye on every single issue when it comes to the region. For example, in the Palestinian cause, we have seen differences in strategy or in ideology when it comes to talking points from Tehran and talking points from Hamas. Sometimes Hamas are more radical, sometimes Tehran is more radical, and so the coalition will remain [00:18:00] loose. But I think as long as Tehran is able to lead and support and be in touch with all of them, they can continue as an axis.

Biden Stands at the Precipice of a Greater War in the Middle East and His Political Future - Intercepted - Air Date 1-31-24

MURTAZA HUSSAIN - CO-HOST, INTERCEPTED: You know, Juan, you mentioned that it's commonly perceived and described in politics that Israel is an asset to US strategic interests in the region, but it's very interesting at the moment, it seems like, given the widespread regional anger about the war in Gaza and its consequences, the US is having to intervene very extensively in the conflict, not just to resupply Israel with munitions and give it targeting information and defend it diplomatically at international fora, but also the US is now directly fighting the Houthis in Yemen on behalf of Israel, who have said themselves are acting in response to the war in Gaza. This past weekend, several US service members were killed in the drone strike in Jordan carried out by Iraqi militias, who also said they were acting in response to US support in the war in Gaza. And finally, the US actually has [00:19:00] aircraft carriers and troops in the eastern Mediterranean specifically to deter Hezbollah, which may intervene more forcefully in the conflict without that deterrence from the US provide there. So it seems like the US is doing a tremendous amount to help Israel at the moment. 

But to the argument that Israel is beneficial to the US, they just seem very clear what the US getting out of this, seems a very lopsided exchange, in a way. Can you speak a bit about what do you think continues to hold and drive this relationship on these terms, given the fact that the strategic utility is not clearly obvious at the moment? 

JUAN COLE: I think the strategic utility goes beyond a moment.

And, again, I'm trying to understand the mindset in the foreign policy establishment in Washington. I'm not trying to allocute as to the truth. But they perceive Israel to be a long term strategic asset in the Middle East of some importance.

For one thing, the Israelis [00:20:00] have very good intelligence in the region. Trump, when he was president, met with Sergei Lavrov and some other Russian officials and actually let it slip that the Israelis had placed someone high in the ISIL councils and that they were getting direct intelligence from ISIL planning through this Israeli agent. Apparently the CIA was not able to do this, but the Israelis were. And since ISIL during the Obama period was the major foreign policy threat and dictated a lot of Obama policy in the Middle East, the response to it and the attempt to destroy it,having the Israelis penetrate it like that was gold. And I think behind the scenes and in ways that we don't hear about, there are lots of those kinds of things that the Israelis do for the United States.

And so I perceive the Biden administration to feel that it can hold the status [00:21:00] quo with regard to what the Americans call the Axis of Resistance. I prefer the Alliance of Resistance because we always use Axis for pejorative purposes. But the Iranians have, over time, established allies in Lebanon and Iraq and Yemen, as you say, although these are very loose alliances. It's not a command and control kind of situation. The Houthis don't take orders from Tehran. But they are allied on the basis of a common perception of Israel and the United States as a threat to their interests. 

And the Biden administration came into office hoping to do a deal with the Alliance of Resistance to bring them in from the cold. And I think there was a genuine hope that could be done for various reasons, and it may have to do with Biden's acquiescence in [00:22:00] the views of some of the hawks around him. That didn't go forward in a big way. And in fact, local regional actors became tired of waiting for Biden to make this move, and so the Saudis reached out to the Iranians themselves through China. And the Biden administration has been trying to work to extend -- or had been trying to work to extend -- the ceasefire between the Saudis and the Houthis in Yemen. And that struggle may start back up, we don't know. But the US has now taken the Saudi role of bombing Sanaa, I think to very little effect. 

And so I think what the Biden administration is trying to do is to hold the status quo against the Alliance of Resistance through surgical interventions, bombing a base of one of these Shiite militias here and there, time to time, while they believe the Israelis are rolling up Hamas.

And [00:23:00] I think they must understand that this can't go on for a very long time, or the status quo simply will not hold. But that's what they're trying to do in the meantime. 

And even though the Iraqi militias have Killed American troops at a base in Jordan near Syria, the response of Biden on Sunday was remarkably restrained. He said we'll reply at a time and a place of our choosing. That's usually the way you would reply to a stray mortar hitting a base and not doing it. Killing three American soldiers, that's not something that you would put off the response to a time and a place of your choosing; you would want to go to war over it. And it's very clear that the Biden administration does not want to go to war over it, and that they're attempting to find a way to muddle through this crisis. 

JEREMY SCAHILL - HOST, INTERCEPTED: You also had two US navy SEALs that, according to the official reporting on it, went missing as part of [00:24:00] the US military presence deployed in an effort to stop the Yemeni blockade of the Red Sea, and now they've officially been declared dead by the United States, so it's In addition to those two, now you have the three confirmed deaths of American service members in Jordan from this drone strike.

Drone Strike Kills 3 U.S. Troops in Jordan as Risk Grows of Regional War over Israel's Gaza Assault - Democracy Now! - Air Date 1-29-24

RAMI KHOURI: So, I would say that the significance here is severalfold. First of all, the people who did this attack, the Americans blame a certain group in Iraq funded or backed by Iran. There’s dozens of these groups all over the region. There’s almost as many of these groups around the region as there are American military bases around the region. I think there’s something like 30 or 35 American military bases, with something like 30-40,000 troops. And, of course, when you add the ones that come in on the aircraft carriers, it’s more than that.

So, you have to see this in the context of a regional situation with many American military installations, some of them [00:25:00] killing and attacking Arabs and others, some of them not. And you have to see the groups from Arab countries, official state groups and nonstate actors, like Hezbollah and Hamas and Ansar Allah. That’s the context in which we have to see this.

There are so many potential people who could have done this attack, which should make us wonder about why are there so many people who are potential attackers. It’s because they see the American presence linked very close to what Israel is doing in Palestine. They see this as a threat. And they come right out and say it. The thing about the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, like the Resistance Axis, which is the broader Middle East coalition of Hezbollah, Hamas, Ansar Allah in Yemen, the Islamic groups in — resistance groups in Syria and Iraq, their significance is that they come right out — and they’ve said it so many times — “We’re not scared of being attacked. We’re not put off by the US and [00:26:00] Israeli threats. We’re defending our territory. And if we’re aggressed against, we are going to fight back.” This is unusual in this region, but it’s going on all the time.

The Ansar Allah in Yemen have been saying the same thing. The US went in there with — and the UK, the two great colonial powers in the Middle East of the last century. Both have been attacking Ansar Allah targets in Yemen, and the Ansar Allah people say, you know, “Go ahead. Attack. We don’t care.” And they keep attacking back and hitting ships and trying to fire at other places, as well.

So, that’s the context that we have to look at. And some of it is linked to Gaza, some of it was there before Gaza, which is another important thing. And the Ansar Allah in Yemen and others have said, “Look, if the US stops actively supporting the genocidal, savage moves of Israel in Gaza, [00:27:00] we will stop attacking American targets.” It is significant that this is the first direct strike that killed three Americans, but that’s not as significant as the broader picture that we have to look at.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Rami Khouri, can you talk about the other countries and their response and where they stand vis-à-vis the United States and Israel? For example, Jordan. I listened to the Jordan deputy prime minister yesterday saying this did not happen on Jordanian soil, it happened in Syria. But, in fact, it looks like it did happen in Jordan. And why that was relevant — because, of course, they’re all very close right there on the border — is he said if it happened on Jordanian soil, they would consider it an act of war.

RAMI KHOURI: Jordan tries to stay out of these big conflicts. It’s a small country. It has quite a sophisticated military capability. They spend a lot of money and attention on their security [00:28:00] services, both internally and regionally, their intelligence services, their technical capabilities, special forces, things like that. And they try to not get directly involved in large-scale warfare, but to do a little strategic, pinpoint actions when necessary either to protect themselves or to help their allies, like the US and others.

It’s hard to know exactly where this attack came from. If the US intelligence agencies have the information, they should make it public so people stop speculating. But Jordan is a country with a huge territory on the borders with three, four countries, and it’s very hard to patrol it. By the way, I know that area in northeastern Jordan quite well. I spent many, many days there years ago when I was writing books on archaeology and I lived in Jordan.

And there’s two things I think people should recognize about this area. [00:29:00] First of all, if you look at that aerial photograph which you showed of the camp, of Tower 2, I think it’s called — if you look at that photograph and then you go back into the archaeological journals and look at pictures, aerial photographs of Roman and Byzantine camps that archaeologists have mapped in surveys, you find exactly the same thing. And this is a sign that these kinds of foreign military installations inside the region, especially on peripheral border areas, don’t have a long lifestyle, and they will be abandoned, because the local people don’t want them there.

The second thing I’d say, that area is really fascinating, because people call it a desolate desert area. It’s a desert area now because of climate change and overgrazing and things like that, but this was a strategically important region in the beginning of modern civilization as we know it in the Bronze Age. There’s people who think that the [00:30:00] Abraham’s Path came through here on his way into what’s known as the promised land, that this is an area developed early urbanism in the Bronze Age, walled large towns, sophisticated water systems, showing the human capabilities that have been in this area for about 5,000 years. So, those are just two little side points I’d like to throw in there.

Biden Stands at the Precipice of a Greater War in the Middle East and His Political Future Part 2 - Intercepted - Air Date 1-31-24

MURTAZA HUSSAIN - CO-HOST, INTERCEPTED: One, you mentioned that the Houthis are taking these strikes in the Red Sea and they're generating a tremendous amount of attention to themselves -- negatively, obviously from the US and U. K. and so forth in various ways, but also in the region where they were not very popular before they've become relatively popular in recent weeks and months. You see the Houthi spokespeople going on television, becoming quite fixtures in social media and on regular media in the region, because of a sense that they're standing up for the Palestinians, but also by extension, a perception that they're [00:31:00] standing up to the US and there seems to be a very pronounced view in the region that this is not just an Israeli war, but it's a US war specifically. And we saw that in the statements of some of these Iraqi militia groups that claim responsibility for the attack on the base in Jordan as well, too. They view the US very intimately involved in the war, a direct participant in the war in Gaza, even.

Whereas in the US it's often depicted that a more of an arm's length relationship, and people are sometimes surprised to see a retaliation against the US directly for actions which are taken by Israel. Can you speak a bit about the sort of disconnect and how the US israel relationship is viewed by people in the region as very hand in hand?

JUAN COLE: Oh, well, people in the region don't make a distinction. They view. Even you know, when the United States invaded Iraq, US troops on the ground in Iraq were often referred to by the Iraqis as Israelis. And the notorious incident in Fallujah, where four [00:32:00] contractors were attacked and strung up, was carried out by people in Fallujah who called themselves Iraqi Hamas. And part of the reason that they attacked those US contractors was because the Israelis were at the time conducting an assassination campaign against Hamas leaders. 

And so the American public has never viewed these events synoptically, has not been able to see them in the same frame. But in the Middle East, the United States and Israel are basically seen as one thing.

And so when you hear in the United States that the Israelis have killed so many thousands of people, the American public might say, "Well, is that really necessary? Maybe the Israelis shouldn't be doing that." But in the Middle East, the comment would be that, why are the Americans doing this?

And people are furious in the Middle East. I mean, their blood is boiling all through the region against the United [00:33:00] States. This is not a completely new phenomenon, of course, and we've seen moments in the past when there has been a lot of anger towards the US in part because of its unqualified support for Israeli impunity. But it is quite remarkable, the amount of anger. And so, it puts American allies in the region in a difficult position because the Saudi government, the government of the United Arab Emirates, the Jordanian government, they all hate Hamas. And nothing would please them better than for Netanyahu to succeed in destroying it. And so, none of those governments has done more than criticize the war. And, de facto, they agree with the war aim. But their publics are not on the same page. So the Saudis and the Jordanians, who have a real population -- the United Arab Emirates is a postage stamp country with a million [00:34:00] citizens and eight million guest workers, it's in a different demographic situation -- the Saudis and the Jordanians, the governments really have to negotiate with their publics, and their publics are furious. 

So you see people in Saudi Arabia, for instance, who the government has demanded a cease fire, even though the US is opposed, and they have criticized the conduct of the war, and they've said openly that you can forget about these Abraham Accords business until the Palestinians are treated properly. That's for Saudi public consumption. They're trying to reassure their own public that they are not villains in the peace. 

So, not only people in the region see the United States as more or less behind this war, as a hundred percent backer of it and the reason for which it can go on, but the publics and the governments are deeply split. And so that's why something like the Alliance of Resistance, [00:35:00] by sending out some drones and committing some pinpricks against Western security, gives them a great deal of cachet. 

And in a place like Iraq, it could be consequential. They have elections and the militias are all also civil political parties. And they have, last I knew it, some 60 seats in Parliament. The current Prime Minister, Al Sudani, is beholden to the Shiite militias and their civil bloc in Parliament. So, there's likely a fair storm coming in relations between the United States and Iraq over all this.

And, of course, what the Shiite militias want is not only to punish the US for its involvement in Gaza, but also to push the remaining US troops out of the region. So with their 2,500 troops in Iraq, mainly doing training and logistics for the Iraqi army and its [00:36:00] continued mop up operations against ISIL, there are some 900 US troops in Syria, liaising with the YPG, the Kurdish leftist militia -- and again, to make sure that ISIL doesn't come back, to give some support to the Syrian Kurds, and also maybe to block Iranian and Shiite militia activity in, in southeast Syria. 

So the Shiite militias in Iraq are trying to push the Americans out, and I may be hoping that the US response to something like the attack on the base in Jordan will provoke such a large rift between Baghdad and Washington that the troops will have to leave.

Christiane Amanpour on Biden's Iran Dilemma - Americast - Air Date 1-31-24

SARAH SMITH - HOST, AMERICAST: Christiane, you know very well that because this is a presidential election year, domestic politics are interfering with the decisions that the President has to make. And this idea that Donald Trump puts forward that his strongman presence in the White House would deter the kind of attack that killed American forces at the weekend, whether or not that's true, [00:37:00] of course.

So Joe Biden is now faced with trying to make a decision that responds to that, as well as responding to the facts on the ground, trying to thread the needle of saying this action will look like a deterrent to stop other people trying to attack our troops in the region. And it will also look like vengeance to a certain degree, but not so much that it escalates the conflict in the region.

Is it possible to achieve all of those aims? 

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Look, I think it's very important for your listeners and viewers to understand that whatever Donald Trump says is not what is the facts. It's really important to tell people that he has essentially lied to the world and to the American people about foreign policy and domestic policy ever since 2015, when he began his first campaign for president. And now he's coming back saying that I'm the strong man. The only people who that will appease. People like Putin, people like Kim Jong un, Xi Jinping, all those people who he's expressed [00:38:00] respect for. 

And so I think that, yes, President Biden, if it was me and it's not me, thank goodness, who has to make this very, very difficult decision, I would be very troubled by the, as I said it earlier, the baying for a war on Iran by certain quarters of the extreme right wing in Congress. At the same time, having to do something to, as I said, deter it. So I don't want to say what it will be because I don't know. But I do think, yes, he has a difficult needle to thread, and I think the fact that it's happening in an election year is difficult, but more to the point, I think it's not even the election year—for me anyway, as a foreign policy and a war journalist—it's that there's so much war in the region now. They don't know which way to look. They don't know what to do right now. 

And not only that, you have Donald Trump and his allies nixing a border deal. was about to pass between the Democrats and the Republicans, which means that [00:39:00] Ukraine will not get the weapons it needs to actually defend not just its own self and its own democracy, but our democracy and US national security. So this is a very, very complex and very dangerous moment. And it is a real problem that is being muddled and fake newsed by the MAGA wing. 

SARAH SMITH - HOST, AMERICAST: Now, we definitely need to talk about the southern border and the way it's being tied into American foreign policy. But just before we do, let me ask you this, sticking with Iran, and this is a genuine query, I don't know the answer to this. When the Pentagon is planning some kind of retaliatory military strike, is it possible at the same time for diplomats to be talking to the leadership in Tehran and saying, "we're going to have to take action. You've forced our hand. This will happen, but please do not retaliate. Understand that this is us responding to the fact that our troops have been killed. This is not us trying to escalate a conflict," and can you be talking to them, [00:40:00] trying to calm things down at the same time as you're escalating your military action? 

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Look, I don't know because I'm not in the room, but I do know that the Iranians have said, if you attack us, whatever you tell us about not wanting a war. And remember. Well, we'll get to this in a minute. The US keeps saying we don't want another war with Iran, but if you attack us, we're going to retaliate. I mean, that's what they've said publicly. What happens, what the reaction is from the United States and then from Iran, we just don't know yet, but it is a very, very difficult situation.

And there are many experts who are calling for proportionality. And again, remember, The Donald Trump did not want to attack Iran when many on his right flank said that he should over various things. And all the way back to the George W. Bush administration, when again, Israel and others on his own right wing were urging him to attack Iran. Remember, it was going to be Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and and he didn't because they didn't think that that was going to [00:41:00] raise the security of the American people, national security. 

And let's just not forget. It's one thing to be hitting non state actors, the Houthis, for instance, in Yemen and their bases the Iran backed militias, wherever they may be in Iraq, in Syria and elsewhere. It's another thing to attack a sovereign nation with a big military and a huge country. And I'm sure President Biden is looking at weeks of attacking bases in in Yemen and seeing no response and no end to the Houthis action. So if they having trouble with the Houthis, you can imagine how it's going to be trying to direct firepower to Iran.

Look, if you want me to bet, I would say they're going to choose some kind of other route. I may be wrong, but since 1979, when the Islamic Republic came and basically cited America as its enemy, remember the great Satan, America has never struck Iran and vice versa. Iran has never struck America. So it would be a massive new war in the Middle [00:42:00] East. 

JUSTIN WEBB - CO-HOST, AMERICAST: You know Iran well, obviously in your background, your heritage, how rational are the Iranian leadership, how open do you think to the world of diplomacy and pressure? 

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Very rational. I think they're very rational, and you've seen that in 46 years. Not the politics most of the West likes, but they are about survival of their regime and the projection of whatever power and influence they can. So in that regard, they would rather survive than have any kind of existential threat posed on them.

BONUS Biden Stands at the Precipice of a Greater War in the Middle East and His Political Future Part 3 - Intercepted - Air Date 1-31-24

JEREMY SCAHILL - HOST, INTERCEPTED: But speaking of arcs, I wanted to ask you about German policy, and I'm glad you also brought up Ukraine because Germany has been, the major voice in the European Union in terms of big, powerful, more powerful countries in pushing that war, and Germany actually started to increase the amount of GDP that it's willing to spend on defense, exporting of weaponry, which was [00:43:00] unusual for Germany. And mind you, this is not the CDU in power anymore under Angela Merkel; this is supposedly the liberals that are in power now under Olaf Schultz and the green party, in fact occupies the position of foreign ministry in the German government. 

But Germany has been a major proponent of Israel's war in Gaza. It has sent a record level of assistance to Israel, but at the beginning, it was overwhelmingly in the form of what Germany categorized as defensive materiel, armored vehicles, body armor for troops. And now there are reports in the German media that Germany is considering a variety of requests from Israel to actually start sending munitions to Israel as well. Germany signed on to be effectively a defense council in support of Israel's defense at the International Court of Justice, where they're being accused by South Africa of committing genocide and genocidal acts in Gaza. And many [00:44:00] Palestinians have a perception that Germany's involvement in what they believe clearly is a genocide or an attempted genocide in Gaza is linked to the fact that Germany committed genocide against the Jews in World War II, and you had Germany announcing that it was going to sign on to support Israel at the International Court of Justice on the very day that in Namibia, Namibians were marking the German genocide that began a century earlier, and issued a scathing attack against the German government linking those two events together, the genocide in Namibia with Germany signing on to defend Israel against genocide charges at the International Court of Justice.

And just one last point on this: It's not just that Germany is full on supporting Israel politically, diplomatically, now it seems militarily, in a very aggressive [00:45:00] way; it's also that domestically in Germany there are speech laws now that are supposedly aimed at halting or cracking down on antisemitic speech that have been weaponized now to criminalize it -- although it's in misdemeanor form -- criminalize several specific acts of speech that are perceived to be anti-Israel.

You've written recently about some of the historical connections to Germany's full support right now of the Israelis, and I'd like to hear your analysis of this transformation of Germany's posture in the world, which really ratcheted up during Ukraine, but is in full force now with the Israeli war against Gaza.

JUAN COLE: Yeah, this generation of Germans are still traumatized by World War II and the Nazi era and the Holocaust. And I think they decided that the way you work out your national guilt about the Holocaust is knee jerk support for Israel. [00:46:00] And remember that there are ways in which there are limits to liberalism in Germany that come out of the Nazi experience, because the one flaw in liberal philosophy is a belief in everybody being able to have a voice. But giving Hitler and his gangs voices didn't work out very well for the Weimar Republic. And so there are laws in Germany and Austria that limit speech of a Nazi sort. So it bleeds over then into the Palestine issue, because to what extent is supporting Palestine hate speech against Israel? And these become very difficult political negotiations. And I think the Germans have just decided that the Palestinians are a source of disturbance. They produce terrorism. Their claims against [00:47:00] Israel are outrageous and that they've put them in that limbo of speech that they put the far right, and upsetting the apple cart of liberal society that the only way to have liberal society in Germany is in fact to be illiberal with regard to certain kinds of speech and actions. 

So it's an enormous psychological an emotional wound that the Germans are dealing with, and I think they've come down on the wrong side of how you deal with this. Yes, they should never forget what their ancestors did, because remember, there are hardly anybody left alive from the era where the Holocaust occurred. But they should never forget what their ancestors did and they should be determined to maintain the kind of liberal freedoms that would forestall any return of the far right. And of course, the return of the far right is all of a sudden in Germany, an actual prospect. The AFD seems to be growing in strength. And [00:48:00] there's genuine conversations, at the heights of the German Government about whether to bite the bullet and put the AFD under the anti-Nazi laws and ban the party and ban that kind of speech. Because it does skates very close to what's illegal in Germany. 

So if these things are seriously being considered against 20 percent of the German population, imagine how expendable the Palestinians and their cause is in this regard. I think the only way forward for Germany ultimately is to have a different view of the significance of the Holocaust, not as something that they did to Jews for which their unstinting support for everything that the Israelis do is the only penance, but to see it as a global event against an ethnic group.

And of course the Germans also committed a Holocaust against Poles. [00:49:00] And the Siege of Leningrad was intended to be a holocaust against Slavs, and they were going to move people out of Russia and Ukraine and replace them with Germans. If you saw these events as of universal significance, and then you were determined that they never happen again, then they have to never happen again to Namibians and Palestinians, as well as never happening again to Jews.

And that's a universalism of an earlier period of German liberalism -- I think something maybe that Immanuel Kant might have sympathized with -- that this generation of Germans has lost and they need to recover it.

BONUS Host's Anti-Ceasefire BS Dismantled Completely During INTENSE Debate - The Majority Report - Air Date 1-28-24

YALDA HAKIM: But, uh, Francois, I mean, there are many who are saying that, frankly, the Biden administration should have acted sooner and faster, that hundreds of billions of dollars has been put at risk because the Houthis have held this area in the Red Sea at ransom. [00:50:00] 

MYRIAM FRANCOIS: Sorry, so just let me get this straight, Yalda. So we are bombing the poorest, one of the poorest countries in the world that has been under a humanitarian blockade. There has been famine. These people have been decimated and we are bombing them because a couple of guys in dinghies in support for the Palestinians who are having a genocide committed against them. They're objecting to that and we're bombing them? Come on now. I mean, this is just an insane world for us to even think. I'm so sorry your Amazon packages are delayed. I really am. Like I wish mine came on time. But you know: genocide, guys, genocide. There are two mothers a day dying in Gaza right now. It's 109 days into a conflict in which a humanitarian crisis has been declared to the world day in, day out.

YALDA HAKIM: By the way, Dr Francois, there are many who are Yemen-watchers who monitor and follow the Houthis who say this is doing wonders for their branding, actually, that it isn't just the Palestinian cause that they're [00:51:00] focused on. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: So pause it, pause it. I mean, I have no doubt that the Houthis, um, and I think, you know, everything I've read suggests that they're having a hard time governing and that this is, engaging in a conflict like this drives their national, their legitimacy and sort of nationalistic fervor. Yes, of course, that dynamic exists in every time a government launches a conflict in some fashion. Um, but the bottom line is like, this was all to be expected. 

The reason why the Biden administration moved in naval ships early on was because they knew this conflict has the ability to expand. And so you have a choice. You either roll with the expansion of that conflict. Or you try and end the conflict. And the Biden administration has made their choice, which is we're not going to try and end the conflict. 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: I mean, why is, I'm sorry, but why does that give the Houthis more [00:52:00] legitimacy? Why? It's not just, it's not just that they're engaging in a war or in a conflict. It's the fact that they're showing solidarity for the Palestinian people. When you see how other Arab countries and people in those nations feel about Israel's genocide of the Palestinian people, you can understand why the Houthis domestically might see it as a prime opportunity for them to show and thumb their nose at U.S. imperial power, which, I gotta tell, like, I hate to break it to White, British, and American anchors in this country who are cozy and make millions of dollars, but the United States is not viewed with much reverence in the region that we have been indiscriminately bombing for decades and decades and decades, and that Israel is like a colonial outpost for our interests in that region.

Yeah, they don't have a ton of legitimacy there, or we don't. So the Houthis doing this is actually completely logical, even though it's painted [00:53:00] as some sort of like, Arab barbarism. It's, if the genocide was happening in our backyard to one of our allies or other people, I mean, look at how we responded in solidarity with sending weapons to people in Ukraine because Russia is in opposition to us. This is how geopolitics works, but it, but White people get to be rational actors on the international stage and then Brown people or Arab people or Muslim people, they're all irrational. 

MATT LECH - PRODUCER, THE MAJORITY REPORT: The people that are supporting the bombing of the Houthis, yeah, it is disgusting that people are saying, well, what about the, uh, uh, might be inflation or rise in shipping? You know how many people are starving in Gaza right now? 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Half a million. 

MATT LECH - PRODUCER, THE MAJORITY REPORT: It's absolutely disgusting to be called like pro-terrorist or something like that. Kiss my ass. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: I mean, uh, let's put it this way: if the Houthis were disrupting international trade routes and were firing on civilian vessels, and whether you think they're sincere or not, in there, right? - I mean, [00:54:00] uh, which is just a bizarre way to look at this - whether you think they're sincere or not, if they were doing this in the total absence of this Israeli assault on Gaza, if there was nothing else going on and they were doing it because they were they're trying to drive their own sort of like, public perception, the quality of their public perception in Yemen, no one would be talking about it. 

MATT LECH - PRODUCER, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Yep. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: If the U.S. was bombing, we would be like, Wait, we shouldn't be doing this, and that would be the end of the story. Like there would be nobody, it would... 

MATT LECH - PRODUCER, THE MAJORITY REPORT: You have a coalition being able to be built because the Houthis are just acting out for some reason against [unintelligible].

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Yeah, of course. I mean, that's the thing, is that the whole point is that the Biden administration have completely opened themselves up to this expansion of this regional conflict because of their failure to, in any way, attempt to reign in Israel. Because it is not an attempt to say we're [00:55:00] sending a letter to your manager and we just put 'to whom it does concern'. I mean that is, that is the point. Uh, continue on with this [clip]. 

YALDA HAKIM: ...who are Yemen watches, who are, who monitor and follow the Houthis, who say this is doing wonders for their branding, actually, that it isn't just the Palestinian cause that they're focused on.

MYRIAM FRANCOIS: So, call a ceasefire now and then the positive branding, if you want to stop the Houthis doing what they're doing, then call a ceasefire right now... 

NEWS ANCHOR: Do you actually believe that the Houthis would stop doing what they're doing if... 

MYRIAM FRANCOIS: They have literally said that that's why they're doing what they're doing, they have not previously blocked those routes for any other...

MATT LECH - PRODUCER, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Pause it real quick, you know, I'm not gonna take it off, but like the idea that America and Britain have the ability to vet others for sincerity in this sort of conflict is ludicrous 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: ...that we all state actors that are White and are powerful or rational, state actors that are poor and Arab, we have to assess their moral character.

MATT LECH - PRODUCER, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Yep. 

MYRIAM FRANCOIS: ... reason except [00:56:00] this one. So, yes, I do. And I also think the West needs to start to understand that you cannot just go around playing cowboys in the world. There are consequences to your actions. You cannot just go around bombing people's countries, ignoring international law and expect no repercussions. For every cause there is a consequence. And just because you don't like a couple of guys trying to resist the fact that this... 

YALDA HAKIM: I mean, these are now proscribed terrorists, the Houthis. 

MYRIAM FRANCOIS: Sure, according to Western governments, the other terrorist governments.

YALDA HAKIM: Well, also according to the Yemeni people. 

MYRIAM FRANCOIS: Which is a Saudi-backed government, which is essentially our.... 

YALDA HAKIM: But the Yemenis who live, uh, you know, under Houthis rule, talk about the fact that this group continues to terrorize them as well. 

MYRIAM FRANCOIS: Yeah, that's, I'm no fan of the Houthis, apart from when they're blockading in favor of a ceasefire, which should have been called a long time ago. Twenty-five thousand people are dead in Gaza right now. There are over 60,000 people injured with no access to food, water, aid. How dare we have a conversation about trade when there [00:57:00] are children right now being treated without anesthetic. There are things that require us to make... 

YALDA HAKIM: They do have the global economy, global markets, hostage. 

MYRIAM FRANCOIS: Good for them, good for them. Cease fire now. Cease fire now. 

YALDA HAKIM: We're going to have to, uh, leave it there. 

Summary

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with Democracy Now!, laying out the overview of the danger of escalation in the Middle East. Democracy Now! Also laid out some of the contextual details of the Houthi movement in Yemen. The Inquiry broke down the role of Iran. Intercepted looked more closely at the influence of the U.S. Democracy Now! highlighted the context of the region being dotted with dozens of U.S. military bases. Intercepted explained the impact of the Israel-US relationship. And Americast spoke with Christiane Amanpour about the U.S.'s attempt to both retaliate but not escalate, while risking a major new war in the Middle East with Iran. [00:58:00] That's what everybody heard, but members also heard a bonus clips from Intercepted diving into the relationship between Germany and Israel in the context of the history of the Holocaust. And The Majority Report analyzed a mainstream coverage debate about the conflict. 

To hear that and have all of our bonus contents delivered seamlessly to the new members only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information. And now we'll hear from you.

Countering Green-Lanternism - Erin from (Just Outside) Philadelphia

VOICEMAILER ERIN FROM JUST OUTSIDE PHILLY: Hey, Jay!, this is Erin from what I now understand to be the most important county in the United States, which is to say the Philadelphia suburbs of Delaware County. Boy, it's great to be the center of attention every four years, isn't it? 

In any case, wanted to respond to the recent show about the various strengths and weaknesses of the Biden campaign as it exists in this [00:59:00] moment. And A, I want to really thank you for your summary at the end, because while I fully understand that that was a disappointing reaction from J. B. Pritzker when the Humanist Report immediately went into, oh, we're doomed mode, I really started gritting my teeth, because it's just not helpful to think that way this year, for reasons that I think we all understand. But the point being, I appreciate your explanation of campaign literacy, we'll say, not necessarily media literacy. So yeah, one of the reasons I've been a member for so long is the way you were able to just pull everything together.

The other thing that just keeps coming to mind in every discussion I've had over the last few months, particularly with some friends and family is what the old progressive blog, Lawyers, Guns, and Money, used to refer to as Green Lanternism. Which, I'm not a big comics fan, but as I understand the Green Lantern is a [01:00:00] comics hero who can create things or cause things to happen purely by the force of his will, focused through some sort of magic ring. And this is a thing that they frequently criticized people on the left for back in the day, which, it's taken me a while to warm up to the theory, but I'm really beginning to understand it, that well, we just need Obama to get up and talk about this thing, and then it's gonna happen.

And you really see it every time there's a big presidential election, and I really do feel like it's a thing that is a bit of a problem on the left, because I feel like we ought to know better. Trump engages in Green Lanternism all the time, too. He's always saying, well, I'm gonna come in, and I'm gonna fix, Ukraine, and fix the border, and this and that, and nothing ever happens. But, whatever, that, that's not our problem. 

But I do really feel like on the left, we have a similar sort of idea that, oh, well, If the president just says this, he can end things we don't like, create things we do like, and bend [01:01:00] other sovereign nations to our will. Which A, I don't think we should want, because that sounds an awful lot like a king to me, and we had a war about that about 250 years ago that I think we were on the right side of. And also, it takes so much of the energy that we really need to be focusing all the way up and down the ballot and especially locally. I the one thing we saw last year and the year before in the midterms is we can change so many things by focusing locally to make it more likely that the president we get, whether it's Biden or in the future, someone like Gretchen Whitmer, Josh Shapiro, whoever, can do the things we want them to do because they have Congress on their side. 

We flipped school boards. We flipped state houses. As we're heading into this era where the Supreme Court is kicking everything back to states rights, we need those things in our column to survive. And so I'm also going to grab from another, just happened to listen to it directly before,[01:02:00] the You're Wrong About podcast was talking about specifically the, the pro-life/pro-choice movement in the context of the current campaign. And the guests they had on said, you know what, the thing to do this year to keep, as she put it, "the trauma of the world from residing in your body" is to get involved locally in something, whether it's abortion rights or queer rights or electing a better city council or state representative, we're going to need that. And so, keep high hopes and high expectations for the president, but definitely make sure that you are flipping as many seats locally as you can because it's going to take all of us in every state to make that happen. 

All right, that's just my pitch. that's my watch word for 2024 get involved and I know altogether we will find great ways to do that Thanks for everything you do stay awesome.

Final comments on building power in the long and short term

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Thanks to all those who call into the voicemail line or write in their messages to be played as voicemails. If you'd like to leave a comment or a [01:03:00] question of your own to be played on the show, you can record or text us a message at 202-999-3991 or send an email to [email protected]. 

So, thanks to Erin for her message. I love Green Lantern-ism and, you know, obviously I agree with her analysis that, you know, that is an idea that is sort of for the impatient, right?, whereas real results come from slow progress and getting down into the dirt and doing the work. Right? And there's actually a silly example of this playing out right now in Congress concerning the border. Slate published an interview under the headline, "So Many People Agree That Joe Biden Should 'Shut Down' the Border o Stop Migration. There’s Just One Problem With That!", and it's discussing the bipartisan legislation that's sort of making its way through, that is supposed to give the president the authority to simply shut down the border if authorized crossings reach a certain threshold. 

Of [01:04:00] course, the only problem is that that's a ridiculous framing because there's really no such thing as shutting down something that is already happening in an unauthorized way to begin with, that wouldn't require greater political will or a strong man president, it would require a magic wand. And that's the fantasy that always plays out, mostly on the right regarding immigration, but it happens elsewhere that, you know, we just need to believe stronger, or something, ignoring all of the complicated systemic issues that are much harder to solve, but would actually have a greater impact on whatever issue you're trying to fix. 

On the other hand, real success does sometimes require both. I mean, think about the Supreme Court. I don't think it would be right to say either that the far right takeover of the court was solely the result of the decades-long working in planning by the Federalist Society. [01:05:00] Nor was it the hard-nosed powerplay of Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans to stop Obama from appointing a third justice, or what really seemed like a basic bribe to Anthony Kennedy to convince him to step down during Trump's presidency. It was clearly a combination of all of those things. You do need long-term ground game. Planning. Running all the time. And also you have to be prepared to play hardball and occasionally use whatever force is necessary to push through your preferred agenda. 

So, to fully back up Erin's point, I definitely think it's appropriate to be on the side of demanding greater, you know, let's say backbone from elected Democrats on a pretty frequent basis, but to lose sight of the bigger mechanisms at play is to really fail to understand how politics works. And I might add that it's those people who really just don't understand how things are supposed to work, who end up getting [01:06:00] frustrated and start thinking, Well, I'd happily give up all my personal power and influence if someone would just say that they will fix everything, as though with a magic wand. And of course that's the most dangerous scenario of all and Something like a third or 40% of the country has basically done that now. 

Which actually gets to the heart of why our current disjointed and hyper-targeted information system that is filled to the brim with falsities and propaganda is so dangerous, because it limits the ability of average people to become well-informed citizens who understand how the system works, which is what is required to maintain a democracy. But yeah. That's a discussion for another day. 

As always keep the comments coming in. I would love to hear your thoughts or questions about this or anything else. You can leave us a voicemail or send us a text at 202-999-3991, or simply email to [01:07:00] [email protected]. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our Transcriptionist Trio, Ken, Brian, and Ben for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who already support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships. You can join them by signing up today at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good and often funny bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content, no ads, and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. You'll find that link in the show notes, along with a link to join our Discord community, where you can also continue the discussion. 

So, coming to from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington DC, my name [01:08:00] is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast, coming to you twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.

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#1606 Biden's Barriers and Boons to Reelection (Transcript)

Air Date 1/26/2024

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of Left Podcast and which we will look at an election year where more than ever before democracy itself is on the ballot, and yet there is less democracy actually happening in the lead up to the election than anytime in recent memory. And, with two profoundly disliked candidates running, the supporters of democratic ideals have a hard uphill push ahead of them. 

Sources today include The Majority Report, Ring of Fire, the Humanist Report, MSNBC, the NPR Politics Podcast, the Professional Left Podcast, and Olurinatti; with additional members only clips from Future Hindsight and the NPR Politics Podcast.

Democratic Strategists Have Their Heads In The Sand - The Majority Report - Air Date 1-24-24

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Republicans are one by one losing their majority in the House with resignations and whatnot. Also it seems that Johnson's whole strategy is going to be we're not going to pass any [00:01:00] immigration bill whatsoever. Even as much as the Democrats are compromising on it. Where does this leave it? This almost reminds me of when Obama tried to cut Social Security and the Freedom Caucus back in 2010 wouldn't say yes. And so the Democrats couldn't come out and campaign "they're going to cut Social Security" because it was the Democrats who were willing to offer it. And yet, what's going to happen when the Republicans just use immigration as a bludgeon on Biden, but Biden doesn't want to come out and actually defend immigrants in any way.

DAVE WEIGEL: Oh, yes, so there's a few issues like this. This is a big one though. I would say energy policy is the same, where the Biden administration's slowly moving towards a policy that eliminates some of the political problems they see, except it doesn't, because Republicans don't give them credit and Democrats don't like it. And this is one of them. The Republican approach -- [00:02:00] I hate using "they" -- but I can say a common line you heard from Republicans, Kevin McCarthy would say this, is "Democrats want the issue. They don't want a solution. They want the issue of immigration because they can use it against us, and because yada yada, Great Replacement Theory." Side note, that was probably the most memorable thing I saw in Iowa was Vivek Ramaswamy was late to an event and Steve King, who had endorsed him, just vamped by talking about the Great Replacement Theory for eight minutes. But that's how they talk about this.

And they really are, I think, running down the clock. The expectation from them is in a year and four days, Donald Trump is going to be president again. Why should we agree to anything until Donald Trump is president? Why would you take a deal with Joe Biden that you can throw out and say, all right, no deal whatsoever.

You saw Stephen Miller, who expects to be back in a Trump administration, saying deportations begin at noon on inauguration day. So this is mitigating against any deal is the sense that Republicans have that we can make, this is a [00:03:00] loser for Biden, every day that there's footage of people in New York, migrants living in hotels, we can talk about it.

It came up a lot in the trail. Immigration was the top issue in the exit poll, but also every candidate was saying, look at these reports of migrants living in schools in New York. The issue is great for them. And one, they don't want any compromises that Biden would offer in terms of a path to citizenship. Every Republican in this race, even Nikki Haley, who we just started talking about trying to appeal to Democrats, their position is deport everybody who's here illegally. So if their starting position is deport everybody, and they think they're going to win the election, the cost to them is 11 plus months of people crossing the border and getting asylum, who they can then deport.

Is that ideal? No, but it seems like it mostly is making life hell for Eric Adams and for Brandon Johnson and for Karen Bates. 

If you are in a cynical mindset, which I usually am, that's the incentives. What would be good for Republicans if there's a deal on immigration and border crossings [00:04:00] decrease, asylum seekers decrease, and Biden says, look, I fixed a problem. That's not good for them. And that's how I see this issue. I do see it as driven through the presidential campaign. But they're pretty clear on it. Just if the worst things are for Biden, no matter what the human cost is, the better they are for us. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: And I imagine when you're dealing with the Republican electorate, it's people who are not as engaged in this as maybe you would if you were in a Democratic primary, but is Biden's support -- like a complete, unmitigated support for Israel and what people are seeing in Gaza is that, are people talking about that in the Republican primary at all? Are you hearing stuff from like non-Republicans as you go around reporting?

DAVE WEIGEL: No, it didn't really. The most that came up with Republicans is the Trump argument, which is if he was still president, we Israel would be fine, never would have been attacked. And it just folds into -- they don't even praise Biden for doing things that they [00:05:00] agree with. They say, yeah, but things are worse than they would have been if he wasn't there.

And he does get no -- I'm not saying he should get credit from Democrats, I'm saying he doesn't, he doesn't get any. I think he gets the DMFI, APAC, etc. Democrats who have worked to beat people they disagree with. They like his policy. They're not running ads against him. But in all the polling, younger voters don't like the way that Biden's handling this.

I've seen -- not in Iowa -- I've seen Genocide Joe tags, posters, in bigger cities. I think it has become a problem, not in Iowa, but in polling of Michigan, it's clearly a problem. Voters under 35. And this is, if you went to college, you didn't go to college, you're white, you're black, whatever, this is very well known phenomenon.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: I think it's very much an age, people under the age 40 or 35 is across the board, it seems to me. There's just a much more sensitivity to it. 

DAVE WEIGEL: You've only known Israel as Benjamin Netanyahu's Israel. You've only known it as a country that is perfectly safe -- I [00:06:00] should say, there are attacks -- but a country that is able to defend most attacks and brutally, effectively counterattack, destroy anyone who has attacked it as it's done in Palestine right now. It is not, if you're a boomer, you remember Golda Meir, you remember the country almost being destroyed. That's not how young people view Israel, not to get into a whole tangent. I have not seen a place where that would play out for Biden.

Now, in New Hampshire there are Palestinian Americans who live here, Lebanese Americans who live in the state., There is some opposition, but it's really only in Minnesota, Georgia and Michigan where this is significant. And when you ask Democrats about it -- I asked the governor of Minnesota about that a few weeks ago -- they just think, yes we'll get to a point where Trump is the alternative. And if young people see the Trump-Biden choice, at best they will vote for Biden reluctantly. At worst, they're going to stay home or vote for Cornel West. And they're just not really processing, okay, we need to change direction because we're going to lose votes on this. [00:07:00] Not so far what I've seen.

Bidenomics Continue To Worsen For Young Adults - The Ring of Fire - Air Date 1-21-24

MIKE PAPANTONIO - HOST, THE RING OF FIRE: The Biden administration keeps telling us that the economy is humming along just fine, but for young Americans, things are really getting worse. Huge percentages of young voters being forced to move back in with their parents because they can't afford rent or mortgages, even though they're working two jobs to make ends meet.

That's the state of affairs moving into The 2024 election. How does it affect things?

FARRON COUSINS - HOST, THE RING OF FIRE: It's horrible for Biden. And here's the thing. Look, I'm on social media all the time and that's, yeah, you got a much younger crowd, especially over on Twitter. A lot of them talk about how sick and tired they are of hearing this administration tell them that the economy is doing great. Because when you look on paper, you look at the numbers, yeah, the economy is doing great. We've got record low unemployment, stock market going through the roof, inflation is coming down. Price is still way up and a lot of that is price gouging. 

But get down on the micro level, not the macro level. Get down to the micro level, and that is where you start to [00:08:00] see how bad the divide is in this country. Because if you're somebody who's over 40 -- 

MIKE PAPANTONIO - HOST, THE RING OF FIRE: You're talking about age, age divide, right? 

FARRON COUSINS - HOST, THE RING OF FIRE: Yeah. if you're over 40, you're feeling the recovery, you're doing pretty good. You're under 40? It's hell for these people right now.

MIKE PAPANTONIO - HOST, THE RING OF FIRE: Here are the numbers, Farron. Almost 30 percent of Gen Zers, reported they can't afford rent and they had to move back with their family. It's one out of three adults between 18 and 34 today are living with their parents. And that's not that they just don't want to work. Some of them are working two jobs. And, part of it is we've talked about before is you've got Wall Street coming in buying up houses, buying up entire neighborhoods so they can jack the rents up.

But this, I don't see this getting any better and I don't know how, I don't know how you can, in one side of your mouth saying, this is really good, we got a great economy. You have more movement right now with minorities and younger voters moving away from [00:09:00] Democrats. They're moving away. You've got, I think every week you've got some high profile minority leader coming out and saying, you know, we've all invested in the Democratic party; what's it done for us? And so this is another one of those stories, isn't it? 

And I think, yeah, it has to be addressed. You can't move into the election, say, and put your head in the sand and say everything's okay. Bernie Sanders, I think, really handled it well. 

FARRON COUSINS - HOST, THE RING OF FIRE: Yeah, Bernie came out recently and essentially he said, Biden has to change course. It was that simple. He said he has to change the course. And of course, Bernie's big thing is always these economic inequality issues. And this is where Biden has plenty of leeway to do something. He could go out there, hold a press conference in 10 minutes from now and say, look, we got a problem in the country where we've got Wall Street bankers moving into small town America, buying up all your homes and then charging you double what the rent should be, triple what the rent should be. I want to make that illegal.

Is Biden Trying to Lose - The Humanist Report - Air Date 1-18-24

MIKE FIGUEREDO - HOST, THE HUMANIST REPORT: [00:10:00] When it comes to young people, the administration seemingly doesn't even have a strategy in place to address their concerns. And I say this because in an interview with Joy Reid on MSNBC, Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker, who is an advisor to Biden's 2024 campaign, he really did not have a strong answer when he was asked about Biden's weakness with young voters.

So let's listen to what he has to say, and then there's a follow up that's even worse. But first, here he is. 

JOY REID: I think that there is some significant anecdotal evidence that President Biden does have some issues in terms of parts of the younger electorate that are not in a good place with him on things like Gaza, on the bombing of Yemen. There were just protests outside of the White House this past week. There is some energy that's building, particularly among Arab American voters, Muslim American voters who say they will not vote for him because of his stance on Gaza. Is that, is it bedwetting? Or is the White House maybe [00:11:00] not paying enough attention to real passionate objections to its policies by younger voters that they need to turn out? And I mean younger voters, including younger African American voters. 

GOVERNOR JB PRITZKER: Well, when you're a responsible leader, when you're in office, you have to make tough decisions, no doubt about it. And every time you have to make a tough decision, someone doesn't like it. The truth is that we've seen Joe Biden underestimated all along in his entire career and especially in 2020. In 2024, I think what we're going to see is a real focus on the things that really matter to people's individual lives, to their families, to their communities. And that's the economy. It means their freedoms. We talked about choice. In a lot of places in the country, people are deeply concerned about gun violence. And we know that Joe Biden has stood up for a ban on assault weapons, and he has stood up for violence prevention programs in a way that Republicans just want to let [00:12:00] go and frankly, let people shoot each other wherever they may be with as many guns as they may want to have.

So I do think that a focus on the issues that really matter to working families across the United States is gonna matter for Joe Biden in a positive way. Now, they're always detractors, right? There are people that even that vote for Donald Trump, who don't like things about Donald Trump. But in the end, when people are going to see the two visions for the future of America, that young people and people of color across the United States, not to mention the vast majority of American workers know that it's Joe Biden that's fighting for them, and Joe Biden that'll do better for them. Donald Trump will be a disaster for those groups. 

MIKE FIGUEREDO - HOST, THE HUMANIST REPORT: Incredibly naive. Again, the young people Joe Biden needs aren't voting for Donald Trump. They don't support Trump. The risk is them just not voting altogether. And tepidly signaling support for gun safety laws and abortion [00:13:00] rights is not going to sufficiently mobilize young people.

Biden needs a concrete action plan that he talks about nonstop to mobilize these voters. And even if he has that, it still might not work because they can't put aside the fact that he's supporting a genocide. 

But Joy Reid, to her credit, who's been excellent lately, she asked a follow up question since she seemingly wasn't convinced. And it gets so much worse. 

JOY REID: You don't think that the White House needs to adjust or the Biden reelection campaign needs to adjust in any way its messaging on issues of war and peace? Because these are issues -- I mean, we are on MLK Day and we do know that one of the things that Dr. King did later in his life was to oppose the Vietnam War. And this was an important issue to him, as important in the end of his life as fighting for living wages and for racial justice. You know, issues of war and peace are passion issues. They're voting issues. And for a lot of younger Americans, not even just younger Americans, but a [00:14:00] lot of progressives and a lot of just people who have a humanist view of the world, the Gaza issue is a voting issue. So you're saying that people will ignore that? You don't think that the White House needs to in any way adjust its messaging on that? 

GOVERNOR JB PRITZKER: Well, look, here's what the White House has been doing. They're fighting what has become a mortal enemy of the United States, and that's Vladimir Putin. They're standing up for democracy in Ukraine, they're fighting against terrorism in the Middle East. Those are the things that I think the messages that the Biden administration needs to make sure they're getting out to people. 

But look, nobody likes war. We'd like to have all of this ratcheted down and go away. And I know the president wants that, right? But it, you have to have a careful foreign policy expert in the White House who understands how to manage all that in a very difficult environment.

You think Donald Trump has shown that he can do that? Do you think Donald Trump would handle this better than Joe Biden? The answer clearly is [00:15:00] no.

MIKE FIGUEREDO - HOST, THE HUMANIST REPORT: [Groans] We're doomed. We are doomed. She asks him about Gaza and he pivots to Putin and ends with, well, at least Biden's not as bad as Trump. I promise you, that is not going to resonate with young people who want him to stop doing a genocide. But they don't get it. 

But what that answer does tell me is that the Biden administration doesn't actually have a plan to meaningfully address young voters' concerns. 

So the question is, how exactly does Joe Biden plan to win back the White House without young voters? There's two responses to this.

First, he either assumes that they'll acquiesce in November, and that's a possibility. But it's a big if. And it was a gamble that Hillary Clinton also made in 2016 that didn't pay off. So I don't know that I'd want to make that gamble if I were Joe Biden with how much is at stake. 

But second, he maybe thinks that he doesn't need young voters. He can just use negative partisanship against [00:16:00] Trump again to win over voters, in particular voters that Trump is losing: moderate voters, independents. And that seems to be his game plan, right? So after Trump won the Iowa caucus in a landslide, here's what Joe Biden tweeted: "Looks like Donald Trump just won Iowa. He's the clear frontrunner on the other side at this point. But here's the thing. This election was always going to be you and me versus extreme MAGA Republicans. It was true yesterday, and it'll be true tomorrow." 

So if you'll notice, he's making a really interesting distinction here. It's us versus extreme MAGA Republicans, meaning not all Republicans are bad, just the most sycophantic Trump supporters. Now, I think that this is naive to an extent, because the Republican Party is the party of Donald Trump, so to pretend as if there's this massive swath of Republicans who are just like itching to vote against Trump, I think they're probably gonna suck it up and vote for Trump.

So, the intent behind this, though, is to [00:17:00] signal to moderate Republicans that they are welcome in Joe Biden's coalition. And this is what Joe Scarborough hinted at as well. 

JOE SCARBOROUGH: We're running, he says, against extreme MAGA Republicans. Mika, it's not an us versus them. Joe Biden's not saying all Republicans are bad guys, all Republicans hate the rule of law, all Republicans still are going to Chinese religious cult websites to get their information. No, he's talking about extreme MAGA Republicans. It makes a difference, because there are a lot of Republicans out there that again, this is about conversion. There are a lot of independents out there that Joe Biden's going to get voting for it.

MIKE FIGUEREDO - HOST, THE HUMANIST REPORT: I think that Joe Scarborough is correct to assume that converting moderates and independents is Joe Biden's strategy here. And in some ways, it could pay off, right? I think that his position on abortion is going to help him with independents, for example, and maybe some moderate Republicans, although not much.

But with that being said, it's wishful thinking to [00:18:00] believe that you're going to make up enough ground with moderates and independents. to account for the hemorrhaging of young support. I'm not saying that you forego the strategy of courting moderates altogether, but it's not a binary choice, and it's not something that should be your main strategy. It should be supplemental to your existing strategy of mobilizing young people and your core base, people of color. 

Maddow on Trump-Biden rematch 'Not very much democracy in election about saving democracy' - MSNBC - Air Date 1-24-24

RACHEL MADDOW - HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW: On the Republican campaign schedule this year, you guys, there were supposed to be two debates after Iowa and before the New Hampshire primary. Remember that? We all blocked it out on our calendars. We all planned to be here. This was one of the things that was going to happen. It was awkward because they were only a few days apart, but there's only eight days between Iowa and New Hampshire. They were going to squeeze in two debates between Iowa And New Hampshire, two more chances for the candidates to make final appeals to New Hampshire voters before the polls opened in New Hampshire today. Did those happen? No. No, they did not. 

Those debates did not happen because Donald Trump is refusing to [00:19:00] debate this year. Nikki Haley said it would be pointless to hold another debate without Trump when, in her words, Ron DeSantis was closer to zero than he was to her. So why would she bother talking to him? This is sort of a fair point, but that does mean there were no New Hampshire debates at all. 

Now, my in-laws live in New Hampshire. I have lots of family and lots of acquaintances in New Hampshire. I spend lots of time in New Hampshire. I did not expect to hear this, but I did anecdotally hear a lot of people say that they were mad there were no New Hampshire debates. The Republican primary debates, none of them included the front runner, none of them included Trump. But they were in Wisconsin and Florida and California and none of them were in New Hampshire because they were supposedly going to be these two dedicated New Hampshire debates, both of them off. And so people in New Hampshire, at least anecdotally in my experience, were mad about that. 

But more broadly, that is becoming kind of a theme this year, more so than at any time since the Civil War. This is the election in which we're deciding whether or not to keep a democracy. 

But there's [00:20:00] not very much democracy in this contest thus far, right? With an incumbent president, which is true any time you have an incumbent president, there's no real primary on the Democratic side. It may be the shortest primary ever on the Republican side, which is what we've been talking to Steve Kornacki about all night. Supporters of the frontrunner are emphatically demanding that everybody has to clear the field so we can stop with all this darn voting. The voting is so offensive. We've got no debates for the Democratic nominee. We've got no debates for the likely Republican nominee. Very possibly, we've got no general election debates at all. Because neither Trump nor Biden has debated thus far. Neither of them seems to want to. And so why would they? 

We are now in a fight to save democracy in this country, but we are trying to fight for it without using democracy to fight for it, which feels historically unprecedented, but if there's one thing we've learned, nothing is. 

2024 Election Is About The Fight For Democracy - The NPR Politics Podcast - Air Date 1-25-24

ASHLEY LOPEZ - REPORTER, NPR: It's been three years since the January 6th attack at the Capitol. The insurrection [00:21:00] has changed the way America talks about democracy.

President Biden gave a speech today near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Of course, that's a famous revolutionary war site, so there's a significance in picking that as a location for a campaign event. Biden framed the 2024 election as an inflection point where Americans have to decide whether or not democracy and democratic values are what the country believes in.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Today. I make this sacred pledge to you, the defense protection and preservation of American democracy will remain as it has been the central cause of my presidency. 

ASHLEY LOPEZ - REPORTER, NPR: Sue, Biden's campaign in 2020 said they were fighting, " a battle for the soul of the nation," and now you can hear him using the events of January 6th specifically as a stark example of this is what the country faces if Trump is reelected.

SUSAN DAVIS - CORRESPONDENT, NPR: There's clearly connective tissue here between Joe Biden's reason for running the first time in 2020, [00:22:00] which he said was in response to Trump's reaction to the racist uprising in Charlottesville, healing a soul of a nation, protecting and defending American norms. And again, in 2024, he said today that it would be the central cause of his presidency.

What I find Interesting about this speech is it's what I would call a better angel speech. It's just speaking to the ideals and values of American citizens. It wasn't a policy speech. He was not running on an agenda. There was nothing affirmative that he would do as president. It was basically just making the case for keeping things the way they are, for preserving the powers of the presidency as they exist today.

In contrast to his likely opponent, who is very Openly running on remaking the idea of how far executive power should go, having a much more emboldened executive, and frankly, as Joe Biden said today, Donald Trump has also been very clear that he would use the power of his office to exact revenge on his political enemies.[00:23:00] 

CLAUDIA GRISALES - REPORTER, NPR: I think one big challenge that Biden is facing when we look at the American electorate is that he's losing the audience, if you will, in terms of what role Trump is played or has played in the January 6th attack. We see that in a recent poll by the Washington Post and the University of Maryland, that within a three year span, we've seen the percentage of Americans who see that Trump played a role in the siege, that number has declined.

This poll found that that number was at about 53%, that's down from 60% in 2021. So, This is clearly on the mind of the president and the Biden/Harris campaign, because they're trying to fight that narrative back. The House Select January 6th Committee is no longer out there telling their part of the story in terms of what they found in their bipartisan investigation, and Republicans have been able to fill in that gap with more [00:24:00] disinformation.

SUSAN DAVIS - CORRESPONDENT, NPR: I do think that, to me, might speak to how much of Biden's speech today was backward looking, recounting the events of January 6th and recounting all the court challenges to the election and the legitimacy of it. Because in some ways, either many Americans have forgotten or don't view it the same way. They don't blame Trump to the same extent that the president does. And it was almost like a history lesson, "let me remind you of what my opponent did," and yes, there was an element of it that was about this year in this election, but I was surprised at the balance of how much of it was backward looking versus the question put to the country and the coming 11 months.

ASHLEY LOPEZ - REPORTER, NPR: Yeah, and you can also see Trump making the same argument, right? As I was watching Biden's speech, my inbox was getting a lot of Trump, " the Democrats are a threat to democracy." He's also making the case that his campaign is about protecting democracy from the threat they see from Biden and Democrats, mostly on issues of free speech and stuff like that.

SUSAN DAVIS - CORRESPONDENT, NPR: That is true. From a conservative standpoint, you could argue that they don't like the [00:25:00] direction that liberals and Democrats are taking the country in, but I also think when we talk about this, we have to make clear that a lot of Republicans views are predicated on false information. Sure, you might think democracy is at stake if you think that Joe Biden stole an election. 

If you think the sitting president is illegitimately elected, you would say, yeah, of course, democracy is at stake in 2024. That same Washington Post poll that Claudia referenced also indicated that a third of self identified Republicans believe that January 6th was orchestrated by the FBI, it's based on a conspiracy theory. That's not an insignificant portion of Republican voters. 

So yes. Republican voters and Donald Trump continues to falsely allege that the election was stolen, he continues to stoke all of these conspiratorial ideas. So I think that we have to keep that in context when we talk about, voters seeing democracy on the ballot. A lot of voters see democracy on the ballot based off of false information.

Iowa, New Hampshire, and No Fair Remembering 2012 - The Professional Left Podcast - Air Date 1-24-24

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: One is, it [00:26:00] is like every other survey that the Democrats send out for fundraising purposes, to make it seem as though, and there are people for whom this works, " they want to hear what I think, so I'll fill out this survey and send it in with a check, and whether they do anything with it or not is immaterial."

First thing they want is your email address, of course, and your cell phone number. And then the questions are, section one, we want to understand the beliefs of voters like you. Which of the below best describes you? Very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative, very conservative, I don't know, or other? 

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: Independent. 

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: Independent isn't in there. I'm an independent. 

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: Isn't that weird? Yeah. 

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: Section 2, on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being not involved and 5 being very involved, how much do you plan to be involved in elections in 2024?[00:27:00] 

Section 3, in what ways do you plan to help Democrats win their races? And there are signing petitions, hosting an event Volunteering to call voters or text message voters, knocking on doors, helping to register voters, none of the above, I'm not sure. Okay. 

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: There's no physically threatening Republican voters or changing vote signs?

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: Physically threatening Republican voters is not on here, because we don't work that way. That's a different survey. 

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: Oh, oh, okay, okay. 

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: Now, here is the workshopped and focus grouped question that made me think, okay, this is podcastable. Section four. What are some of the key issues keeping you up at night? Please choose three. 

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: Will there be a season six of Fargo? Why isn't Margot Robbie nominated for a goddamn Academy Award? 

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: That goes under other. 

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: It keeps me awake at night, Joe Biden. Fix this shit, fix it now! 

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: Why was the director of [00:28:00] Barbie denied a nomination. 

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: It gets the best picture nomination.

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: She got best picture, but okay. 

So, please choose three. I don't know how you could choose three of these, but: GOP attacks on abortion access, our nation's ongoing gun violence epidemic, the climate crisis, book bans and attacks on our public school teachers, Republicans trying to reverse our historic progress on LGBTQ plus rights, the global rise of far right ideologies, and other.

And I just thought, the keeping you up at night thing is a really critical choice, and it proves to me that someone In the Biden world is actually tapping into the anger and anxiety of Democratic voters. And you don't see it on the media. We do not get a voice on MSNBC. They are too busy desperately looking for Nikki Haley [00:29:00] voters to show that independents and moderates want a different thing other than the message that Donald Trump is sending.

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: Well, there's that anecdote from, I think, New Hampshire or Iowa, where a reporter was looking for some local color and ended up talking to a New York Times editor. Because there's not enough bodies to go around. It's become New York Times pitch bot. We wanted to know what America's foreign policy should be vis a vis Gaza, so we talked to six undecided voters in a diner in New Hampshire. Nikki Haley leaning voters in a car park and it's just fucking ridiculous. And this part of the survey is the stick. This is what's coming if you don't fix this shit. 

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: That's the stick, and section five is the carrot, which is what is giving you hope during this time in America. And you can just hear the Leonard Bernstein... the strings coming up, and the sunrise and the so forth. 

But it's please rank in order of importance, one equals most important, and it's all of the [00:30:00] accomplishments of the Biden administration listed. The Inflation Reduction Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Historic action to address gun violence epidemics through the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the Violence Against Women Act, capping the price of insulin, the last one is Justice Katonji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman and public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.

Which does give me hope, I'm not dissing any of that. 

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: No, no, that's all good stuff. 

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: But this is a marketing effort, is what I'm saying. And it shows me that despite the desperate desire of the media to pretend we don't exist, to pretend that democratic anger has no place in this race.

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: That's right. 

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: It does. And it's being heard by people that want to elect Joe Biden. 

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: It also flies in the face of the constant dumbing down of messaging, which is, voters can only think about one thing. It's gotta be about abortion [00:31:00] or democracy or the economy. Can't be like two things or three things or nine things, because, human beings in their house, at home here, we can only think of one thing at once. I must get coffee, therefore, the cat starved because I can't possibly feed the cats and get coffee at the same time. My little brain just doesn't work that way. No, people can be distressed about multiple things. And you can be really pissed at Joe Biden about some things and really look at him and go, "on the other hand, all these other things are going very well, and the alternative is so horrifying, I'm willing to give him my vote, because, on balance, there's no contest between these two." As opposed to, "you gotta pick democracy or abortion or economy." 

And that might work for Republican voters. 

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: The person who has proved that you can be subtle about these issues is Kamala Harris. Because her messaging all week on the anniversary of Roe has been, "you can have strong religious beliefs about abortion. You can believe that you would never get one. Your [00:32:00] religious beliefs are your religious beliefs. Do you want the government deciding what you do with your body?" 

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: And the fact that she's out this week is somebody at the White House is aware that she needs more FaceTime on real specific issues to boost her ratings. 

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: And she's the one to talk about this issue.

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: But all of this bullshit. We've heard over the last year about nobody likes Kamala Harris. She's the most ineffective vice president. We did a whole show about, who was the most effective vice president, what are you talking about? Vice president's job is to...

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: Dan Quayle?

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: Their job is to be the wallpaper in the White House. Their job is to fit into the background and do what the president asks them to do, that's their goddamn job. So why are you picking on this. Oh, that's right. 

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: We all know why they're picking on this. 

DRIFTGLASS - C0-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: That's why you're picking on her because your friends, your racist friends, can't say Black woman, but they can't say she's not a very good vice president. Well, she's a fine vice president. I'm very happy she's vice president and putting her in front of a microphone on issues that she's very good at talking about it is a tremendous asset to the biden administration. 

BLUE GAL - CO-HOST, THE PROFESSIONAL LEFT PODCAST: It's a phenomenal asset. And with the anniversary, timing it with the [00:33:00] anniversary makes the news media have a slot for it. They love anniversaries. And there was an article in the New Yorker, which started with all of the turmoil, and this goes back to our initial theme of the important drinking hasn't started yet. The entire year that we're going to have of election turmoil is going to end on election night with everyone focused on the Philadelphia suburbs and Maricopa County, Arizona. And remember that. 

And that doesn't mean don't vote. That means get out and vote. And especially in the House races, especially in your local races, the headliners, Trump versus Biden, is really just that. It's a headliner to get all of these other races filled with the right people.

Biden Talks Reproductive Rights - The NPR Politics Podcast - Air Date 1-24-24

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN - REPORTER, NPR: President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris made their first joint campaign appearance yesterday in Virginia for a reproductive rights rally. They were joined by [00:34:00] Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, who told the crowd that abortion is not just a women's issue, it's everyone's issue. Meanwhile, First Lady Jill Biden recounted the story of a friend in high school who became pregnant, and Jill Biden warned the crowd of how the nation was returning to a time of shame, secrecy, silence, danger, and even death. 

Deepa, abortion is clearly a really, really big topic, it has been in the last couple of national elections, so let's talk about this. Vice President Harris spoke before the president, and this was her second event this week. where she spoke directly about reproductive rights. And then President Joe Biden also spoke on abortion, which is not a topic he talks on a whole lot, so what was their messaging like overall, and do the two differ in how they talk about it? 

DEEPA SHIVARAM - REPORTER, NPR: I mean, this was a big show of force event. You had not only the president and the vice president there, but the first lady, Jill Biden, the second gentleman, Doug Emhoff, all four principals being at one campaign rally. Not something that really happens every day. So this was definitely a big show of force. And of course, a little bit of counter [00:35:00] programming to the New Hampshire primary going on, and all the coverage of Trump and Nikki Haley, and things like that.

And what they really wanted to do was rile this crowd up and make sure that voters and Democratic voters really know that, yes this reversal of Roe happened in 2022 and they are not taking their foot off the gas. And what you heard in common, I will say, that was a major point that both Vice President Harris and President Biden said yesterday was they named Donald Trump and they laid the blame for the reversal of Roe on Trump. 

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And let there be no mistake, the person most responsible for taking away this freedom in America is Donald Trump.

DEEPA SHIVARAM - REPORTER, NPR: And you're right, Danielle, to point out that. This is not a topic that we hear Joe Biden talk about all that often, he has an interesting history with his own personal beliefs on abortion. He is, of course, a practicing Catholic and has said in the past that, he's not really big on abortion, but he is really supportive of Roe. So what you heard a little bit differently yesterday is Biden emphasizing that this is something that he strongly believes is cruel. 

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The cruelty is astounding [00:36:00] and it's a direct affront to a woman's dignity, to be told by extreme politicians and judges to wait to get sicker and sicker before anything can happen, even to the point where you heard your life had been determined to be in danger.

DEEPA SHIVARAM - REPORTER, NPR: Just honing in on that message of this is about health care, something that Kamala Harris said was that this is a health care crisis, and so you're hearing both of them in lockstep talking about Donald Trump on this issue and also talking about how this is a decision that the government should not be making.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN - REPORTER, NPR: It's also very clear Democrats are not being subtle about how much they intend to focus on abortion in campaigns up and down the ballot this November. I also thought it was notable that the Biden campaign put out an abortion related ad, but it focuses on this clip of Donald Trump bragging about the fact that he played a central role in overturning Roe v. Wade by appointing conservative justices and says, "and I'm proud to have done it." 

And when you hear that clip, you're like, oh, we are going to hear that clip thousands [00:37:00] of times before election day. If anything, that might be the singular case that the Biden campaign is going to make here, that Trump is the one that played a critical role in rolling back Roe v. Wade and reelecting Joe Biden will push the country closer to potentially codifying Roe v. Wade if Democrats continue to control the White House and Congress. 

DEEPA SHIVARAM - REPORTER, NPR: And that was something Biden ended his speech with yesterday. He was saying, they're not done yet. Like yes, Donald Trump is proud to have made the Roe reversal possible and also that a national abortion ban is on the table very much that momentum of yes, this happened as an in the past and like it is still actively happening. 

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN - REPORTER, NPR: And it is relatively rare for Joe Biden to do a whole event, a whole speech like this focusing on abortion and reproductive rights. And I know that some reproductive rights supporters, for example aren't super enthusiastic about him on the topic, therefore they might not even trust him.

It strikes me that his past on this, his Catholic faith which he cites in his stances on this, that this all could cut two ways. One is, yeah, [00:38:00] it might not enthuse some of the more enthusiastic abortion rights supporters, but on the other hand, is it possible that his history of, I guess you could say moderation, could appeal to people who are more in the middle. 

DEEPA SHIVARAM - REPORTER, NPR: I was wondering the same thing is that what is the role for Joe Biden here to speak out on this issue? Because look at his counterpart, right? Kamala Harris is the most effective messenger on this from the White House. We have a woman vice president. She's someone who not only, is a woman and can speak from her own Personal identity, but also was a prosecutor and has specifically gone into the law and she tells the story a little bit more often now, which I think is also interesting about how she decided to become a lawyer because of her own history of having a friend in high school. 

You mentioned that Jill Biden was talking about her friend in high school and that experience. Kamala Harris had a friend in high school who was being molested, and that was one of the reasons that she wanted to become a lawyer to focus on crimes against women and children. And she's been sharing that a lot more on the trail as well. 

You have that in the White House and she's there and she's up front and she's [00:39:00] traveling and carrying on that message, so I think there is this backseat role for Biden in a way where he has to come in and talk about this, but that question of who is he reaching I think is really interesting. 

I will say, I think, a lot of folks will point out that his record has never been to restrict the right to have choice. So, while people are maybe not super enthusiastic on his history in terms of the issue writ large, like he is someone who supports the right to choose, obviously. And so I think they're just happy to see him out and talking about it. 

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN - REPORTER, NPR: There's also no more gray area in politics on the issue of abortion. When Joe Biden first got into office many, many years ago, it was a much more complex debate, especially for Democrats. There was a lot of Democrats at the time when he was coming up through politics that were abortion opponents. And this has been one of those dividing issues where I don't believe there is a single what you would call pro life Democrat left in Congress, with the exception of maybe Henry Cuellar in Texas, but even he has support for abortion rights to some extent.

And there's very few or almost no [00:40:00] Republicans left who support abortion rights with the exception in the Senate of senators like Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins. So even if a voter who's passionate about this issue doesn't believe that Joe Biden shares their passion for the issue, there should be no doubt among voters of which party would vote to expand abortion rights and which party would not, because there's no middle anymore on that area in elected office.

A Better Way to Vote Deb Otis - Future Hindsight - Air Date 1-11-24

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: So, this year, 2024, we know that the election coverage will be dominated by the presidential race, and the Iowa caucuses are just around the corner now. How are you and the movement thinking about ranked choice voting this year in 2024, aside from, let's say, Oregon? Do you have a specific focus? 

DEB OTIS: Well, the presidential race is really making our case for us. Consider the discussions about possible third party or independent candidates entering the general election. We hear a lot about this No Labels Party, possibly groups like the Forward Party or other independent candidates who might want to run, and all of a sudden, people start throwing the spoiler word around. 

[00:41:00] Some folks pressure the candidates not to run, saying that you might split the vote and help the other side. Some people will pressure their friends and neighbors, "hey don't waste your vote," which is really misguided. Candidates who want to run want to have a platform, they want to have their issues out there, and voters should feel free to vote for the candidates they like best.

And now that's going to happen in Maine, for example, where they use ranked choice voting. People will be able to rank the presidential candidates, and so Maine's electoral college votes are going to be based on the ranked choice voting votes. In other states, especially swing states, voters are going to have to be strategists. Voters will go into the voting booth doing the math. "How can I vote my conscience and make my vote as impactful as possible without hurting my own side?" 

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: Oh, thanks for putting it this way. This makes it very clear. So I guess at the end of the year, we'll see whether Maine will make the case for the rest of the country to use ranked choice voting also for presidential elections.

DEB OTIS: By the end of the year, I think we [00:42:00] could double the number of states that use it. We've got at least two states that will be running ranked choice voting ballot measures in Fall of this year, possibly up to three more states, so potentially up to five. But definitely we'll see statewide ballot measures from Oregon and Nevada, and so they could join Maine and Alaska and double the number of states.

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: Oh, that's amazing. So what's your strategy to put Ranked Choice Voting on the ballot that people can vote on or introduce it in state houses and state legislators, let's say, where there is not an option to put it on a ballot? What's your strategy to make it become standard across the country? How do we pass it?

DEB OTIS: There are a couple of different paths to achieve this, and I will flag this is a reform. Changing the status quo can be hard, and so at times it can feel like you're fighting an uphill battle here, but it gives me hope to see the growth in this movement. 

Several years ago, it tended to be smaller groups trying to pass it by ballot measure. Now we have a [00:43:00] lot of support from elected officials. And so the state legislative victory is a viable path now. In 2023, there were twice as many pro ranked choice bills in state legislatures as in the prior year. This year in 2024, we're expecting that trend to continue, as elected officials start to see that this can actually make their job easier, this can improve their relationship with constituents, and this can allow them to get things done without being punished for, say, crossing the aisle or making a compromise, as long as they are following the will of the voters and maintain the voter support. 

Why Voting Still Matters The 2024 Election Survival Guide - Olurinatti - Air Date 12-31-23

NINA TURNER: I get the frustration that people are having because their, as you laid out, material needs are not being met by either party and I surmise that neither major party is answering to the needs of the people. So folks might say, Well, Senator Turner, you still a Democrat? Yes, I am. I am still a Democrat because I'm still fighting, you know, because we only have two major parties right now, and you [00:44:00] gotta be able to lea... it's tactical more than anything. I want people to understand that. Yes, to answer your question directly, while I went all around the block, voting is still a relevant tool, but notice how I said it is one of many tools. It is not the only tool. It will not come and save us immediately. There are other things that we conscious-minded people should be doing in and around and before elections, because election is the last, it's the last leg of the race. It's not the first leg. We gotta be out there agitating, we gotta agitate, aggravate, push for the things that we wanna see elected officials do. We have to organize, you know, Michael Render, a. k. a. Killer Mike, a dear friend of mine, he has a saying that I think fits for anybody that's in organizing, and it's 'plan, plot, organize, strategize, and mobilize'. That is what we must be doing at all times. Voting in and of [00:45:00] itself is not going to be the thing that gets us there. We gotta do the other things in and around it. 

And we have to be engaged as a community beyond just federal politics. Who's in the state houses and governor's mansions matter. Who's on the regional level or what we would call the county level of government matters. Who's on school boards matter. And who serves on the local levels of government matter. So when people say the off year election, as far as I'm concerned, there is no year that's off, because every single year, no matter where you live, there are either issues on the ballot or there's somebody on the ballot, who sits in the judiciary matters, too. 

IMANI GANDY: Every administration is going to be the adversary of the people, the oppositional force we have to try to move or fight through. So you vote for the outcome easiest for you to fight. And as someone on the left, I can fight the Democrats. But I, we, have absolutely no [00:46:00] ability to fight or push the Republicans. Republicans don't care if we oppose their agenda, or don't approve of what they're doing. Ah, ah, ah, ah, they do care, actually, because they love it when we oppose what they're doing.

DAVID DOEL: You cannot pressure, as someone who's an activist on the left, you cannot pressure somebody who is a Republican. So, you know, and that goes to all the potential energy wasted during the four years of Trump. Like, all the potential pressure that could have been on Hillary for other things were spent on hoping Trump doesn't steal the next election.

Like, it was just, the focus is completely off of anything material because you can't expect a Republican president and the party controlling Congress to do anything for your life. So it's all about, you know, trying to prevent just how bad what they're going to do is. Which you can argue in some ways is also when Democrats are in power, too, but it's still, it's to much different degrees.

And people also, I think, get caught up in this idea that, Oh, if I vote for this person then I can't complain. Which is, I don't know who thought this [00:47:00] idea up, but that's ridiculous. Like, just because you voted for say, uh, Kathy 'Hotchul' or Hochul, whatever it is, just cause you voted for her doesn't mean you now have to support everything she does.

No, you, you get to criticize, you get to push, you get to pressure in however way, whoever's in power, whoever you want, because, but the difference being with a Democrat in power, there is more of a potential there to actually have some impact because it is a Democratic politician and they have to worry about losing some votes from some people, so they have to speak to some of those issues, some of those groups that otherwise a Republican would not be caring about at all. 

FD SIGNIFIER: It's, so, the thing that I'm sure you're going to get in this video is that we are working against our own best interests by keeping them in power. And to me, that fundamentally misunderstands the nature of power. We are not keeping them in power, right? We are the only check on the power they actually [00:48:00] get from all these other institutions, systems, that we suffer under. So we don't keep them, like, they're going to be there regardless, or somebody worse is going to be there that we can't check at all. 

MIKE FIGUEREDO - HOST, THE HUMANIST REPORT: Although this election is probably a little bit different because I think this is going to come down to Trump versus Biden, probably, and if that's the case, I think that a lot of voters, particularly liberals and lefties, are going to see that this is more about democracy than anything else. Like, this is kind of make or break. Like, to me, I'm not going to vote for Joe Biden because I think that he is going to do anything about my student loan debt or expand healthcare at all. I'm voting for him because he's not Donald Trump. And I think that that really matters, even if I know that he's not going to like benefit me in any way, shape or form, politically speaking, and I know that I can't really push him left. I'm voting for him because he's not Trump. It's as simple as that.

FD SIGNIFIER: Yeah. So I feel like I have the best take on this. Nobody's going to be better than what I'm about to give you right here, right? Vote [00:49:00] like you wash your hands. The same energy that when you take a shit, or you play you outside and you've been doing something, right?, you wash your hands. You don't wash your hands cause you like to. You don't wash your hands to keep you from getting shot or keep you from getting cancer or anything like that. You wash your hands cause it's a basic minimal thing you can do to lower the risk of catching some bullshit. 

NINA TURNER: Yes. Yes. 

FD SIGNIFIER: And like the thing that I think people struggle with is they want, we've been taught voting is like this bigger, more profound thing. That we are who we vote for. We identify what the party we represent. We wear the colors. We fly the flags and shit. And like, I get it. I was there, like, 2008 FD had the hope shirt, and the [inaudible] on, was playing will.i.am, you know what I'm saying? I was in there and then 2012 FD [00:50:00] was like, Ah! It don't make that much difference. Especially, so like, if I didn't live in Georgia...

NINA TURNER: Yeah. 

FD SIGNIFIER: ...I might vote for Cornel West. I might vote for insert random [bleeped] here that's not, doesn't have a real chance, as a personal statement or as a branding strategy or some shit. I live in a low key swing state. So I'mma vote for, I'mma vote for Joe Biden. I'mma do it.

2024 Election Is About The Fight For Democracy Part 2 - The NPR Politics Podcast - Air Date 1-25-24

ASHLEY LOPEZ - REPORTER, NPR: Of course, an election year doesn't just mean a presidential race. All of the House of Representatives is up for election and 34 Senate seats are up as well. Let's focus on the Senate for a moment. Democrats face an uphill battle to maintain their narrow majority.

Sue, I want to focus on two states that you recently reported on and look closely at. That's Ohio and Montana. Can you tell me about those races? 

SUSAN DAVIS - CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Sure. I mean, these are probably two of the marquee Senate races for the 2024 election year, in that both [00:51:00] states have an incumbent Democrat running for reelection in a state where the Republican nominee, likely Donald Trump, is all but certain to win.

So what does that mean? That means that they're going to need a significant portion of voters in their respective states to split their tickets to vote for Donald Trump at the top and vote for a Democrat for Senate. And that is not only difficult to do, it is increasingly becoming one of the most difficult things to do in American politics because people don't split their tickets anymore.

Just one point to underscore that: in 2020, there was just one state, the State of Maine, in which the top of the ballot and the Senate race had different outcomes. Joe Biden won Maine and Republican Senator Susan Collins did. She is the only senator who has been able to pull that off in recent elections.

ASHLEY LOPEZ - REPORTER, NPR: Claudia, I feel like we can't discount West Virginia here where Joe Manchin, a reliable, if not sometimes temperamental Democrat, is retiring. Given the state's conservative tilt, do you think Democrats are just [00:52:00] writing off West Virginia as like a loss for them? 

CLAUDIA GRISALES - REPORTER, NPR: I think you can say in some ways they are, at least quietly, they may tell you they're writing off West Virginia. That was an interesting part of Sue's reporting this past month with Manchin resigning his place in that seat that really changes the calculations for Democrats in terms of their path forward and trying to reclaim a majority. And in the end, it really narrows those options for them. It also highlights another interesting trend that Sue, you've been tracking for several years, which is voters getting further entrenched in their own bubbles in terms of going red or blue and not splitting tickets anymore. And I think West Virginia is a classic example of that. We'll see that state really go red in the upcoming election without Manchin there. And so, it's interesting. Democrats are bullish, as the one Sue spoke to about perhaps reclaiming that majority, but the odds of that [00:53:00] happening are really, really tough.

SUSAN DAVIS - CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Look, I try not to go too deep on math, but the math here matters. You know, Senate Democrats have a 51-49 majority as we sit here today. And Joe Manchin retiring means that the best case scenario, if Democrats shoot the moon in 2024 and hold every incumbent, they're still looking at a 50-50 Senate. 

Now, you talk to really optimistic Democrats and say, Hey, we could put Texas in play. We could put Florida in play with Ted Cruz running for reelection, and Rick Scott. I'm not going to say that's not going to happen, but I'm going to say in January of 2024, it's not accurate to call those races toss ups. I think there's going to be a roller coaster of things that are going to happen this year. But right now, Democrats are entirely on defense. There is nowhere where they are looking realistically to expand the majority. And if anything, like these red state Democrats, Jon Tester in Montana, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, and then other just competitive states, Arizona, Pennsylvania, are going to be either highly competitive or uphill battles.

And the [00:54:00] caveat here, which you always have to talk about when we're talking about the Senate majority, is who are they going to run against? And the thing that I think Democrats feel the most confident about, but it's completely out of their control, is who Republican primary voters ultimately nominate to run against these Democrats. Because we have seen in 2022, 2020, 2018, the caliber of the Republican candidate will matter a lot to the outcome of these elections.

ASHLEY LOPEZ - REPORTER, NPR: Which I guess is a lesson you'd think Republicans probably learned from 2022, right? 

SUSAN DAVIS - CORRESPONDENT, NPR: You would think, but again, like, Trump has certainly overtaken the Republican Party. It is Trump's Republican Party. But you still have very key establishment players, like Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who's aligned with the outside super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, which is run by McConnell allies who are still very much players in these Senate races and who have a very different idea of who a good general election candidate is compared to often the candidate that ultimately [00:55:00] Donald Trump might endorse in some of these races. 

What I think is different in 2024, and another reason Republicans should feel a bit confident, is that, but obviously a lot of that's volatile. Who the establishment wants and who Republican primary voters pick has been one of the big stories of the past decade in politics. And so Republican primaries don't really start in earnest until March, so these races won't really start to take shape until the spring and summer. But if you are Mitch McConnell and the Republican senators sitting here today, you feel pretty good about 2024. And the only way you could really lose it is if Trump is the nominee and really loses big in the election and drags down tickets, or you put up candidates that just can't win among a broader electorate.

CLAUDIA GRISALES - REPORTER, NPR: Yeah, I think Democrats in the end are really going to need a Hail Mary moment, if you will. When you look at some of these contests, like a surprise win, you know, in a race such as Florida with Debbie Mucarsel-Powell going against Rick Scott, or Arizona, Ruben Gallego [00:56:00] is expected to be the Democratic nominee, we're still waiting to see what Kyrsten Sinema does, who was a Democrat, she's now an Independent, and that could really shake up that race if she decides to stay in it. And so we'll see which way that race goes as well. 

SUSAN DAVIS - CORRESPONDENT, NPR: I will say that I do think Democrats have a Hail Mary, and I think that a lot of them believe it's the issue of abortion. 

ASHLEY LOPEZ - REPORTER, NPR: Yeah. 

CLAUDIA GRISALES - REPORTER, NPR: Mmm hmm.

SUSAN DAVIS - CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Especially, as we've seen, it's been a very motivating issue for voters. It seems to continue to be something that animates voters.And people like Jon Tester and Sherrod Brown, I think that, if they win, if they can pull it off, it's because their states sided with them on the abortion question. It's clear that Democratic campaigns are going to make abortion access central to every single one of these races. And in places like Montana, you know, every place is unique, but I think Montana is a good example where it's, Yeah, you'd call it a red state, but it's not a red state in the way that like Alabama is. It's a bit more of a libertarian state, um, [00:57:00] individual liberty, individual freedom. And you hear that in the way Jon Tester's talking about this issue, he's like, Liberty matters to Montanans. Freedom matters to Montanans. And if they can make that a winning argument, that could be the Hail Mary. 

ASHLEY LOPEZ - REPORTER, NPR: Right. And Claudia, I mean, how likely do you think it is that one party could control everything after elections this year? Or do you think like divided government is more likely here?

CLAUDIA GRISALES - REPORTER, NPR: In terms of one party controlling everything, it's not an impossible outcome. It is possible, but it's hard to see, especially when we talk about the reporting that Sue and others have seen, especially with the electorate in terms of voters getting further entrenched into their bases of their parties. It's hard to see that we will not end up with a divided government once again. How divided, and what way, that remains to be seen. But it seems to be really reflective over the last few elections and perhaps what we see the coming year of the country, where it is and how closely divided it is. 

ASHLEY LOPEZ - REPORTER, NPR: [00:58:00] Always the wild card.

Final comments on how the game of election messaging works

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with The Majority Report looking at GOP cynicism on immigration and Biden's disregard of young voters regarding genocide in Gaza. Ring of Fire looked at the disconnect between the overall economy and the economics experienced by the youth. The Humanist Report discussed the weak talking points from a Biden surrogate in response to valid questions about the impact of the president's stance on Israel and Gaza. Rachel Maddow on MSNBC pointed out the very small amount of democracy actually happening this election year. The NPR Politics Podcast gave an analysis on how Biden is attempting to frame his campaign as a defender of democratic norms. The Professional Left Podcast discussed the marketing of left-wing anger and Biden accomplishments. The NPR Politics Podcast looked at Biden finally taking abortion rights head on. And Olurinatti compiled a series of arguments for why voting matters. 

That's what [00:59:00] everybody heard, but members also heard bonus clips from Future Hindsight discussing the benefits to democracy of ranked choice voting. And the NPR Politics Podcast got into the weeds looking at the upcoming election and the likelihood of continued divided government between the parties. 

To hear that and have all of our bonus contents delivered seamlessly to the new members only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information. 

Now to wrap up, I just have a couple of comments about how to interpret campaign speak, particularly in the media, like we heard today from JB Pritzker speaking with Joy Reid. To refresh, the conversation was about whether the Biden administration and reelection campaign should be thinking about changing course regarding Israel and Gaza because of how deeply unpopular their current [01:00:00] stance is among young voters. 

The first thing to understand is that JB Pritzker is a surrogate for Biden, which means that he is empowered to go and speak on behalf of the campaign. But the expectation is that surrogates will not deviate far from approved talking points and will not criticize the campaign they're supporting. So, Joy Reid was asking questions of Pritzker about whether he would advise Biden to change course on how fervently they've been supporting Israel. And he gave very evasive answers that redirected the discussion. What's important to understand is that that is outside the approved parameters of a surrogate to answer questions like that. And so, being evasive is basically the only option available and what literally any surrogate for any campaign would have likely done in that scenario.

Now, I understand that the point I'm making may sound like only a slight [01:01:00] difference, but I actually think it's an important distinction. We should think of Biden and his close circle of communication strategists, the ones actually empowered to change messaging of the Biden White House and campaign, as - for this analogy, we'll call them humans, full thinking, feeling logic-using humans. But we should think of the surrogates, like JB Pritzker as parrots who have simply been trained to talk by the humans. If you want to know what the approved talking points are on any given topic on any given day, then speaking with a surrogate parrot is fine. They'll just regurgitate the talking points. But if you want critical analysis of those talking points, the parrots aren't going to be able to help you. 

Now, at this point, I know this sounds like media criticism so far, but it isn't, and I'm actually trying to drill down into something deeper. As a viewer or [01:02:00] listener of that conversation, it is not illogical to see a Biden surrogate, ostensibly representing the Biden campaign, being evasive about Israel and conclude that it is the policy of the Biden campaign to be evasive about Israel. Right? But I'm pointing out an alternate reason for that evasiveness, which includes, first, understanding how circuits work and, second, understanding the fourth dimension of politics, which is time. It's pretty clear that when that interview was recorded, Biden's team hadn't figured out what to do or say about Israel yet. But it doesn't mean that they won't. And I very much hope that they do figure out a better stance than their current one. And if the humans in charge come up with some new talking points based on a pivot in their stance, for instance, you can be sure that the surrogates will be the first to hear about it and will be out in force parroting [01:03:00] whatever the new messages. 

So, what I'm saying is that we shouldn't despair, like the guy from The Humanist Report did on the show today, because a Biden surrogate couldn't give a good answer on Israel and evaded his way out of it with some other weak talking points about Biden being better than Trump. We have to simply understand what the game is that's being played and how it's played, then keep the pressure up, because it really does make a difference. 

So, here's a different example. I was reading a bunch of articles this week about what Biden needs to do to win the election. And two of them discussed his seeming aversion to talking very much about abortion. During his big campaign kickoff speech that was supposed to be like the opening salvo of his campaign, abortion wasn't even mentioned once. At least one of the articles titled "Biden is whiffing it on the most important issue for Democrats", this is from Slate magazine, you know, that was written this past week with the [01:04:00] anniversary of the overturning of Roe v. Wade in mind. And it mentioned that Kamala Harris was reportedly about to go on an abortion rights tour of the US but that Biden himself really hasn't put it as high enough of a priority. And then two days after that article came out - I'm not saying that the two are connected, but you know, the timing, and obviously the anniversary of the overturning of Roe is relevant to all of it - couple days after that article came out, Biden gave a major speech standing in front of a giant "Restore Roe" sign. The point is that pressure works. Politicians pivot and new messaging has always been developed along with new policy stances. 

Obviously that article from Slate was not the first criticism the administration had gotten or, you know, the Biden campaign had gotten, on needing to be more full-throated about their support of abortion rights. It was likely, you know, one of the [01:05:00] last pieces of criticism before they rolled out their big abortion rights sort of element of their campaign, right?, Joe Biden front and center. And maybe it's true that he's usually not very comfortable talking about that issue. He has a weird history, you know, Catholicism and, you know, discomfort talking about it, but it kind of sounds like he's coming around and that definitely happened in large part because of outside pressure. 

So, back to the surrogates, you know, wishing that they would be less mealy-mouthed in the media when they don't have any talking points is like being frustrated at a parrot when you ask them like, Look, I get it that you want a cracker, but what I'm asking is why do you and other parrots seem to like crackers so much when they're not even part of your natural diet? Do we even know the health effects of crackers on parrots? What sort of answer do you expect to get from that parrot? Right? However, making surrogates and, by [01:06:00] extension, the campaign look foolish on national television when they can't get their messaging straight is a great way to put the pressure on. People like Pritzker don't want to look foolish and feel like they're being hung out to dry while trying to prop up the campaign. I can certainly imagine someone like that calling up Biden or his communications team and demanding that they work up some better talking points and ideally a better policy stance on Israel so that they can all stop looking like fools every time that question comes up from journalists and it is sure to continue to come up. 

So does all that makes sense? You know, basically, don't despair about the inflexibility of a politician just because their surrogate answers difficult questions inflexibly. And understand that pressure really does work for forcing politicians to change not only their tune, but the tune that'll be parroted throughout the campaign surrogate expanded [01:07:00] universe. So, keep making demands for Biden to improve his policies, his stances, his messaging, and, as was made very clear by the last clip of the show today, don't lose sight of the bigger picture all at the same time. 

That is going to be a for today. As always keep the comments coming in. I would love to hear your thoughts or questions about this or anything else. You can leave us a voicemail or send us a text at 202-999-3991, or simply email me to [email protected]. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our Transcriptionist Trio, Ken, Brian, and Ben, for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who already support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships. You can join them by signing up today at [01:08:00] bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patrion page, or from right inside the Apple podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good and often funny bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content, no ads, and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. And that would be greatly appreciated. You'll find that link in the show notes, along with our link to join our Discord community, where you can also continue the discussion. 

So, coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.

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#1605 Our Prison System is a Demonstrable Failure (Transcript)

Air Date 1/23/2024

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award winning Best of the Left podcast in which we will look at the recent discovery of hundreds of bodies buried behind the jail in unmarked graves and how that has sparked a renewed discussion about the futility and counter productiveness of our system of incarceration and the context of our history that has brought us to this point. Sources today include the PBS NewsHour, Olurinatti on YouTube, Jacobin Radio, Al Jazeera English, and Knowing Better, with additional members only clips from Beyond Prisons and Millennials are Killing Capitalism.

Families in disbelief after hundreds of bodies found buried behind Mississippi jail - PBS NewsHour - Air Date 1-10-24

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: I understand, Ms. Wade, you contacted the Jackson Police Department after reporting that your son was missing several times, even after he had been buried without your knowledge. Give us a sense of what they told you over those many months and what those months were like for you, not knowing where your son was.

BETTERSTEN WADE: Well, it was devastating to me, because [00:01:00] I didn't know where he were. And then I was calling them. They didn't have no information to let me know, have they found any information? All the details that I gave them for leads, they never came back to me to say, well, that lead led to something that we can work with. And I just couldn't believe that he had disappeared off the face of Earth and nobody knows where he at.

And it was just horrible for me. And every day I wake up, I just want — I just look, look, look, just looking for him, just out in the streets looking for him. And, I mean, that's heartbreaking for a mother. And can't say hello, don't know how to get in touch with him. That is a horrible thing for a mother.

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: Mr. Crump, after it was discovered that Dexter had been killed, that he had been buried in this grave, his body was [00:02:00] exhumed in November. There was an autopsy conducted. He was given a proper burial.

But I also understand a wallet was found in his front pocket with his I.D., his home address, his insurance card. What's the explanation officials give for why no one was notified he had been killed and buried?

 

BENJAMIN CRUMP: There really is no explanation that they have offered. They claimed that they tried to reach out to Ms. Bettersten. And you should know that Ms. Bettersten is the named plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Jackson Police Department, because they killed her brother three years earlier. Now, she went through two criminal trials, had several press conferences.

So when they called her house, if they did call her house like they claim, they knew where she lived. They knew how to get in contact with her if they really wanted to notify her that her son Dexter had been hit by a police car. So it is very [00:03:00] suspicious that they would just bury him in a pauper's grave because they said they could not identify his next of kin.

Ms. Bettersten does not accept it. And because of her tenacity, it has exposed all of these loved ones being dropped in a hole in a bag behind a Mississippi jail.

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: Mr. Crump, the Jackson mayor did say there were mistakes. He also just said that Dexter Wade's death was a tragic accident. He said there was no malicious intent in failing to notify the family. We know the police department has new notification procedures right now. What recourse are you specifically seeking right now in these — for these families you represent?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: We're seeking to have the federal Department of Justice come in and do an investigation to make sure that each and every one of these citizens, disproportionately Black citizens, whose lives matter will be identified, their [00:04:00] families notified, and them given a proper funeral.

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: And I should say, Ms. Wade, I mentioned families because you are not alone here. There's been in the last few months the discovery at least two other men; 40-year-old Mario Moore and 39-year-old Jonathan Hankins were also killed and buried in that same cemetery and their families not notified for months.

From your perspective, Ms. Wade, what do you want to see happen now?

BETTERSTEN WADE: Well, first of all, I feel like that the city need to give me an acknowledgement to say that, hey, I'm sorry. I mean, just give me some kind of closure and explain to me what actually happened to my son on that freeway that night. How did it actually occur? You know, just what went down, the events that went down with it. And I want to see justice. I want to see justice done for this, because it's wrong. It's wrong to take [00:05:00] somebody's child and bury them in a field and take — and I didn't even get a last chance to say anything to my child, or I didn't even get a last chance to just say, babe, I love you, just to look down on them and say, babe, I love you. They haven't even came and called me and said, Ms. Wade, could you come down and we explain to you what happened? I mean, I haven't even got a word. And so how do that feel? That makes you feel like they are guilty. They are guilty of a crime, because they can't tell you what happened?

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: Ms. Wade, do I understand correctly that the mayor, no one from the police department has reached out to you to explain what happened to your son?

BETTERSTEN WADE: No, no one have reached out to me to say — to explain it, to explain what happened to my son.

But I did at least have city supervisors — the supervisors, the board of supervisors to say that they hated what happened to me. But I haven't had said anything — nobody from JPD, [00:06:00] Jackson Police Department, have came to me and acknowledged me.

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: Mr. Crump, the story gets even more disturbing with this discovery of 215 bodies in that cemetery. What do we know about those bodies?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: We know, based on the records from the coroner's office, that, since 2016, in the last eight years, we can identify 215 individuals that were buried behind that jail, and their families have not been notified.

Furthermore, Mr. Wade was number 672. That means there are 671 other people buried behind that jail marked with only a number.

The Most Infamous Jail in America - Olurinatti - Air Date 3-29-23 

OLAYEMI OLURIN - HOST, OLURINATTI: Everyone's heard about Rikers. Yet, very few people seem to be aware of the fact that it's a pre-trial detention center, which I do believe is something in and of itself worth [00:07:00] noting. Think about that. Rikers has been open since 1932. That's almost a century of torturing Black and Brown New Yorkers on a daily basis, in a city that at any given time has millions and millions of people.

Yet, it was viral news when I, but one gal, told people that it was a pre-trial detention center, which really speaks to one central truth: the devil works hard, but propaganda works so much harder. Because normally, awareness of an issue is a good thing, but they've turned Rikers' infamy against it. So people believe it's infamous because it's this super terrible place for super terrible people, and not a pre-trial detention center that looms as a threat over the heads of any poor New Yorker who could be accused of something as simple as stealing a bear, or stealing a backpack. 

Over 85 percent of the people incarcerated at Rikers have not been convicted of a crime. They're being held there because they don't have the money to purchase their freedom. And because people [00:08:00] can't purchase their freedom and fight their cases from the outside, they're often forced to take pleas and criminal convictions that they otherwise wouldn't have so that they can get out of the hellscape that is Rikers.

And I want you to think about that. When the next time you see an article where they're sensationalizing, Oh, this person has 64 criminal convictions, think about how it happens. That is usually a sign of somebody was homeless or mentally ill and they're being arrested for petty trivial things and the court is saying to them, You can plea to the charge now, plea to the charge at arraignment, or we can set bail on you and you'll go to Rikers. And that happens enough time and you end up with this long, long rap sheet that will be weaponized against you at a later date. 

But one of the more well known tragedies at Rikers, that in many ways launched a campaign to close it, was what happened to Kalief Browder. 

NEWS CLIP: Court records show Kalief had attempted suicide at least six times, spent 1,110 days behind bars, more than 800 of those in solitary confinement. His court date postponed more than 30 [00:09:00] times. He endured all this having never been given a trial, never convicted of a crime. Finally, in June of 2013, all charges against Khalif were dismissed. But his experience exposed a troubled criminal justice system and the brutality of life behind bars. 

OLAYEMI OLURIN - HOST, OLURINATTI: It's important to remember that what happened to Kalief Browder was not an anomaly. I think about Layleen Polanco, 27 year old trans woman, who died in Rikers on $500 bail. I think about 24 year old, autistic Izzy Johnson who died in Rikers on a dollar hold. I think about 25 year old Brandon Rodriguez who died at Rikers after he was left in a crowded intake pen for days, where he was beaten and then left in a locked shower stall, where he eventually hung himself in that shower stall. And they didn't even tell his mother. They had to find out in a Facebook post. I think about Stephan Kadu, whose mother spoke at a Rikers rally we held last year, [00:10:00] where she said this.

LASANDRA KADU: My name is Lysandre Kadu. Stephan Kadu, who lost his life on the boat, a.k.a. the barge, was my son. The boat is an extension of Rikers Island. No mother should go through what I've gone through and still going through. I got a call on September 22nd around 10 o'clock, another inmate called my daughter screaming that my son was dead. That's how I found out my child was dead. I haven't seen my son in two years because of the pandemic. I've seen Zoom visits. Last time I seen my son was September 28th. My son turned 24 September 11th. My son died September 22nd awaiting trial. Everyone there is awaiting trial. They're, like she said, they're not convicted of a crime. They're just waiting and they shouldn't have to die. We need to decarcerate now before someone else's, before someone else loses their lives. Another mother goes through what I'm [00:11:00] going through every day. It's five months that I'm waking up without my son, and it's the most hurtful thing that I have to go through. To find out that there was a 16th person yesterday, when I thought that I keep going and my son would be the last, 12th, which it doesn't make sense because there's 16 more, 4 more I mean, in May 16th. I'm going through this. I'm going through this. Every mother who has a son, again: every mother, every mother, every mother who has a son, who has a son in jail, in this jail system, should be outraged. Any human being should be outraged, let alone a mother that's not getting up and speaking. I'm speaking for every person in that building. Every mother, again, should be outraged on the system for how they treating people. Take action, do something, say something, speak up, do something.

OLAYEMI OLURIN - HOST, OLURINATTI: So, in 2019, the campaign to close Rikers emerged. [00:12:00] And advocates introduced the plan to shut it down by first reducing the jail's population to 3,300. Because as it stands, Rikers was built to hold a maximum of 3,000 people. Yet there are over 5,000 people being incarcerated at Rikers right now. Which is why people are being piled on top of one another, why people are being held and locked in shower stalls. 

Instead, what former Mayor de Blasio agreed to, was closing Rikers in exchange for four more jails in its place. Nonetheless, that's why bail reform was and is essential to decarcerating Rikers, so it can eventually be closed. 

And it's been successful. Nearly 200,000 people, who would have otherwise been unable to purchase their freedom, have been able to fight their cases from the outside. And a higher percentage of people showed up to their court dates after bail reform was enacted. The failure to appear rate in New York City fell from 15% in 2019 to 9% in 2021, after the enactment of bail [00:13:00] reform. Yet, bail reform has been under constant attack.

Behind the News: The State of the Carceral State w/ Wanda Bertram - Jacobin Radio - Air Date 3-20-23

DOUG HENWOOD - HOST, BEHIND THE NEWS: The US prison population, and jail population as well—correctional population more broadly, we've got so many categories of people whose lives are inhibited by the state—just give us a rundown, who is locked up and in what kinds of facilities? How many people? We usually hear two million, has it come down a bit? 

WANDA BERTRAM: It has come down a bit because of the pandemic, and when I say because of the pandemic, I want to be really clear that this was because of systemic slowdowns. Jury trials stopped in 2020 because you couldn't get people together in a room the same way. You had all that stuff, I'm not a cat with the lawyer that was on Zoom. Because of all these administrative hurdles, you had a giant slowdown in the criminal justice system that led downstream to a smaller prison and jail population. 

Now, we have put together the data in our report, Mass Incarceration, The Whole Pie, from a few different data sources. The criminal justice system in this country is fragmented into prisons, state and federal, local jails, [00:14:00] involuntary commitment facilities, psychiatric hospitals, youth detention centers, Indian country jails, US marshal Service facilities, yada, yada, yada, all these different ones. And so we have, in cobbling together, the number of people who are in these facilities, we don't have data showing exactly how many people are locked up today, March 15th, 2023, but we do know how many people are locked up more or less since the pandemic began and then also began to subside. And it's about 1. 9 million people. 

DOUG HENWOOD - HOST, BEHIND THE NEWS: So off slightly. Now what's the breakdown between prisons and jails? 

WANDA BERTRAM: You've got about half as many people in local jails as are in state prisons, and then another 200, 000 people in federal prisons. I think the important thing that many people don't understand is that most people who are locked up in this country are locked up in state prisons.

These are facilities whose populations are driven by laws that are made by people that you elect, people that might've even put literature at your door or sent a volunteer to your door before. Mass incarceration is very local. There's also, I think, an [00:15:00] underappreciated fact is that there's about 420, 000 people on any given day who are sitting behind bars in local jails, awaiting trial—they haven't been convicted yet. And of course we have all of this fear mongering right now about bail reform causing rising crime and so we should need to do away with bail reform, but the reality is that we're locking up hundreds of thousands of people in this country every single day because we don't want them to go free pre-trial. 

DOUG HENWOOD - HOST, BEHIND THE NEWS: Now the bail reform panic is just 100% nonsense, isn't it?

WANDA BERTRAM: Yes, it is. We did an analysis of 13 jurisdictions that both conducted bail reform or passed significant pretrial reform, and also studied the impacts of that reform on arrest rates, and failure to appear rates, and overall community crime rates, and what we found is that, with one exception, those jurisdictions saw basically no change in crime after that happened, or even they saw a decrease.

Now, the one exception was New York where the data that had come out by the time that we were able to analyze it was we [00:16:00] couldn't really tell what had happened. Some data showed an increase, and so we marked that one down as an increase at that point over time, the data has shown that actually only a very, very tiny, like a fraction of a percent, I think of people who are released pre-trial under the New York bail reform laws have gone on to commit another violent crime.

That law hasn't driven an increase in crime either. 

DOUG HENWOOD - HOST, BEHIND THE NEWS: So what's driving the panic? Just the usual, "we love cops" stuff? 

WANDA BERTRAM: Yeah. I think that what's driving the panic is an awareness that this is what lawmakers rely on, this is what lawmakers have always relied on to get re elected is to, say, oh, we've got crime, and the reason that crime is happening is because there are these certain people who are intrinsically bad people, and we can't have them on our streets in any way, shape or form. Even if these are people that we have only charged with crimes as opposed to actually convicting them of anything. And even if we have a presumption of innocence in the Constitution that implies that people probably shouldn't be locked up pretrial. 

It's on both sides of the aisle. Republicans are obviously driving this narrative [00:17:00] around crime as they drive the narrative around many, many things, but Democrats have pretty easily taken it up as well. Kathy Hochul in New York here was instrumental in pushing for rollbacks to bail reform and recently succeeded. 

DOUG HENWOOD - HOST, BEHIND THE NEWS: Okay, and just to debunk a myth or two here, we hear a lot about how private prisons are a major actor in all this and the provision of prison labor is also a driving force behind mass incarceration.

Either of these things true? 

WANDA BERTRAM: Well, no. What we do in this report is we provide a graphic showing the fraction of people who are locked up in prisons and jails nationwide who are in private facilities, it's about 7%. The vast majority of people who are locked up, are locked up in public facilities, but I do want to say this, regarding both the actually small private prison population and the, in effect, very small number of people, very, very small number of people in prison who are working for private companies, what's driving these narratives about private companies driving mass incarceration or controlling or being behind mass incarceration is, I think, a [00:18:00] frankly, a media that is happy to divert people from understanding how incarceration really works. 

Just to zoom out a little bit, there's tons and tons of companies that profit off of incarcerated people every single day without actually running the prisons. There are hundreds of thousands of people in state prisons today who are working jobs for little to no wages, they just happen to be working for the prisons themselves—they're working for the state. I think if we really wrapped our minds around the fact that the prison system today needs incarcerated people's free or cheap labor in order to run, that would prompt a major reckoning with the fact that we have this system in the first place, and that we're locking up so many people.

And that's why I think that the narrative that it's all Victoria's Secret enslaving people to make panties is so pervasive because it keeps people from reckoning with that deeper truth. 

DOUG HENWOOD - HOST, BEHIND THE NEWS: And then there's notions around, too, that it's mostly the war on drugs that's driving incarceration. Is that true?

WANDA BERTRAM: The war on drugs is, no, it's not driving mass incarceration. [00:19:00] 62% of people in prisons are there because of a violent offense that has nothing to do with drugs, although they may well have been charged with other drug offenses in the process of getting to prison. We need to understand that, this is a very substantial part of our prison system, but it's not the single driving factor behind mass incarceration. 

DOUG HENWOOD - HOST, BEHIND THE NEWS: It's more prevalent in the federal prisons than the state prisons, right? 

WANDA BERTRAM: It is. It is. And I do want to say, like drug policing and drug enforcement has led to some of the greatest injustices in our prison system today. For instance, you've got about 40,000 women who are locked up in state prisons today because of a drug offense. Most of those women are mothers. When they get out of prison, they're not going to be able to get public housing, even though virtually all of them probably qualify just based on their extremely low incomes alone. The average income of a woman in prison before she was incarcerated was like $14,000 a year. And so the war on drugs is absolutely destroying people's lives. 

It also brings people into the criminal justice system who are then kept there and sucked into the system because they can't pay a [00:20:00] fine or a fee. It was associated with their charge or their conviction because maybe they missed their court date, which is very easy to do, even if you don't intend to, because they happen to be put on probation. And then, they were put on an ankle monitor and then the ankle monitor, which I monitors are very hypersensitive to people, straying outside the borders of where they're supposed to be, it could have picked up a violation or two. Then they have black marks on their records. And so you can get caught up in the criminal justice system, and you can even go to prison for, these very low level offenses. And so I do want to say that the war on drugs is important, it's just not the single driver. 

DOUG HENWOOD - HOST, BEHIND THE NEWS: Another myth is that crime victims support long prison sentences. You've got evidence to the contrary, right? 

WANDA BERTRAM: That's right. The Alliance for Safety and Justice conducted a national survey of 1500 people who reported crime victimization within the last 10 years.

And we visualized some of that survey data in our report. And the two that stick out to me the most, first is that when people who were victims of crime were asked whether they preferred holding people who do harm accountable [00:21:00] by putting them in prison, or through options beyond prison such as, mental health treatment or other community service or what have you only, 18% said prison, three quarters said options beyond prison.

So, what's clear is that people who are, most impacted by crime actually don't think that prison is working or doing the job to keep their communities safe. The other one that sticks with me, and this speaks to what we were talking about, about bail before was that when they were asked if they'd prefer to keep people in jails pre-trial or use alternatives to incarceration, just 21 % of crime victims said jails. 71 % said that they would prefer alternatives. 

DOUG HENWOOD - HOST, BEHIND THE NEWS: And I'm just curious, these are people who've been victims of crimes, they're not innocent bystanders or God knows, politicians. 

WANDA BERTRAM: That's right. It's a nationally representative sample of people who report crime victimizations. 

DOUG HENWOOD - HOST, BEHIND THE NEWS: I'm speaking with Wanda Bertram of the Prison Policy Initiative.

You said earlier, I believe that 60% of the people in state prisons are there for violent crimes. Is the definition of violence as clear as it might sound on first hearing? 

WANDA BERTRAM: No, it [00:22:00] isn't, and that's something that people have begun to talk about more, is that, you can be sentenced for a violent crime, but that could be a crime that was committed without actually being hurt, there was just a weapon involved. It could be a crime that took place where the circumstances were such that if people actually knew about it, they might feel a lot more sympathy with you. Like perhaps you were defending yourself from your abuser, if you're in a domestic abuse situation—this is why a lot of women are in prison. And it could be something that you did when you were a child. 

None of the circumstances around the offense are told or described through this label violent, and that's important because not only does labeling someone a violent criminal make it easier to lock them up for untold numbers of years, it also, in today's day and age, makes them ineligible for all sorts of reforms that have passed. For instance, good time credits, like an expanded good time credit system that allows people to earn more time off their sentences for good behavior. 

Often those rules, those reforms exclude anybody who's been convicted of a violent offense. Oftentimes [00:23:00] in states that restore a parole or early release opportunities to people who are incarcerated. They exclude anybody convicted of a violent offense. During COVID, a lot of states said, we're going to explore releasing more people—well, they didn't—but even when they said that they were going to, they stipulated, we're not going to consider anybody convicted of a violent offense. And when people get out of prison, this moniker violent follows them around in terms of, what they can and can't do and what rights they're excluded from. 

In Florida, they only passed the bill that reenfranchised people with felony records for people who were not convicted of certain violent offenses or sexual offenses. So, the violent label is really, really important and has done a lot of work to destroy people's lives.

Angela Davis on the argument for police and prison abolition | UpFront - Al Jazeera English - Air Date 12-17-21 

MARC LAMONT HILL - HOST, UPFRONT: I think the most asked question to the abolitionist is, and I think it's a fair question is, but what about the people who pose an immediate threat to others? What do we do with the child molesters? What do we do with the rapists? What do we do with the serial killers? How do we, in the absence of the current prison, as we understand [00:24:00] it, deal with people who pose an immediate threat to communities?

ANGELA DAVIS: It's so interesting, isn't it, Mark, that people always go to the worst possible example, and then use that as a justification for the treatment of millions of people who have not engaged in that kind of harmful activity. Now, no one is denying that there are serious acts of harm and violence that are produced by individuals who are a threat—a threat to others and to themselves— but if we simply argue that because there is this relatively small population of people, then we lock up more than 2 million people, to me, that is illogical. That's the first point. 

The second point is that imprisonment reproduces those [00:25:00] very problems. And so, the violent individual who goes to prison is in a situation where she or he or they become even more violent as a result of the structural violence of the institution than they were when they went in.

So, in my opinion, and I think this is what most abolitionists would argue, it's necessary to pull back and ask larger questions, not only how we deal with this immediate issue, but rather how to deal with it in the long term. How can we understand and get rid of the conditions that produce such violence in individuals? I think gender violence is probably a really good example for this larger problem. Simply by imprisoning people who engage in gender violence has not [00:26:00] had an impact at all on the incidence of gender violence in the world. It is still the most pandemic form of violence. 

So that, it seems to me would signal that we have to figure out how to deal with the problem itself, rather than simply incarcerating people who commit the violence. How can we deal with the conditions that produce individuals that are primed to engage in these kinds of violent acts against women, against LGBTQ people against trans people, all of the forms of violence that we would categorize under the term gender violence?

So the larger question is how do we address the ideology that encourages people to take out their frustrations and their fears by attacking others in that way? 

MARC LAMONT HILL - HOST, UPFRONT: And it [00:27:00] seems that there is a very narrow idea of what restraint can look like, what separation can look like. The Quakers talked about in that book Instead of Prisons, they talked about this idea of restraint of the few, saying that there might be some people who need to be pulled out of society because they pose an immediate threat, but it seems that the challenge might also be that the only way we've imagined that is through caging, and that there might be other ways, whether it's mental health support, whether it's some other structure that can allow someone who is a serial killer or someone who is a child molester to be pulled out of the space where they're doing harm without using the cage as the primary mechanism, but that requires a new kind of imagination.

And it seems that there might be a crisis of imagination in the policy realm, in the academic realm, in the activist realm. So I'm going to ask you to help us imagine a little bit before we go, when you think about an affirmative vision of the world, not just what we don't want, police and prisons, but what we do want, what does that look like for Angela Davis? What does the [00:28:00] abolitionist future look like?

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, I've always linked abolition with socialism. So I would say that in imagining the future it cannot be a capitalist future. It cannot be a future that is based on the exploitation of others. And this future would be one in which the necessities of life are not commodified, in which one's capacity to live a fruitful life is not dependent on one's capacity to pay for those services.

The point that I'm making is that we have to go further than these two discrete institutions, that we have to think about reorganizing our entire world. And I think that the danger of positing abolition as a [00:29:00] narrow strategy that only addresses particular individuals is one that will prevent us from understanding that this is about revolution. This is about environmental justice. This is about workers rights. This is about eradicating gender violence. This is about making education free for everyone. And so I could continue with that kind of imagining of the future, but I do think that the abolitionist imagination is central to the process of envisioning a new world and developing the strategies for challenging the current one.

The Part of History You've Always Skipped | Neoslavery - Knowing Better - Air Date 4-4-22

KNOWING BETTER YOUTUBER: When Birth of a Nation was released in 1915, everyone, North and South, bought its message. This was the first feature length American film and quickly became the first Hollywood blockbuster. In the film, the abolition of slavery is depicted as a mistake, [00:30:00] unleashing animalistic Black men on our unsuspecting, innocent White women. The KKK are the heroes, swooping in to save the South and restore order. This confirmed the story that White people wanted to hear, and turned the defeat of the Confederacy into a tale of martyrdom. This rewrite of American history is known as the Lost Cause, and is still pushed by textbooks today. This movie is also directly responsible for the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan, who began terrorizing Black families by burning crosses on their lawns. The original KKK didn't do that, that was invented by the movie. I told you you wouldn't believe what brought them back. 

Frederick Douglass died in 1895, which meant that the most influential Black leader was now Booker T. Washington, who pushed a more gradualist message. He urged Black people to accommodate White demands for subservience while building up their skills. He told them to learn a trade to hold the keys to their own advancement and not move up north. Don't worry, White people will come around [00:31:00] eventually. 

Needless to say, this message was praised by many Southern Whites. By 1901, they had gradually disenfranchised every Black person in the South by passing laws and writing new state constitutions. They obviously couldn't ban an entire race from voting because of the 15th Amendment. Instead, they instituted poll taxes and literacy tests to accomplish the same goal. You all know about these, even Prager U mentions them. But just like the Black Codes, you probably have a very watered down understanding of them.

Let's start with the literacy tests. Nearly every state required you to know how to read and write if you wanted to vote. Which sounds reasonable on the surface, right? Here's an actual literacy test from the State of Louisiana. It starts off with some fairly straightforward questions, draw a line around the number or letter of this sentence, cross out the longest word, circle the first first letter of the alphabet, simple. But then you get to number 10. In the first circle below, write the last letter of the first word beginning with L. What? Number 12. [00:32:00] Draw a line from circle 2 to circle 5 that will pass below circle 2 and above circle 5. Come on, this is only the first page, there are 30 total questions, and one wrong answer denotes failure of this test.

Now, be honest, is that what you thought a literacy test was when you learned about it in school? Because I'm willing to bet this was never explained to you. These tests were arbitrarily given out to anyone who couldn't prove a 5th grade education, and the questions were just vague enough that any answer could be subjectively wrong.

Many states also put up financial barriers to voting. Mississippi required a poll tax of $3, which is just over $100 in today's money. Would you vote if it cost you that much to do it every time? I doubt it. Virginia's was only $1, but you had to be paying it for each of the previous three years before you could vote. Louisiana required you to own at least $300 in property, but included an exemption for anyone who could vote on January 1st, 1867 or their descendants. [00:33:00] This is the origin of the phrase, Grandfather Clause. This loophole was intended to let poor White people vote, even if they didn't meet the literacy or financial requirements, as long as their grandfather was allowed to vote.

Virtually no Black people were voting in the South in 1867, so their descendants didn't qualify. Disenfranchisement has several knock-on effects that you might not immediately think about. It's a lot more than justyour ability to vote. You'll also find it near impossible to run for office. This obviously meant that there were no Black representatives in state or federal government, which is why the nice Prager U ladies stopped counting them in 1900. But this also affected local office. There were no Black sheriffs, constables, or justices of the peace. Not being registered to vote also means that you couldn't be called for jury duty, so Black defendants were almost always tried and convicted by all White juries. 

By the time Birth of a Nation and Woodrow Wilson came around, Black people had been almost entirely pushed out of government. Confederate statues were being put up [00:34:00] in the North and South, and the Lost Cause had completely taken over the historical narrative. Race riots occurred in places like Springfield, Illinois, Charleston, South Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Lynching had become so popular that children were let out of school early so they could attend and newspapers advertised the event days beforehand. People took selfies with the deceased and left with souvenirs and postcards. The violence around the country got so bad that in 1936, Victor Green began publishing The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide with a list of hotels, gas stations, and barbershops that are friendly to Black people in every city. They were working on a fictional version of this in the first season of Lovecraft Country. This was based on a real thing. These were printed all the way through the Civil Rights Movement and ended in 1966. 

Think about what that means for a moment. This country was so hostile to Black people that for three decades they needed to have their own separate travel guide where every listed [00:35:00] location had to be vetted for safety. Because If you went into the wrong town, you might disappear forever. 

PRESIDENT FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, yesterday, December 7th, 1941...

KNOWING BETTER YOUTUBER: If you're wondering what FDR has to do with slavery, I'm guessing you've forgotten the primary question of this video. Again, after giving that speech, President Roosevelt asked his cabinet what the enemy was going to use against the United States in the coming propaganda war. The answer was the treatment of the Negro. 

In addition to disenfranchisement and segregation, the convict leasing debt peonage system was still holding thousands of people in bondage. A man named Charles Bledsoe pled guilty to peonage in Mobile, Alabama in October 1941, just two months before Pearl Harbor. America could hardly claim the moral high ground, or point fingers at how Japan was treating the Chinese or [00:36:00] Koreans, when we had our own subjugated underclass. So, on December 12th, 1941, FDR's Justice Department issued Circular 3591. 

NARRATOR READING FROM CIRCULAR 3591: A summary of the department files on alleged peonage violations discloses numerous instances of prosecution denied by United States attorneys, the main reason stated as being the absence of the element of debt. 

In the matter of control by one over the person of another, the circumstances under which each person is placed must be determined, i. e., the subservience of the will of one to the other. Open force, threats, or intimidation need not be used to cause a person to go involuntarily from one place to another to work and to remain at such work; nor does evidence of kinder treatment show an absence of involuntary servitude. 

In the United States, one cannot sell himself as a peon or a slave -- the law is fixed and established to protect the weak minded, the poor, the miserable. Men will sometimes sell themselves for a meal of vittles [00:37:00] or contract with another who acts as surety on his bond to work out the amount of the bond upon his release from jail. Any such contract is positively null and void and the procuring and causing of such contract to be made violates the law. 

To assure emphasis on the issue of involuntary servitude and slavery in considering these cases, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been requested to change the title on its reports from "peonage" to read "involuntary servitude and slavery".

KNOWING BETTER YOUTUBER: This memo told prosecutors to stop trying these cases under the federal anti-peonage statute, because so many people were using the same defense as John W. Pace, that since the debt wasn't real, this wasn't peonage, it was slavery, and slavery wasn't a crime. They were told to stop calling it peonage and start calling it what it is: slavery. The memo provided them with a list of other statutes that could apply and told them to aggressively prosecute these crimes as part of the war effort. Over the next few months, dozens of cases would be opened across the [00:38:00] country. 

In September 1942, on a farm outside of Beeville, Texas, a man named Alfred Irving became the last chattel slave to be freed in America. Not indentured servant, or convict laborer, or debt peon. Slave. Here's a news article from the time saying as much. The Skrobarcek family held him as a slave for at least four years. They starved him and beat him with chains, whips, and ropes so regularly that he was permanently disfigured. The family was found guilty and sentenced to federal prison. The Corpus Christi Times said that the trial and its conclusion will undoubtedly be said in the future to have given a decisive setback to the enemy propaganda machine. 

So, in a way, by bombing Pearl Harbor, the Japanese ended slavery in the United States. When people notice the obvious inequality in our country and wonder why Black people haven't caught up yet despite slavery ending over 150 years ago, they're wrong. It ended 80 years ago. When was the last slave freed in [00:39:00] America? It wasn't after the Civil War, it was during World War II, in September 1942. Our current president, Joe Biden, was born two months later. Until he graduated from college, Black people had to drink out of a separate water fountain. Segregation didn't end until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Jim Crow ended with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allowed Black people to vote again. But just a few years after that, Nixon came along with his War on Drugs, which disenfranchised and imprisoned even more Black people. On purpose. 

My police militarization video goes into more detail, but if you don't believe me...

NARRATOR READING STATEMENT BY JOHN EHRLICHMAN: The Nixon campaign in 1968 and the Nixon White House after that had two enemies, the anti-war left and black people. You understand what I'm saying. We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and the blacks with heroin, and criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, [00:40:00] and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did. 

KNOWING BETTER YOUTUBER: Why haven't we done reparations? We clearly owe them, and by "we", I don't mean White people. I mean the government of the United States. 

Since the colonial days, the laws of this country have been used to force Black people into a permanent underclass. For the first hundred years after independence, the Constitution not only allowed, but protected slavery. And immediately after it was abolished, the criminal justice system was used as leverage to extract as much labor and wealth out of Black people as possible, either directly by sentencing them to hard labor in the coal mines, or indirectly by issuing an exorbitant fine that was then paid for by a plantation owner who held that debt over them while simultaneously increasing it so it took years to pay off. If they tried to leave, they'd be arrested for breaking a labor contract and given even more hard labor. 

This blatantly unjust system created generations of people who rightfully fear going out alone and have learned [00:41:00] not to expect help from the authorities. They don't trust the police and have lost all faith in the criminal justice system. And who can blame them? For almost a hundred years, the primary purpose of the judicial system was to coerce Black people into meeting the labor demands and social customs of the White majority. This created a century old myth about Black criminality that persists to this day. The government of the United States did that, not some slave owners who died over 150 years ago, and they arguably continue to do it with the War on Drugs.

Joe Biden was instrumental in introducing the modern version of pig laws when he was in the Senate. We went from slave codes and chattel slavery, to Black codes and neo-slavery, which is convict leasing and debt peonage, to the War on Drugs and the prison industrial complex. It's basically a continuum of oppression against Black people.

This version of history, otherwise known as 'what actually happened', explains much more about the current state of racial inequality in our country than the standard American history [00:42:00] myth we were all taught.

Penitence for the privileged - Beyond Prisons - Air Date 7-25-23 

KIM WILSON - HOST, BEYOND PRISONS: One of the things that stands out to me and one of the things that I try to raise when I'm teaching this piece is talking about the racial limits to deterrence and rehabilitation, right? So, if deterrence and rehabilitation is only for White men, that means that everyone else gets to go to prison, right? And gets to be deprived of any of the other things that they were deprived of previously by design due to slavery, right? So, if Black men, you know, then we're seen as inherently unmanly due to this lack of individual independence and control of their families, then you can create policies and laws that say, Well, there's no need for us to focus on rehabilitation because they lack this thing that they were calling "manly freedom" to begin with. Right? And [00:43:00] fast forward 250 years, and we think about the lack of programs in most facilities. Right? We look at who is currently incarcerated. There's no need to offer programming, rehabilitative or otherwise, because we - not "we", you and I, but, you know... 

BRIAN SONENSTIEN - HOST, BEYOND PRISONS: Right. People. 

KIM WILSON - HOST, BEYOND PRISONS: ...see people as being not worth rehabilitating, right? Because they lack all of these things, but it's like, I feel like this is almost the quiet part being said out loud that happens on every news story, whenever there's a police killing or anything else that happens in this country, right?, that as it relates to Black people. That, you know, it's like there's all of this coded language that gets created [00:44:00] as a way to not actually talk about exactly the thing, right?

So it's like we're going, we could talk about, back then "manly freedom", right? And manly freedom was code for 'the Black people don't get to be rehabilitated, just throw them all in prison', right? And that's part of what he's getting at. This idea of male licentiousness, I thought was also, I mean, I just think that word is, it's an interesting word, right? 

But, and going back to what I said in the kind of overview at the beginning, this obsession that the founders had with order, among men, right?, and this rhetoric of liberty that was being used, you know, throughout the colonies in terms of creating institutions. Because jails were not really a thing, right? Jails were not really a thing. [00:45:00] This was pre jails, right? And how were they punishing people? So, people were being punished through kind of coercive systems through their communities and through religion, but now...

BRIAN SONENSTIEN - HOST, BEYOND PRISONS: shaming.

KIM WILSON - HOST, BEYOND PRISONS: Yeah, shaming, this other, you know, these other ideas. They were not fans of the new kind of newfangled evangelicalism that was happening at the time because they thought that that was a leading men into kind of 'leading men astray', right? That it was leading, as the author puts it, to spiritual individualism and sexual anarchy. And I was just like, I mean, if I was a dude, if I was a cishet, like, I would be pissed. Like, I would just be like, what the fuck?

BRIAN SONENSTIEN - HOST, BEYOND PRISONS: To emphasize your point, I think, you know, it talks about how in this [00:46:00] period, like shortly after the revolution and shortly after the enlightenment period when there are sort of these feelings of liberty and freedom, in the sense of like men being on the street and being like hostile and violent towards women and like you said, licentiousness, like, the state in this period is trying to sort of, you know, take that energy and funnel it back into the state for its own purposes for militarism, like you said, right?

And so, in order to do that, very specifically, is targeting this through the use of the prison. And I think that that sort of understanding of the context in which this is happening as well, like you were saying, you know, around changing attitudes towards religion as well, you know, but also, like, these new feelings of liberty and freedom and, you know... I think now when we talk about liberty and freedom, we have sort of this like cute idea about it in America, whereas in this period, when they're talking about [00:47:00] liberty, they're talking more about like men acting out and behaving in ways that are not, like you said earlier, like gentile, you know, or like, not having that sort of like aristocratic air to it and needing to discipline people using the state into those behaviors and into self disciplining themselves out of fear of being brought into that system, which, as you mentioned, didn't work so great because it engendered sympathy to a lot of the people who then saw people getting flogged in the streets and so on and so forth.

KIM WILSON - HOST, BEYOND PRISONS: Do you mind reading that passage there? 

BRIAN SONENSTIEN - HOST, BEYOND PRISONS: "Consider the young men in post-revolutionary New York City, who constituted, 'crowds of bloods, who lounged on city sidewalks and, affecting the contemptuous stance of the aristocratic libertine, tossed provocative remarks at any single woman who passed'. These young rakes were known for their aggressive sexuality and their tendency to make contempt for women a 'emblem of high style'. Some of them went beyond provocative words to violent deeds, only to be charged with 'attempted rape' [00:48:00] or 'rape'. Attempted rape referred to coercive sexual acts up to and including forcible penetration. Rape, the more serious charge, involved penetration and ejaculation. Legislators had two concerns. First, they wanted to reduce the number of single mothers and bastard children who made claims on the public treasury. Second, they believed that the crime of rape was rooted in 'the sudden abuse of a natural passion', and 'perpetrated in a frenzy of desire'. Rape indicated that liberty without self restraint resulted in abusive, frenzied actions that were inconsistent with liberal reason and republican order". 

KIM WILSON - HOST, BEYOND PRISONS: What are your thoughts on that? 

BRIAN SONENSTIEN - HOST, BEYOND PRISONS: The part that really stands out to me in this is the part where they talk about the two concerns legislators had about this, right? Because it's not just the conduct and what we might think of it today, but what did they care about in the moment? And what were they trying to use [00:49:00] the coercive power of the state to do? One, was to reduce the number of single mothers and bastard children who made claims on the public treasury. If you haven't heard anything like that in the last 30 years, I mean, like that is, you know... 

KIM WILSON - HOST, BEYOND PRISONS: Yes

BRIAN SONENSTIEN - HOST, BEYOND PRISONS: And again, we're talking about not just that the legislators didn't want that to happen, but that the prison was used to enforce that, you know, and we'll talk about this probably with other things when we talk about something being criminalized, like, for example, I'm using this example because it's so heavily in the news right now, if we're talking about the ability of trans people to use public facilities, we're not just talking about passing a law that says that's illegal. It's about how do you enforce that law? Well, you use the prison. You use the police to do it. Like, we're talking about using the prison as a way to reduce the number of single mothers and bastard [00:50:00] children, or to enforce the heteropatriarchy ideal of a family, who made claims on the public treasure, the class dimension of this. 

And then the second thing that the legislators were concerned with was the belief that the crime of rape was rooted in the sudden abuse of natural passion and perpetrated in a frenzy of desire. So, nowhere in this is the concern for the very physical, traumatic, emotional harm brought on the person who experiences the rape, but on the way that the act of rape is sort of a lack of self control, a momentary lapse of self control that, you know, men really need to discipline themselves against and to sort of have more control over. 

Debunking "Norwegian Prison Reform" As Propaganda with Oakland Abolition and Solidarity - Millennials Are Killing Capitalism - Air Date 3-28-23

BROOKE TERPSTRA: The reality of the Nordic or Scandinavian model is never instituted in the United States, like at all. Even all these programs in San Quentin, that's not the Nordic model, but even if it were the Nordic model, Scandinavia is not some utopia. You have no [00:51:00] idea what it actually constitutes. I think that should be the topic of a whole other show, basically the mythology of social democracy, and of whiteness in northern Europe. Globally, incarceration, there's a direct relationship between income equality, settler colonialism, and the rate of incarceration.

We have nothing in common with Norway, except that it's also a diluted white supremacist nation state, which, I don't need the Nordic model for that, I already live in the United States, which is a white supremacist fucking nation state, except we have more in common with Brazil, with Palestine, with the Philippines, in terms of the actual structural function of incarceration.

But in terms of the discourse, capital T, capital D, around the Norway model and how it functions as an invocation, as an image, within the imaginary, especially the liberal slash progressive one those are synonyms, basically, at this point, progressives are basically liberals with, stolen vocabulary [00:52:00] from radical movements. But it's basically an invocation, I think, because one, it's highly legible to white liberals because Norway is 90% white and it's a 91% white, basically gated community, so basically they can imagine themselves in that context.

Two it affirms their fantasies about the beneficence of the state. It basically, whenever there's headway made about accurately portraying... when understanding basically progresses in the United States or, basically incarceration is delegitimized, which it has been, progressively over the last say, 20 years, and that's due to our hard work and the resistance inside, and everybody breaking their backs organizing and pushing. Not to mention, it's essentially, completely obvious failures on every front, in terms of what it's promised to deliver, in material terms and live [00:53:00] conditions. I mean, half the country, knows what time it is with prisons, and that's the populations and communities that are policed and go inside. They get locked up.

It's the other side that's intensely invested, not in understanding what's actually going on, and facing contradictions, and the violence, and genocide this country is, founded on and depends upon, but they're heavily invested upon negotiating and renegotiating and reconstructing plausible deniability in a position of comfort. 

Resuscitating this model, periodically as a goal, it performs a great utility in that resettling, motion and that drive to basically reconstruct a position of comfort for this certain class of people, and it has a certain appeal. And essentially what it promises to deliver, what reform always promises to deliver is stability, public safety, and well being. This is the central conceit of the modern liberal [00:54:00] secular democratic state. That is the guarantor of wide social well being. The mediator of conflict. The resort for when things get nasty and guarantees well being and a life worth living. This is profoundly false. Antagonisms structure the world. The United States is a civilizational quote unquote project built on genocide and enslavement, on erasure, extraction, and dissembling, and propaganda, immensely regressive and policed, the center of an empire.

So this is basically an invocation that also depoliticizes any particular moment. It fights back against all these realizations and this drive, this tension between people trying to struggle, and understand their conditions and these contradictions. This assertion that's basically broadcast on all channels by what Stuart Hall called the [00:55:00] primary and secondary definers within a media environment, like authorities and figures of the state and then correspondingly, later below them, all the stenographers of power, the academics, the nonprofits, the experts parrot this line to shove all this down our throats and push back. Reassert this mythology of governance, supposing what the nature of the United States is. 

So basically the Norway model is a club, it's epistemic violence, and there's always a relationship between epistemic violence, institutional violence, and the kinetic physical violence, these three broad categories. There's a relationship, one license the other. And the epistemic violence, this cultural hegemony, this dominance is essential to maintaining legitimacy, order, and this cultivation of consent. If not consent, at least apathy and resignation.

Final comments on communities deemed expendable and the need for systemic change

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today starting with the PBS NewsHour reporting on the discovery of hundreds of [00:56:00] unmarked graves behind the Mississippi jail, olurinatti, on YouTube, discussed Rikers Island pre-trial detention center and the need for bail reform, Jacobin Radio held an in-depth discussion about the counter productiveness of our punitive prison system, Al Jazeera English spoke with Angela Davis about her vision of abolition, and Knowing Better laid out the long history that has brought the US to our current state of dysfunction regarding our justice system. That's what everybody heard, but members also heard bonus clips from Beyond Prisons discussing the historical perceptions about who deserves rehabilitation, and Millennials are Killing Capitalism applied a radical lens to discussions of prison reform. 

To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of [00:57:00] funds stand in the way of hearing more information. For more on the concept of prison abolition, check out our episode from back in 2019, it was #1313, "Why prison abolition is not nearly as scary as it sounds". Again, that was episode 1313, and there'll be a link in the show notes. 

Now to wrap up, it feels like it makes sense to point out the obvious parallels between unmarked graves being found behind a jail and unmarked graves being found behind residential schools housing native children who'd been taken from their families. The deeper lesson to be gleaned here goes far beyond investigating the specific malfeasance that, you know, almost certainly took place in almost any scenario like that. Beyond the individual crimes, it's about understanding how indicative cases like these are of the disregard many have four communities deemed unworthy. 

Now members heard [00:58:00] today a detailed discussion about explicit beliefs about who is and who is not deemed worthy of rehabilitation. And this line of thinking sort of sits at the core of our mentality behind a punitive penal system, the fundamental debate being whether those who have committed crimes against society should be punished or rehabilitated. And some being worthy of rehabilitation and some not, is clearly a parallel train of thought to the idea of who is and is not worthy of having their remains treated with respect after death. You know, which families are worth notifying of the death? Which people deserve a marked grave? And of course, which communities is it reasonable to victimize in such a way that their lives are actually put in danger in the first place, thereby leading the perpetrators to end up having to feel like they have to [00:59:00] cover their actions by continuing the victimization after death, by covering it up?

 Recognizing these patterns is what will help push broader society to begin to question the systems in place, not just the individual actions by some in individual cases. Now, whatever the details of the case of the unmarked graves in Mississippi turn out to be, it will be important to not just see them as an individual crime or an individual accident or an individual case of neglect. It will be another star in a constellation, a very large and very detailed constellation that presents a very clear picture of the reasons that systems are in need of fundamental change, not just minor reform, and definitely not just the clearing out of a few bad apples. 

That is going to be it for today. As always keep the comments coming in. I would love to hear your thoughts or questions about this or anything else. [01:00:00] You can leave us a voicemail or send us a text at 202-999-3991 or simply email me to [email protected]. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our Transcriptionist Trio, Ken, Brian, and Ben, for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and a bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who already support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships. You can join them today by signing up at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patrion page, or from right inside the Apple podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good and often funny weekly bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content, no ads, and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. [01:01:00] You'll find that link in the show notes, along with a link to join our Discord community where you can also continue the discussion. 

So, coming to from far outside, the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show, from bestoftheleft.com.

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#1604 The Border Crisis is Manufactured for Political Opportunity (Transcript)

Air Date 1/17/2024

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award winning Best of the Left podcast in which we will look at why it is evident that the immigration debate is more about acquiring raw power than about immigration, as demands from the Republican party change along with whatever strategies they feel are most likely to get Republicans elected. And in the age of Trump, of course, that means the most draconian, harmful, and ultimately pointless and cruel demands to date. Sources today include Under the Shadow, Democracy Now!, The NPR Politics Podcast, What Next, and The Thom Hartmann Program, with additional members-only clips from The Majority Report.

The Beginning Monroe and Migration Part 1 - Under the Shadow - Air Date 1-9-24

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: 200 years ago, on December 2nd, 1823, under a dark, moonless sky, then-President James Monroe delivered his State of the Union Address to Congress. In his address, Monroe lays out what would become both one of the most consequential and devastating ideas for Latin America. It would be called the Monroe [00:01:00] Doctrine, an articulation of the United States's sovereign right to bend Latin America to its will. And the US would repeatedly cite it as a perennial warrant to invade foreign countries, overthrow leaders, and police the Americas. At least that's what it became. But that wasn't the idea in the beginning. 

GREG GRANDIN: Yeah, yeah. I mean, other countries have statements; we have doctrines. You know, that's the thing. 

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: That's historian Greg Grandin. 

GREG GRANDIN: I teach history at Yale University. And I'm the author of a number of books, the most recent one being The End of the Myth. 

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: He's also the author of Empire's Workshop, which looks at Latin America's role as a testing ground for US imperial strategies. 

GREG GRANDIN: So basically the language of the Monroe Doctrine, it was scattered throughout this larger, many thousand word speech, and it was very vague on what the intentions were. Basically, summed up, it said that, quote unquote, the free and independent nations of the two American continents were off limits for [00:02:00] future colonization by any European power. And Monroe let it be known that any effort to, quote unquote, extend Europe's system to any portion of the hemisphere would be viewed as the United States as a threat. That's the core of what we think of as the Monroe Doctrine.

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: It was actually a pretty simple idea. Europe, stay out of the hemisphere.

Remember, by 1823, most of Spain's former colonies in the Americas had just won their independence. 

GREG GRANDIN: But at the time, the Monroe Doctrine was celebrated by Latin America, by independence leaders. One, they were happy that the United States seemed to finally come out to Latin America, Spanish American independence. That was a huge thing. There was still a couple of big battles left before Spain finally gave up completely.

But the more important thing is that they [00:03:00] read in the Monroe Doctrine a corollary to their own anti-colonialism. They didn't read it as a doctrine of neo-colonialism. They read it as a doctrine of anti-colonialism, that no part of the Americas is eligible for reconquest. They saw it as analogous to their own anti-colonialism.

So there was a lot of, celebratory messages to Monroe from Latin American leaders, thanking him for, not the doctrine, but for the pronouncement. 

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: This is important to understand. Remember, at the time, the US was still small. Settlers were paving their way across the country, violently pushing indigenous peoples from their land. But the United States was far from an empire. In fact, like its newly independent Spanish American neighbors, the US had also freed itself from empire and monarchy only 40 years before. 

MARIXA LASSO: We need to understand that the big division at the time wasn't US/Latin America. It was the [00:04:00] division between republics and monarchies.

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: That's Marixa Lasso, she's a Panamanian historian whose research has focused on the Panama Canal and South American liberator Simón Bolívar. 

MARIXA LASSO: This is what people understood at the time and this is really important, because we take it so much for granted, the idea of being a republic, that we forget how radical it was in the early 19th century, how fragile it felt for protagonists like Simón Bolívar. How new it was. Think about it: Only the US was a republic, and then all of these Spanish American new republics. France was not a republic anymore by then. And then you had also Haiti. So, it was new, it was fragile.

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: In 1826, Simón Bolívar convened an international congress in Panama, which at the time was still [00:05:00] part of Colombia. Representatives came from most of the newly independent Spanish nations. One of the items on the agenda was, ironically, the establishment of the Monroe Doctrine as a guiding framework against threats of reconquest from Europe, and in particular, Spain.

For this podcast, I visited the location where the conference was held in Panama City. The convent where it took place is gone, but a large statue of Simón Bolívar stands in its place, in a little square down by the waterfront and across the street from Panama's Ministry of Foreign Relations. Bolívar's dream was to unite the countries in some sort of federation.

It failed for far too many reasons to discuss here.

Just three years later, Bolívar is quoted to have said, The United States appears to be destined by providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty. Prophetic words.[00:06:00] 

The US grew, expanded west, killing and removing indigenous peoples from their lands. The United States invaded Mexico, captured Mexico City, and took more than half of the country's land, what is now today most of the Western United States. It was only the beginning. Greg Grandin. 

GREG GRANDIN: As time goes on, the Monroe Doctrine becomes more of a doctrine of, as I mentioned, informal empire, mandatory power. And this is explicit with Theodore Roosevelt and his corollary, which says, Monroe Doctrine basically gives the United States the right to police the hemisphere.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT: The great fundamental issue now before our people can be taken free. 

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: That is the voice of President Theodore [00:07:00] Roosevelt. Unfortunately, there are no recordings of him delivering his 1904 State of the Union address when he made this addendum to the Monroe Doctrine, or what's called the Roosevelt Corollary. The full text, however, is pretty shocking. We asked a voice actor to read an excerpt. 

VOICE ACTOR: Any country whose people conduct themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship. If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States. Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, [00:08:00] may, in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation. And, in the Western Hemisphere, the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: In other words... 

MARIXA LASSO: Certain circumstances may force the United States to be exercised upon international police power. No? To protect the world from the general loosening of the ties of civilized society. Those are his words. 

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: Professor Marixa Lasso says that 1904 speech is a justification in many ways... 

MARIXA LASSO: of what happened in Panama, [00:09:00] which is that he supported the separation of Panama from Colombia and then taking control of an area of the Isthmus.

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: That was just the tip of the iceberg.

Rep. Greg Casar on GOP’s Hard-Line Immigration Demands in Ukraine Funding Request - Democracy Now! - Air Date 12-13-23

REP. GREG CASAR: It is a really scary time here on Capitol Hill, where Republicans in the Senate are asking Democrats to cave in and hand them some of the worst changes to our immigration system in decades. Republicans and Democrats alike have both said that they support continued assistance to Ukraine, but the Republicans have held that hostage and have said, “First you’ve got to throw immigrant families under the bus.” And like you’ve described, this would mean actually closing legal pathways for migration here and accelerating the deportation and separation of immigrant families.

And so, in the mainstream media, this is often being reported as, “Well, are they going to trade border security for Ukraine money?” But this has nothing to do with changing or improving a situation at the border. What the [00:10:00] Republicans are demanding is making it less easy to legally migrate, and therefore fuel more irregular migration. What they’re talking about is punishing families that are already in our cities and communities, dismantling the asylum system that we established after the enormous we made after World War II, turning refugees away. It is sick.

And so, what we’re asking is for the Biden administration to stop encouraging these talks, asking Leader Schumer to just step in and say, “If we want to debate Ukraine, we should debate Ukraine, but we shouldn’t start throwing immigrant families under the bus.” Next thing, they may ask for an abortion ban nationwide in exchange for something. Are they going to be asking for a ban on gay marriage next time? We just can’t have Democrats doing the Republicans’ dirty work here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Congressman, as we discussed at the briefing yesterday, the United States has spent over $330 billion the past 20 years on [00:11:00] agencies that do border enforcement, and yet we have record numbers of people attempting to cross the border. What can be done to get Congress to finally address the issue of a much more comprehensive reform of our immigration system?

REP. GREG CASAR: We have to actually want to improve the system for folks in the United States and for people migrating here. Unfortunately, the right wing wants to keep the system as broken as possible so that they can then complain about it. It’s the classic case of the arsonist trying to blame the firefighters for the flames.

And so, in this case, Republican policy—and, frankly, even some conservative and neoliberal Democratic policy—has only fueled greater challenges. Those policies are things like sanctions, imposing harsh sanctions in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, then forcing people who are starving, in part because of our policies, to migrate, and [00:12:00] then complaining about it. Instead, we should make sure that people, if they want to be able to stay at home, stay in their home countries, that they can, and then open up legal pathways for migration. Instead, the Republican proposals we’re dealing with, actually what they mostly would help is cartel profits, because what they want to do is close legal pathways for migration, force people that we are helping starve have to move, oftentimes have to pay criminal organizations, and then the Republicans get to complain about it. It is a toxic brew that Democrats shouldn’t be playing into.

Instead, we should say, “Let’s open up more legal pathways for people to migrate here. Let’s open up the ability for folks to ask for parole and get on a plane and apply and come here and get a work permit quickly.” That would relieve a lot of what you’re seeing on the TV, Fox TV cameras on the border, and actually make things better for people in Latin America and in the United States. But instead, we insist on punishing Latin America, pushing people out of their home countries, and then not opening up legal pathways for them to migrate.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, I [00:13:00] wanted to put this question to you. You and Congressmember Greg Casar were part of a panel yesterday called “200 Years Is Enough: Moving Past the Monroe Doctrine Toward a New Era in U.S.-Latin American Relations.” Can you put this current push at this moment, because the House speaker says they’re going to go home at the end of the week if they don’t get their way on border, Biden is desperate to get money for Ukraine, and so we don’t know at this point what’s going to happen. McConnell says there’s no way they can do this before Christmas. But put this in that broader 200-year context. I mean, you wrote that incredible book that’s now a textbook in so many college classes, called Harvest of Empire. Talk about how this fits in with the Monroe Doctrine and what that was.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The Monroe Doctrine for 200 years has been the basic policy that the United States has pursued in the entire Western [00:14:00] Hemisphere, but especially toward Latin America, telling European and other colonial powers, “You stay out of the Western Hemisphere. This is our backyard,” in essence. And it’s been used repeatedly by U.S. presidents and congresses to invade countries in Latin America, to foment clandestine or covert operations to remove leaders that weren’t sufficiently obedient to the United States. And I think it’s never really been repealed or refuted by U.S. leaders. I mean, there was a small attempt by John Kerry during the Obama administration to claim it was over, but President Trump backtracked on that and went back to the bullying of the United States in Latin America. And I’m wondering, Congressman Casar, your sense of the prospects for being able to have a new [00:15:00] policy for Latin America in the future.

REP. GREG CASAR: It’s time for us to leave that 200-year Monroe Doctrine legacy behind us. And I think a small number of progressives who start to open up a window to a new relationship in Latin America are going to carve the path forward here, because instead of spending our limited resources on things you’ve covered, Juan — overthrowing the government in Guatemala in the ’50s, the invasion of Cuba, arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua, currently continuing to starve instead of feed people in places like Cuba and Venezuela — instead of engaging in that, that, honestly, doesn’t help in Latin America and doesn’t help us here, we can create a new partnership.

I was just in Chile for nearly the anniversary of us helping overthrow the Chilean government of Allende back in the day. And part of the reason we did that is because we wanted to protect United States and Chilean elites in the copper industry. That was [00:16:00] disastrous. So many people died. It helped no one. But instead, finally, we could have a conversation about how do we support democracy and support one another in rising authoritarianism; how, as we head towards a renewable and climate more resilient future, they have, instead, the resources for us to create batteries. How do we create those together and make sure working-class people in Chile and the United States benefit, not just big corporations? There is a real ability for us to work with Latin America to tackle the climate crisis, beat back authoritarianism, address migration. That would actually benefit our constituents and our communities. And I think folks would get reelected on that kind of work in Latin America rather than continued invasions. 

The Migrant Crisis On The Border And The Hill - The NPR Politics Podcast - Air Date 1-11-24

ASHLEY LOPEZ: Migrants are crossing the southwest border in high numbers. In December, border authorities reported 225, 000 encounters with migrants at the U. S. Mexico border. And House Republicans are blaming the Biden administration for the influx of migrants and targeting Homeland Security [00:17:00] Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Wednesday they began the process to impeach the secretary. 

Before we get to all that, though, Jasmine, remind us who is crossing the border right now and why is this happening at such high volumes?

JASMINE GARSD: Sure. I've been covering immigration for several years and I've never seen anything quite like this at the border. And what I'm talking about is a really diverse group of people over the last two years or. So I've met people from Ukraine, from Russia who are fleeing that conflict, a lot of people, a lot of people from Venezuela who are trying to get away from a very repressive government and poverty. A ton of people from Ecuador who, as we saw in very recent news is being really run over by violent gangs, which leads to the next point, which is, I don't think you can talk about this big influx of migration [00:18:00] without talking about the fact that there was a historic rise in the last Year of displaced people worldwide. That's according to the UN, the White House has also signaled that, and it's really, really tangible when you get to the border, that displacement. 

ASHLEY LOPEZ: I know this has changed over time, but can you tell us what happens to these migrants now? They actually reached the border. 

JASMINE GARSD: It really depends on who we're talking about. Really the centerpiece of the Biden administration's immigration policy has been this carrot/stick approach where it encourages people to apply. through legal pathways. You also get plenty of people who are coming in through non legal pathways, and I have to say there's a lot of misinformation there.

I think a lot of people are crossing through via organized crime, and they are being told, "if you cross, just turn yourself over to Border Patrol and you'll get [00:19:00] asylum", which isn't how it works. So many people who I've spoken to in the last year, what happens is they either turn themselves in or they get apprehended and they're given an NTA, a notice to appear in court, which is the initiation of a deportation proceeding. And they can apply for asylum, but the asylum application process, it's really, really complicated. 

ASHLEY LOPEZ: Yeah, and Deidre, the optics of thousands of people amassing at the US border with Mexico obviously is not great for the Biden administration, but optics and policy are two very different things. What is your sense of the reasoning House Republicans are giving for impeaching Secretary Mayorkas right now? 

DEIDRE WALSH: I mean, House Republicans or Republicans in general, I think, see this issue of the crisis at the border as a huge political advantage for their party going into the 2024 election. And in terms of Mayorkas, House Republicans are really singling out the Secretary [00:20:00] of Homeland Security as sort of the person responsible for the failures or the overwhelmed system at the border right now.

They say he's ignoring the law, other people say he's not enforcing the law, but they're making him the poster child. And I think part of that is that the border, whether it's In districts or states along the border, or in districts even away from the border, they're feeling the impact that this situation is having, whether it's in terms of migrants being moved into their communities, like places like New York, or the fentanyl crisis that continues to plague this country and have an impact around the country.

And I think the politics, too, are that there seems to be agreement among House Republicans, which aren't always on the same page, about the issue of addressing immigration and impeaching Mayorkas, while there isn't agreement necessarily about impeaching President Biden. [00:21:00] I mean, they are moving on two tracks to do both, but it seems to me right now they have more agreement amongst their members about targeting the Homeland Security Secretary.

GOP Bets It All on the Border - What Next - Air Date 11-8-23

MARY HARRIS - HOST, WHAT NEXT: If you are wondering why some Republicans are digging in their heels so hard when it comes to immigration, Mariana Sotomayor says there's a simple reason for that. When Americans get asked who they trust more when it comes to border policy, their answer is Republicans, hands down. 

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR: I think when these questions are asked in polling, it is about the border and migrants that are coming in. And there has been a shift in the public about how many people are coming in. There was a record 250,000 migrants that came in through the border in December. 

MARY HARRIS - HOST, WHAT NEXT: I think you wrote that it was the most recorded ever crossing the border in one month. 

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR: Yeah. 

MARY HARRIS - HOST, WHAT NEXT: Wow. 

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR: More people are paying attention. It's been interesting even, I will be honest, during this holiday break, going back home, talking to friends who are not even politically involved, kind of having this [00:22:00] top of mind of, "whoa, did you see this?" Republicans are messaging this as part of broader security. The migrant crisis plays into that fear, and Republicans are obviously using that, and they've been good over the years to use that kind of fear politically to be able to win a number of races.

So, it seems like this issue is more front of mind for the public, and the reason it seems like they're siding with Republicans is because there is this feeling of "well, what is Biden doing about it? What is Biden doing about it?" And that's what I hear from voters too, "Why isn't Biden doing anything?"

Well, here's the thing, Biden can only do so much, any president can only do so much through executive order. Through executive order, you definitely can't just overhaul the immigration system. This fundamentally falls on the shoulders of Congress, and they have been unable, for decades, to be able to figure this out. And again, goodwill exists to do that, but because of the margins, because of how politically toxic this issue has become, [00:23:00] Congress has been unable to deal with it. And if past is precedence, then I don't know if they'll be able to figure it out this time. 

And again, it's interesting to me that the public doesn't necessarily realize that, that this is a Congress issue. It is way easier to blame one person. 

MARY HARRIS - HOST, WHAT NEXT: You're saying Congress is like the hot dog guy meme. Like, "ooh, we're going to look into who did this!" 

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR: Yes. Literally, yes. Yes. 

MARY HARRIS - HOST, WHAT NEXT: Republicans are going to get a chance to focus on immigration in a different way than this bill they're trying to pass when they open up impeachment hearings against the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas. Can you just tell me what's going to happen with that and how quickly once Congress gets back in session?

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR: It actually could be pretty quickly. Many Republicans have said that impeaching Mayorkas has always been the lowest hanging fruit, because of the border issue and how it animates the base, and Republicans have successfully made [00:24:00] Mayorkas into a boogeyman from I think the moment he was nominated, not even confirmed to be DHS secretary.

And we have seen the patients run out from certain far right members to impeaching him. Marjorie Taylor Greene in particular, last year, tried to force an impeachment vote against Mayorkas, twice. Both times they referred back to the committee, the Homeland Security Committee, who has already been investigating Mayorkas over time, over this past year in particular.

And what the chairman, Mark Greene, has been saying is there's mounting evidence that he has neglected his duty and they're just pointing to the simple fact that, yes, under the Biden administration, there has been a record uptick of border crossings. 

MARY HARRIS - HOST, WHAT NEXT: What do they want mayorkas to do about it? 

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR: Well, what they want is a little bit of what we see in HR 2, that bill that [00:25:00] House Republicans passed. Ideally, if the far right had their way, they want to immediately shut down any border where it could be overwhelmed by migrants. They want to reinstitute a number of Trump policies, like Remain in Mexico. They just want Mayorkas to shut everything down immediately.

MARY HARRIS - HOST, WHAT NEXT: But impeachment is mostly about malfeasance, right? Are they accusing Mayorkas of doing something wrong, illegal, something that should get him kicked out? 

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR: This is all messaging, and there actually have been some Republican lawmakers who have admitted that this is all about messaging, "it's all about electing Trump."

This again, just animates their base. And here's the thing. If House Republicans hold a vote to impeach Mayorkas, I am not sure at this moment if there are enough votes, by just House Republicans alone, to be able to actually impeach Mayorkas, we will see. And that, in and of itself, it's going to be fascinating, because we have already seen far [00:26:00] right House members go after their colleagues when they voted against things that they thought they should have voted for, does that amp the pressure against those members to vote for, to impeach Mayorkas just because they don't want any of the political toxicity? 

MARY HARRIS - HOST, WHAT NEXT: So, you've laid out the case for how Republicans are going to try to make 2024. the year of immigration, if you were a betting woman, what do you think happens now? 

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR: You know, it's going to fall on Speaker Johnson. He's obviously new to this job. He was just a member. He was very low ranking in leadership, and to be thrown into such a position, I mean, I do not envy him. Every single decision is going to fall on Johnson's shoulders.

The Beginning Monroe and Migration Part 2 - Under the Shadow - Air Date 1-9-24

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: Maria is Honduran, 33 years old. Intense, dark brown eyes. She wears tiny earrings in the shape of the cross. Her long, curly hair is pulled up over the top of her head. She looks both beautiful and exhausted. Her two young boys scramble over her. [00:27:00] One of them holds a pink plastic toy gun. "My life is in danger," she says. "I've denounced it with the police, but they're waiting to kill me. My children are in danger, and that's why I've left Honduras." 

In 2022, she made it all the way to the US border before she was caught by US Border Patrol guards. She was detained for a week. She says they told her they weren't accepting Hondurans, and she was deported back home. There, she collected her kids, and now, she's trying again. "There's no future in Honduras. There are too many gangs, too many crises," she says. "I did what I could to survive there. Some days I ate, some days I didn't. I cried, so did my kids, because I didn't even have the money to buy a small bag of salt. So I'm looking for a better life for my children, and with God's help, I'll make it." Maria says she's waiting to receive her humanitarian visa in Mexico. Once she has her papers, then she and her kids will continue [00:28:00] the long journey north to the US border. There, she says she wants to do everything right to request legal asylum in the United States. But it's all a really slow process. And there's no promise that she'll even get it. "This is really stressful. Sometimes I cry because I don't want to be here in Mexico," she says. "I would love to be on the road, but I can't go without papers, because I know that without papers, they'll just grab me and deport me back to Honduras." 

Everyone is desperate and tired of waiting. Tapachula has a way of sucking you in, migrants say. Grinding you down. The wait can be long and tedious. And many just want to make a run for it.

Caravans are leaving once every couple of days, with hundreds of people as they work their way, they leave down the highway and work their way north. And it's the constant stream of these caravans, and the question is how far they'll actually get. 

Caravans like this.

The bulk of travelers [00:29:00] on this road today are Venezuelan. But there are people from countries across Latin America and the globe. They're still in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas, but about a day or two hike up the highway from Tapachula. "We've been walking from Colombia." Venezuelan migrant Alexis tells me without breaking pace, walking, asking for rides, praying to God that we arrive alright.

Up the road, 20-something Xon and two friends are ahead of the pack and making good time. "The dream is the US border," he says. "With God's will, for us and those who are behind us." 

The phenomenon of the caravans started about five years ago. 

REPORTER: Through the rain, scorching heat and humidity, thousands of migrants make the perilous journey through southern Mexico, hoping to reach the United States. It's been called the largest Central American migrant caravan in decades. And thousands more [00:30:00] migrants are joining, fleeing dire conditions in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: That was 2018, when migrant caravans traveling through Mexico became headline news and an endless source of political hysteria throughout the US midterm elections.

But those weren't the first caravans, and they certainly weren't the last. We barely hear about them in the media today, but countless caravans of people are still traveling from Tapachula and marching through Mexico. 

 Professor Adrienne Pine is the author of the 2020 book, Asylum for Sale: Profit and Protest in the Migration Industry.

ADRIENNE PINE: The vast majority of migration, especially if we're talking about migratory flows north in the Americas toward the United States, is a result of US foreign policy. And [00:31:00] which US foreign policy we're talking about differs depending on the state. But regardless, it's all harmful. It's all displacing people. And it's all rooted in US imperialist capitalism, right? It's US using its military occupation of many countries in Latin America and its military and other war threats.

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: As we'll look at in the coming episodes, Central America has been ground zero. Whether it was US support for genocide in Guatemala, or for the authoritarian regimes in El Salvador in the 1980s, or the 2009 Honduran coup. 

ADRIENNE PINE: Each of these events, some of them short term, some of them long term, were followed by massive waves of people fleeing the violence, the US-led violence in their countries, fleeing and going to the most obvious place, which is the United States, which of course ironically caused that violence in the first [00:32:00] place.

So you have, in some cases this sort of direct US military intervention. Or in other cases you have instances where the United States is very friendly with the government, but that's only because the government is, bowing down to the US's demands.

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: Quick refresher course: 

REPORTER: Angry protestors at the doorsteps of Honduras's Presidential Palace want President Manuel Zelaya back. 

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: In 2009, the Honduran military removed the country's democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya from power. The United States adamantly backed the coup. The US-backed coup unleashed a series of repercussions including political repression, spiraling violence, cuts to the social safety net, government corruption, and rising inequality. Honduran migration increased only a few years later. 

In the wake of the 2017 elections, repression against protesters was reminiscent of [00:33:00] the crackdown after the coup, fueling a new exodus. 

ARTURO J. VISCARRO: Hondurans are still usually the number one Central American population that is going through. So apart from the political stuff, there's obviously the violence of the state, the violence of criminal organizations, in this case the gangs, and, of course, economic violence and, inequality that has been prevalent for a very long time in the region.

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: It was not the first time that US foreign policy or intervention deteriorated the situation inside a country, resulting in increased migration toward the United States. In fact, although this is barely ever talked about, the United States itself is at the root of much of the so-called migration crisis the US has seen in recent decades, and which former President Donald Trump, among many [00:34:00] other prominent public figures, continues to use as political fodder. 

DONALD TRUMP: They're poisoning the blood of our country. That's what they've done. They're pouring into our country. Nobody's even looking at them. They just come in. The crime is going to be tremendous. The terrorism is going to be -- and we built a tremendous piece of the wall, and then we're going to build more....

MICHAEL FOX - HOST, UNDER THE SHADOW: That was him in December 2023.

ARTURO J. VISCARRO: Then there's his actually looking at the actual policies, the military intervention, the propping up of dictatorships, the violence people were fleeing. But then there's just the economic policies that have continued to be mostly dictated by the US. Then you have to come to -- you should come to the realization that the US bears a ton of the responsibility for why people leave these countries.

And yet we can't really have an honest conversation about that. Yet [00:35:00] the vulnerable people that are migrating are the ones that are blamed for it. And it's absurd, and it's cruel, and it's lazy. 

Trump Plans to Declare War on Who - Thom Hartmann Program - Air Date 1-9-24

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: So, Donald Trump, he has announced on multiple occasions, various plans when he becomes president again which he's hoping to do. He wants to become dictator for at least one day. He wants to basically make himself president for life. It just goes on and on.

So now he's got this new thing, and Stephen Miller has been talking about this, as has Donald Trump, and it's a law that has been on the books for a long, long time, it's called the Alien Enemies Act, and the Alien Enemies Act is basically a piece of legislation that was designed to target foreign agents, principally spies, within our country during time of war.

This goes back to World War I, World War II. Say, during World War II, if there was a German spy here in the United States, you'd go after him with the Alien Enemies Act. It's substantial. It gives you the ability to arrest people, to deport [00:36:00] people, to put people in prison for long periods of time.

So Donald Trump and Steve Miller say that if this law, which was first passed in 1798, and it says that the president himself can remove any foreign national over the age of 14 from the United States, and by the way, you have to have declared war on a country. We haven't declared war on a country since World War II.

But he says that he's going to identify cartels, gangs, and drug dealers in Latin America and within the United States who have... he's saying we can use this law to attack Mexico because they're so corrupt. And we can use this the law to attack gang members in the United States. 

This is the kind of, "I don't care what the law says, I'm a tough guy," stuff, that appeals to authoritarian right wingers. They love this kind of [00:37:00] stuff. And he even said, it's not enough to deport the bosses and the drug dealers. He wants to expel their family members and their associates as well. A future Trump administration could, "suspend the due process that normally applies to a removal proceeding," that's a quote from Steve Miller. He was on a talk radio show back in September and he said this. So that Trump could carry out mass deportations and he could start filling his concentration camps, essentially the same way that Adolf Hitler did in the early 1930s in Germany. 

The first camps, I've been to Dachau a couple of times it's near Munich, between Munich and Nuremberg, and I used to live just north of Nuremberg, and Dachau was not built as a death camp. There were literally hundreds, I believe over 400 of these concentration camps built in Germany, and they were called concentration camps because they concentrated people.

In other words, they were points where the criminals in [00:38:00] society were brought. They were basically just, prisons, prison camps. Now, toward the end of the war, they started killing people in those concentration camps, but the death camps, Hitler built all of the death camps outside Germany.

So if they were ever discovered, he could say, Oh, Belsen, Belsen, that's the Dutch. Oh oh, I'm forgetting the name of the city in Poland. But, well, that's, that was Poland. And on and on and on, right? He could just, he could blame other countries. Well, this is what Donald Trump wants to do, not the death camps part, he hasn't come out and said that, but the concentration camps for sure.

He's bragging about it, he wants to put millions of people in concentration camps in America, and just like Hitler, Hitler started out by saying, we're going to put the enemies of the state in there, we're going to put illegal immigrants in there, we're going to, we're going to put communists in there, people who there's a broad consensus are, bad for our country. And then, within a matter of months, journalists started appearing in Dachau, and politicians started appearing in [00:39:00] Dachau, and just that continued for the next seven years, eight years, for the rest of Hitler's rule. 

This is what Donald Trump says, out loud, he wants to do here in the United States. So we should take him seriously.

Under Attack TX Law Targets Immigrants as Trump Cites Hitler, GOP Pushes for Border Crackdown - Democracy Now! - Air Date 12-20-23

AMY GOODMAN: Senate leaders say President Biden will have to wait until next year to negotiate a deal with Republicans on immigration as part of an emergency funding package for Ukraine and Israel and Taiwan and more. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate in next year’s presidential race, doubled down on his hateful comments about immigrants at a campaign event Tuesday in Iowa, when he paraphrased the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler as he spoke between two Christmas trees.

DONALD TRUMP: It’s crazy, what’s going on. They’re ruining our country. And it’s true: They’re destroying the blood of our country. That’s what they’re doing. They’re destroying our country. They don’t like it when I said that. And I never read Mein Kampf.

AMY GOODMAN: [00:40:00] Hitler used the phrase “blood poisoning” in Mein Kampf to argue German blood was being, quote, “poisoned” by Jews. Trump drew outrage for similar comments at a rally Saturday in New Hampshire.

This comes as Texas Governor Greg Abbott, major Trump supporter, approved a sweeping new law, just signed it into law, that allows police to arrest anyone they suspect to have entered the U.S. without authorization.

For more, we’re joined by Marisa Limón Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, which is part of a lawsuit to stop the new Texas law from going into effect in March. Her op-ed for The Messenger is headlined “The Senate Shouldn’t Treat Migrants as Bargaining Chips.”

Marisa, welcome back to Democracy Now! Let’s start with the law that the governor signed in the last few days. The significance of what this means, and why even local police chiefs are against this in Texas?

MARISA LIMON GARZA: So, [00:41:00] Senate Bill 4 here in the state of Texas is part of legislation that the governor has been pushing since the regular session. This was just the end of the fourth special session, specifically to push on school vouchers, public education, as well as on this anti-immigrant, racist policy. This is built off of the knowledge of what happened with Arizona in SB 1070, the “Show Me Your Papers” law there. And it finds — it’s a little more slippery. It finds loopholes that are able to make it so that any peace officer anywhere in the state of Texas, not just along the southern border, but anywhere, and loosely defined — if this peace officer has probable cause, they can make the determination that if a person has not crossed into Texas from Mexico at an official U.S. port of entry, they can then be detained, jailed and even deported. Obviously, this is the jurisdiction of the federal government, which is why we’re calling on the Department of Justice to immediately get involved. And yes, Las [00:42:00] Americas, along with American Gateways, our partners at the El Paso County and the ACLU, are in litigation against SB4 and its rollout.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Marisa, you’ve written that your office had received a staggering number of calls, up to 7,000 a day, from asylum seekers in Ciudad Juárez. How do you see the situation now, especially those Americans who say that the situation at the border is completely out of control?

MARISA LIMON GARZA: So, I’d just like to paint a picture. You know, the reality at the southern border is we have been seeing a small piece of what is global migration. So, this phenomenon is 110 million people forcibly displaced across the globe, according to U.N. statistics, for the month of September. And so, this is just one pedazito of that reality.

And it’s important also to recognize that the state of Texas is, in fact, you know, [00:43:00] a multiracial democracy. It just happens to be one that is severely oppressed. And this attempt at erasure really makes things a lot more complicated. We have to take that into context, along with the reality that Texas has very lax gun laws, the reality that Texas does not really make it easy for people to vote, does not provide a quality education for the young people of this state. We’re focused on banning books. We’re focusing on eliminating diversity, equity, inclusion at public universities. So it’s basically the silencing and the erasure of a people. And that cannot go uncontested.

And if we, again, zoom out, we know that this global migration — and specifically the people that we’re seeing along the U.S.-Mexico border reflect global migration, but it also reflects U.S. involvement around the globe, but particularly in Central and South America. Whether it’s destabilization during the Obama administration, whether it’s further back, there are U.S. fingerprints [00:44:00] all over the migrants that we see at the southern border.

Our work is to accompany. So we do that as folks reach out to us, whether it’s from Tapachula, Querétaro, Mexico City, to Ciudad Juárez. We accompany people across the port, and then we accompany people in the U.S. detention settings, as well as in our community. And we like to do as warm handoffs as possible to folks in the interior. And it’s important to recognize that, actually, USCIS is doing a phenomenal job of a new program where they are collocating with us at the southern border in San Diego, El Paso and Brownsville to make sure that people, migrants who use CBP One, the application that this administration has put forward as the tool that should be used, if they come through that app and they come to one of the shelters that’s offering the service, they will be able to leave our community with a work authorization. That means that when they get to Chicago, New York, L.A., wherever, they will rely much less on the social safety nets of those communities and will begin [00:45:00] to have a dignified life as they go through their asylum claims.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And we have about a minute left. Could you talk about the response of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to the Biden administration basically not even consulting them in terms of its decisions on negotiations for another $14 billion in border security money that the president is requesting?

MARISA LIMON GARZA: Yes. We were all duped. You know, we’ve been involved in conversations with the Biden administration since they were the transition team. I personally have hosted Secretary Mayorkas in our office. I sat next to the vice president when she was here. Our local bishop welcomed President Biden and spent several minutes with him in private. They know our reality. And they know that these leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus represent us. And they’re not being quiet. They’re being quite loud. And the fact that they’re not even being given the respect of a seat at the table [00:46:00] is a further slap in the face of everything that we’re trying to accomplish.

And the representation that we have, none of the Senate negotiators are people of color. The one senator who is a person from a borderland state is Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona, and she does not live near the border. Our two senators here in Texas, Ted Cruz and Senator Cornyn, do not have offices in El Paso. If you go to their website, it says “contact us. So they have them everywhere else.

And so, it’s very clear that we are under attack. It’s very clear from the language of the previous president and from our governor, who’s interested in being his running mate, that we have targets on our backs. And we in El Paso, along with people in Uvalde and all across the country, know that when you mix that kind of rhetoric with gun laws that we have and policies and laws like SB4, it’s very dangerous cocktail.

Fox Host Admits GOP Doesn’t Give A Sh— About Immigration - The Majority Report - Air Date 1-12-24

GREG ABBOTT: We are using every tool that can be used, from building a border wall to building these border barriers to passing this law that I signed that led to another lawsuit by [00:47:00] the Biden administration where I signed a law making it illegal for somebody to enter Texas from another country. And so, they're subject to arrest, uh, and subject to deportation. And so we are deploying every tool and strategy that we possibly can. The only thing that we're not doing is we're not shooting people who come across the border because of course the Biden administration would charge us with murder. 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Oh, of course. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: But you know, if we could get away with it... 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: ,,,we would. They know that Biden's, that the federal government's going to sue them, by the way. Like, they know that the DOJ is going to respond to them kind of superseding federal authority over the border. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Oh, of course. 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: This is why... I mean, I really can't stress this enough. The Biden administration is being so short-sighted and stupid about the border by not providing any alternative narrative whatsoever and letting the right determine it. Because Biden, you know, wanted to keep Title [00:48:00] 42. I mean, he's giving all... he is acting quite conservatively, quite right wing, on the border. It doesn't matter. Like, they're still going to be provocative in Texas. They're still going to challenge him. And then when the Biden administration is like, Okay, you're breaking, kind of, federal law here, this is our jurisdiction, and they sue them or they go after them, that'll be an opportunity for Abbott and Fox News to say, Well, look at that, he's soft on the border. It doesn't matter what he does. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Well, of course. 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: It does not matter what he does. He is soft on the border which, maybe, a smart move would be, what does it mean to be a border hawk and what has that led to? Can the Democrats provide any kind of narrative for that? Can they provide, like... even in the Obama administration, we're talking about dreamers, we're talking about a pathway to citizenship. Has Biden addressed this whatsoever, instead of just freaking out and acting more right wing because he thinks that'll appease people? It won't. It won't. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Uh, [00:49:00] the point is you need to sort of build a long term sort of like, a set of policies that you can articulate to the American public. And it feels like Democratic administrations are just like, We're not in the business of doing that. And it ends up coming back to bite them in the ass. 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Yep. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Obama famously said in 2010, like, It's not my job to teach the American public about deficits or fight, you know, the ideas of austerity and this and that. And, um, had he done so, and we know this, like, you know... 

UNKNOWN SPEAKER: I was shocked. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Had he done so, there's a very good chance that maybe he could have salvaged, uh, more of his administration's ability to get stuff done on behalf of like the broader Democratic party. Uh, because now we're in an era of anti-austerity. So, it was certainly doable. Uh, it's just that he didn't push it at that time. 

Laura [00:50:00] Ingram just the other day was like, we should saying [sic] about Republicans. In fact, here's the clip, Matt. Laura Ingram was saying the other day, um, let's not make any deal with Biden on the border stuff because we don't want to give them the win. 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Yeah. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: \They don't really care about the policies. It's just as a wedge issue is that they see the value in it. And if you're getting played like that, you need to go on the offensive. You cannot attempt to just run into the arms of the people who are criticizing you. And here's Laura Ingraham talking about that. This is in the context of the government funding deals. 

LAURA INGRAHAM: Any border deal that has the support of McConnell and Schumer will be rejected by the Republican voters, period. Where were any of them, by the way, any of these top officials three years ago when the migrants were lining up at the border to rush in right before Biden was [00:51:00] inaugurated? Where was Mitch McConnell, and any, frankly, in the Senate leadership, when the Biden administration was making a laughingstock out of all of us on the issue of the border? So, anything drafted by some Chamber of Commerce flunky on immigration is meaningless. Mayorkas will simply take the money and use it to settle migrants in the United States more quickly, more efficiently. Isn't that great? So, Republicans should get out of these ridiculous negotiations. We invited Senator Lankford onto the show tonight. He's reportedly leading these talks, but he could not join us. He did say, though, that once the full text is out, he's going to come here and answer all of our questions. I look forward to that interview. Look, this is nothing personal toward him, or frankly, anyone. This is an issue of our country and its preservation. But we strongly recommend that Lankford refuse to be the face of this. Ask Marco Rubio how that worked out for him. What was that, back in [00:52:00] 2013? Imagine this audience, the audience reaction in a town hall in Oklahoma City. Remember, Langford's a senator from Oklahoma. Let's say he convenes a town hall in Oklahoma City to sell a border deal that would have to be enforced by Secretary Mayorkas. What do you think the reaction of that crowd would be in Oklahoma? We all know what it would be. It would be boo's. They would say, no way, no how, don't do it. So, this is a hot potato that McConnell has tossed to Lankford and that he should toss it right back. Let McConnell negotiate it. Think of it this way. Why on earth, after the Democrats did everything in their power to flood America with millions of indigents from across the globe, would Republicans ever give Biden an opportunity to take a victory lap, and then pretend that he's done anything to solve this problem? And by the way, if House Republicans do the smart thing and say no to this raw deal - speaker shouldn't even consider it, should say out of hand he's rejecting it - the Biden campaign is going to [00:53:00] hit the airwaves with the message, they've probably already made the commercials, See? The border's their fault. Bottom line, you can't make a deal with someone who has no intention of fulfilling the terms of the deal. I told you that at the end of 2023 that we're winning. And these two Biden moves, they're covering for an incompetent and insubordinate cabinet official and they're conniving to pin the blame on conservatives for their border. These are desperate measures for desperate people. And that's the angle. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Alright, that's it. So, uh, I mean, it gives away the game. Laura Ingraham, incidentally, was key when George W. Bush was trying to do immigration. And she was one of the key, sort of like, right wing radio hosts. Who, um, she's quite good at drumming up racial resentment. Funny that. Really well done. 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Good job, Biden. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Well-practiced in that. 

AOC Dismantles GOP Immigration Lies - The Majority Report - Air Date 9-25-23

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Alexandria Ocasio Cortez went on CBS, their [00:54:00] Sunday political show with Margaret Brennan, I think it's Face the Nation is what it's called, and they were speaking about immigration policy at the southern border. AOC brings up the sanctions against Venezuela and sanctions in general and what those kinds of economic chokeholds do to countries and to populations in those countries who then become desperate and seek to live elsewhere so they can provide for their family. I think this is incredibly important to counter program the national discourse around immigration, which is just the borders of mass, we've got to get more militant and frankly...

MATT LECH - PRODUCER, THE MAJORITY REPORT: All these people want to come here just because of all the great stuff going on in America. 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Because of the freedom! 

MATT LECH - PRODUCER, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Not because we've been like, yeah, sanctioning their country trying to do regime change.

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Yeah, because our streets are paved with gold and whatnot. It relies on like this adherence to American mythology that the rest of the world just doesn't share. But regardless, like the Biden [00:55:00] administration and Democrats in general should take a page out of her book here, because there needs to be a counter narrative, as I say, to the incredibly right wing framing around militants at the border, and I think she did a good job here doing so. 

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: I definitely think that we need to have comprehensive immigration reform so that we aren't constantly doing this patchwork policy extensions, that has not happened for decades. But additionally, I think we also need to examine the root of this problem because if we are constantly engaging in foreign policy that drives people to our southern border, in this specific instance, U. S. sanctions that were originally authored by Marco Rubio began and precipitated, certainly took a large part in the driving of populations to our southern border. Shortly after those sanctions, those broad based sanctions...

MARGARET BRENNAN - HOST, FACE THE NATION: You're talking about Venezuela. 

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes, shortly after those broad-based sanctions were enacted, we [00:56:00] started seeing dramatic increases in these populations that were coming to our southern border. And so we have to address the root of these population movements and the migration crisis. And we also have to address the domestic US policy issues when it comes to immigration reform. 

MARGARET BRENNAN - HOST, FACE THE NATION: But you know, the Maduro government has also been responsible for large parts of that. 

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Absolutely. 

MARGARET BRENNAN - HOST, FACE THE NATION: Are you saying that you want to, you want the Biden administration to pull back pressure on him? 

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think we need to re examine the nature of these sanctions. There are sanctions that are very specific. For example, the Magnitsky Act sanctions that do actually focus on the decision makers and people who may be violating norms, practices, civil rights. But broad-based sanctions that punish the overall economy and harm everyday working people, that are driving them into the economic and political destitution, that force millions of people both, not just to the United States, but even to our regional partners... 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: [00:57:00] Yeah, um, that was an odd cut there, but that is, I thought, a very well-stated case for ending what she defines as broad-based sanctions there. Look, like, she is speaking to a broader audience than we would be on this program. So, she's going to give more deference to, you know, Margaret Brennan's needless interjection about Maduro there and things like that. But the reality is, is that Venezuela's economic contraction as a result of the United States sanctions is completely something that you can draw a line to in terms of the influx of migrants from Venezuela. Like, oil is a huge part of the Venezuelan economy, a massive part. And the sanctions that the United States has been engaged in, really since the Bush administration, and then they got ramped up and put on steroids under Trump, have resulted in deep economic desperation in Venezuela, forcing people to go elsewhere. And this was all a part, really, like... we pretend as if [00:58:00] this is a way to help the Venezuelan people long term, when in reality what it is, is a way to make the conditions in a nation so difficult that they turn on the leader that we, as the United States, don't like. First, it was Chavez, and now it's Maduro. And we propped up Juan Guaido, who claimed to be the leader of the country falsely, for years. And both parties were a part of that. And it hasn't worked and in fact it has, like, actually spilled over to the United States and then all the Republicans want to do is triple down and be even more cruel to the people that we starved.

Final comments on the naked power grab behind the immigration debate and Trump's long-held fascination with Hitler

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today starting with Under the Shadow, explaining the history of the Monroe doctrine. Democracy Now! looked at the GOP's attempt to tie Ukraine aid to horrific immigration reform. The NPR Politics Podcast looked at the larger systemic forces [00:59:00] driving global immigration. What Next highlighted the political motivation for the GOP to focus on immigration. Under the Shadow looked at personal accounts and US policy to understand the driving forces of immigration. Thom Hartmann called out the fascist parallels of what Trump is openly calling for. And Democracy Now! zeroed in on the debate in Texas. 

That's what everybody heard, but members also heard bonus clips from The Majority Report, the first reacting to a Fox news host giving the conservative game away, and the second from The Majority Report highlighting AOC dismantling some GOP lies on immigration. 

To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information. 

Now to wrap up. 

I just want to share a couple more things. The first is one more [01:00:00] piece of evidence, in case it wasn't already obvious enough, that the immigration debate isn't really about immigration. This got some coverage - I mean, obviously, I heard about it, but I'm not sure how much - and it feels like the sort of thing that should be turned into campaign commercials taking the GOP to task for abdicating their responsibility to actually govern rather than just vying for power. The New Republic wrote about this under the headline "House Republican admits hill kill border deal if it helps Biden". And this is just from early January. "Texas Representative Troy Nehls showed his true colors on Wednesday refusing to back any sort of border deal because he claimed it could help President Joe Biden's slumping poll numbers". Quoting Nehls, " 'Let me tell you, I'm not willing to do too damn much right now to help a Democrat and to help Joe Biden's approval rating. I will not help the Democrats try to improve this man's dismal approval rating. I'm not going to do it. Why would I?'" 

[01:01:00] And to be clear, he's arguing that the House already passed a border policy bill and is complaining that the Senate hasn't taken it up. Of course, it's monstrous and stupid policy and the Senate is run by Democrats, so they're not going to just go with that terrible policy, nor would Biden sign it. So, the Senate tried to do what the Senate does and what, you know, government is generally supposed to do and tried to do some negotiating and pass something that no one would be happy with, you know, classic democracy. And that quote was the MAGA Republican's response. Not, It's not good enough, but, Not if it would help Biden while we're trying to win elections. Just a hundred percent gross and a total abdication of what it should be to be an elected official who is there to pass legislation.

The second thing today is something that you may also have come across. It's related to Trump's long held tendency to [01:02:00] be, you know, at the very least, fascism curious. But as an introduction, Seth Meyers on Late Night did a pretty good roundup.

SETH MEYERS - HOST, LATE NIGHT: In a 1990 interview with Playboy, he praised China's brutal massacre of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. 

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Trump himself, very, very early on, way before he was a political, you know, figment of anybody's imagination, said to Playboy magazine, "When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak". 

SETH MEYERS - HOST, LATE NIGHT: So that was back in 1990. Donald Trump has changed his opinions on almost everything since then. He used to be pro-choice, now he's anti abortion. He used to be for gun control, now he's against it. But the one thing he's been consistent on his entire life is his support for dictators. Trump has been very clear that in the second term, he will aspire to be a dictator by using the language of dictators. His recent [01:03:00] embrace of fascist rhetoric has drawn comparisons to dictators like Adolf Hitler, who used the same language, which prompted Trump to defend himself this week in a way that only raised more questions.

DONALD TRUMP: It's crazy what's going on. They're ruining our country, and it's true. They're destroying the blood of our country. That's what they're doing. They're destroying our country. They don't like it when I said that. And I never read Mein Kampf. 

SETH MEYERS - HOST, LATE NIGHT: Still, pulled that title up pretty quick, didn't he? 

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: And we also play back clip today of Trump emphasizing that he'd never read Mein Kampf. But when I first heard him say that it reminded me of this long past factoid about him, that I learned I don't know how long ago. Probably around the birtherism days, but, you know, I can't be sure. And the factoid is that his first wife had claimed again, coincidentally, in a 1990 interview, I guess that was a big year for him, that Trump had kept a book of Hitler's collected speeches in a cabinet by his bed. [01:04:00] Not Mein Kampf. But his collected speeches. And I thought that this was, you know, nearly lost to history and that I was going to have to bring it up as a reminder. But when I did a quick search today to find that original article, how surprised was I to see that several articles from mid-December, just a month ago, we're saying that this story had resurfaced, that this old interview had resurfaced. So, as I said, maybe it's made the rounds again and you've heard this but better to repeat it too often than not often enough, I say. So, again, he denied reading Mein Kampf, but what is probably more accurate and actually, like, fits better with the now history that we know came after this 1990 interview, it actually makes perfect sense. 

This is from the original interview . "Ivana Trump told her lawyer, Michael Kennedy, that from time to time, her husband reads a book of Hitler's collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed. Hitler's speeches, from his earliest days up [01:05:00] through the phony war of 1939, reveal his extraordinary ability as a master propagandist". And I'm actually reading from a Business Insider article, so it explains that when Brenner, that's the original Vanity Fair writer, when Brenner asked Trump about how he came to possess Hitler's speeches, Trump hesitated and then said, "Who told you that?" brenner reportedly replied, "I don't remember". Trump then recalled, "Actually, it was my friend, Marty Davis, from Paramount, who gave me a copy of Mein Kampf, and he's a Jew." Continuing this Business Insider article, Brenner added that Davis did acknowledge that he gave Trump a book about Hitler, but quoting Marty Davis, "But it was My New Order, Hitler's speeches, not Mein Kampf", Davis reportedly said. "I thought he would find it interesting. I am [01:06:00] his friend. But I'm not Jewish". 

So, obviously, the key takeaway here is to be horrified, like probably not surprised, but still horrified that someone who's been praising dictators since at least Bill Clinton's first election year could himself become president at least once and, you know, stands a chance of doing it again, even after fully taking the mask off. But the second takeaway is that the weakness of his defense at the time is pretty funny. First, there's the classic 'who told you that?' defense, followed by, 'it wasn't me, it was my friend'. Topped off with the apparently incorrect assertion that his friend is Jewish. So his defense is basically, 'it's not like I took the initiative to be interested enough in Hitler to get his book. It's just that a friend of mine who knows me well and thoughtfully picked out a [01:07:00] gift for me after coming across Hitler's book and thinking, You know who'd really like this I think? Donald Trump. And, you know, as the old saying goes, I'm sure in many variations, when the character of a man is not clear to you, look to his friends. 

That is going to be it for today. As always keep the comments coming in. I would love to hear your thoughts or questions about this or anything else. You can leave a voicemail or send us a text at 202-999-3991 or simply email me to [email protected]. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our Transcriptionist Trio, Ken, Brian, and Ben, for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and the bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who already support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships. [01:08:00] You can join them by signing up today at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patrion page, or from right inside the Apple podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good and often funny bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content, no ads, and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. You'll find that link in the show notes, along with a link to join our Discord community, where you can continue the discussion. 

So, coming to from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.

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#1603 Clarence Thomas and the Highest Court in the Land with the Lowest Standards of Ethics (Transcript)

Air Date 1/13/2024

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award winning Best of the Left Podcast in which we look at the most recent wave of scandal and manipulation of the nation's highest court, as well as historical controversies that go back much, much farther than that. However in a bygone age, scandal was handled much differently than today, putting our current state of dysfunction and hyper-partisanship into sharp focus. 

Sources today include the Ralph Nader Radio Hour, LegalEagle, The Majority of Report, The Kyle Kalinski Show, The Muckrake Political Podcast, the PBS NewsHour, and Robert Reich. With additional members-only clips from All In with Chris Hayes, and Now & Then.

Ralph explains the need for resignations and reform on the Supreme Court - Ralph Nader Radio Hour - Air Date 12-30-23

RALPH NADER - HOST, RALPH NADER RADIO HOUR: The corruption of Clarence Thomas has been documented by ProPublica, the New York Times, in article after article. He's gone on these junkets by billionaires, he's accepted huge gifts that he has not disclosed. It's because until very recently, there were no ethic codes applying to Supreme Court justices the way [00:01:00] they apply to lower federal court judges, and now they have a weak new code of ethics, but they leave its enforcement up to each Supreme Court justice, which makes a mockery of satire.

And so what we're seeing here are mealy-mouthed Democrats investigating in the Senate Clarence Thomas and, to some extent, Justice Alito's freebies and junket, and not calling for the resignation. The columnist for the Washington Post, a Harvard Law grad, Ruth Marcus, just had a column demanding that Clarence Thomas recuse himself in the upcoming decision about Trump's assertion that he's immune from prosecution, because what he did occurred when he was exercising his duties as president in the White House, and she should be asking for his resignation. And the Senate Judiciary Committee under Senator Durbin and Senator Whitehouse, they've got loads of [00:02:00] evidence on Clarence Thomas, and they still haven't called for his resignation.

Now, the comparison under the period of Lyndon Johnson as president, Abe Fortas was a Supreme Court justice, was accused of taking a grant from a politically connected person who had a foundation in Florida, and after a few annunciations in the press, Abe Fortas tendered his resignation. Clarence Thomas has done far, far worse, and blatantly so, and he's arrogant about it, and he's defending it. And he's not remorseful, and the Democrats aren't even asking for his resignation. This illicit decline in public ethics and morality, decline is too easy a word, it's fallen off a cliff. And Clarence Thomas is really the Donald Trump of the Supreme Court. 

STEVE SKROVAN: Ralph, I just want to follow up, as long as we're talking about the Supreme Court, how do you feel about the Supreme Court as a branch of government? Because when I look [00:03:00] at what I know of the Supreme Court and the decisions they've made throughout history, aside from a few years in the 50s and 60s of the Warren Court, it seems like they've made mostly bad decisions on the big issues. You're talking about Dred Scott, or corporate personhood, or the second amendment, or Bush v. Gore, Citizens United, the repeal of Roe v. Wade, Buckley Vallejo, they seem not to make good decisions throughout history. Is it worth it for them? Is it worth it for us? 

RALPH NADER - HOST, RALPH NADER RADIO HOUR: Well, they were the bastions of the property classes, as they used to say in the old days, and they made no bones about it. They presided over a period of slavery. They presided over a period where women didn't have the right to vote. They presided over the Jim Crow period after the Civil War. And they didn't disturb the entrenched status quo of a corporatist white male [00:04:00] domination. And of course, until recently, they were all white males. As you say, starting with the Earl Warren court, they produced Brown versus Board, saying that school segregation was illegal, and they fostered the civil rights movement in case after case, and then the Burger court took over, Warren Burger, and turned it to the right and then it hasn't stopped. It is now the most extreme court in generations, with the six three majority that is pro corporate, pro executive branch power at the expense of the congress, anti union, anti worker, and anti consumer, and the only time they defer to Congress and defeat the petition for the people is when they feel it necessary to rein in the regulatory agencies.

But worse is yet to come. They may come out with a decision next year stripping the [00:05:00] regulatory agencies of the delegation of authority to regulate corporations like the oil companies, the drug companies, the auto companies, they may issue a decision that strips them saying, and this is an unconstitutional delegation of authority by the Congress that is legislative in function and has no business being exercised by executive branch agencies, throwing it back to Congress saying, you want to regulate these corporations, you do it with thousands of pages of regulations, presumably, as if Congress has the expertise or is willing to labor more than three days a week when they're not in recess. 

So I think they are reaching a point, the sixth justice majority, of getting a huge backlash and calls for impeaching them all together before the Senate. I've written an article several years ago saying I don't call for impeachment of justices very easily, but when in case [00:06:00] after case, these justices come down on the side of artificial entities called corporations, which are never mentioned in the Constitution, against real human beings, whether they're workers or victims of different oppressions or looted consumers, that when they continually vote in favor of artificial persons are never mentioned or authorized in the Constitution, that that is a severe ground for collective impeachment proceedings before the US Senate. I think that's what we're going to be looking forward to if the progressive liberal interests in this country have any sense of being able to look at themselves in the mirror and not be seen as surrendering the sovereignty that the Constitution gave them as real human beings, surrendering to the supremacy of giant corporations.

Astonishing Corruption at The Supreme Court? - LegalEagle - Air Date 5-6-23

DEVIN STONE - HOST, LEGALEAGLE: Just a week after the initial report on April 13th, ProPublica published details of an October, 2014 real estate transaction [00:07:00] between Crow and the Thomas family. According to public documents, one of crow's companies paid just over $133,000 for two vacant lots and a single family home that were co owned by Thomas, his mother, and the family of Thomas's late brother. The transaction, which had not previously been disclosed, was the first known instance of money flowing directly from the Republican mega-donor to a Supreme Court justice.

Now, under the terms of the sale, Crow allowed justice Thomas's then 85 year old mother, Leola Williams, to live in her home for the rest of her life. She lives there currently rent free, but is responsible for property taxes and insurance. And after the sale was completed, contractors then undertook extensive renovations of the house.

Then on top of those transactions, according to an April 16th article by the Washington post, Thomas has reported hundreds of thousands of dollars of income from a firm called Ginger Limited Partnership for two decades. The problem here is that the real estate firm founded by his wife and relatives has not existed since 2006 the company's assets were taken over by a similarly named Ginger Holdings, LLC, but [00:08:00] Thomas's disclosure forms make no mention of a newer firm. Now, given the similarity of the names, it's possible that the company was just listed in error, but it merits mention given Thomas's decades long history of non disclosure. 

In a statement provided to ProPublica, Crow describes the Thomas's as " very dear friends" and defended the trips as the kind of hospitality he extends to all their close friends. "We have been most fortunate to have a great life of many friends and financial success, and we've always placed a priority on spending time with our family and friends."

With respect to the property purchase. Crow said he purchased the home with a plan to turn it into a public museum honoring Clarence Thomas. While he claimed the transaction was at market rate, Crow purchased a vacant lot and a house on the same block for $40, 000 the prior year. Crow did not explain why he bought the two vacant lots, but indicated that they had been sold. Crow also asserted that he has never attempted to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue, and claims he is unaware of any friends attempting to influence Thomas on the same. 

But at the same time, Crow serves on the board of multiple groups that have advocated at the Supreme Court through the filing of amicus briefs. And in [00:09:00] 2005, a company called Trammell Crow Residential that was formed by Harlan Crow's father and partly owned by Harlan Crow, was the defendant in a case before the Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas did not recuse himself from that case. 

In response to ProPublica's reporting, Clarence Thomas defended the trips and pleaded ignorance that it was wrong, and in a rare statement stated: 

"Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends and we have been friends for over 25 years. As friends do, we've joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them. 

Early in my tenure at the court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends who did not have business before the court was not reportable. I've endeavored to follow that council throughout my tenure and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines. These guidelines are now being changed as the committee of the judicial conference responsible for financial disclosures for the entire federal judiciary just this past month announced new guidance, and it is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future." 

Now, this statement raises far more questions than it answers. For example, while Thomas acknowledges being gifted [00:10:00] family trips from Crow and perhaps others, he does not address the use of Crow's plane for other reasons, and as we'll talk about later travel and the actual vacation itself are treated differently.

For example, in 2016, Thomas used Crow's plane for a direct three hour trip to and from New Haven, Connecticut, which would have cost about $70,000, and it appears that Thomas might have been the only one on that plane. And obviously no one would ever vacation in New Haven, Connecticut, so the trip must have been for some other reason.

Additionally, Thomas asserts that he sought guidance within the judiciary and was advised that his hospitality from close personal friends was not reportable, but Thomas doesn't specify who advised him, whether they had any expertise, whatsoever, whether they were self-interested in that advice, whether this occurred before or after befriending Crow, or whether he followed up after this initial advice within the 30 years that this has been going on.

And while Thomas claimed that he has always sought to comply with disclosure guidelines. the justice has a documented history of forgetting to disclose certain things. In 2011, Thomas amended prior forms to reflect [00:11:00] income his wife earned between 1998 and 2003 from the Heritage Foundation, which is a conservative think tank, which Thomas claimed was inadvertently omitted.

A 2004 LA Times report revealed that Thomas had accepted private plane trips and expensive gifts, including a Bible that was previously owned by Frederick Douglass, valued at $19,000, and a bust of Abraham Lincoln valued at $15,000. The article also noted that Crow had donated $175,000 for a new Clarence Thomas Wing at the justice's childhood library in Georgia.

And after the [New York] Times Report, Thomas continued to take plane trips from Crow, he just stopped disclosing them. And ProPublica is not the first publication to raise questions about the relationship between Crow and the Thomas family. In 2011, the New York Times detailed numerous favors that the Texas billionaire had done for the Thomases, including helping to finance a library dedicated to the justice in Savannah, Georgia, and providing $500,000 for Ginni thomas to start a Tea Party conservative activism group, which came with a $120,000 a year salary for Ginni Thomas.

And in a move that stirred controversy at the time, Crow financed a multi million dollar restoration of a cannery that included a museum about the culture and [00:12:00] history of Pinpoint, Georgia, a pet project of the Associate Justice. Now Crow says he hasn't tried to influence Thomas on any issue, and it's true that people who are ideologically aligned are probably more likely to become friends, but if a billionaire gave my partner 500, 000 to start a political organization, flew us around the world on a private jet, bought property from me that would both house my mother for the rest of her life and promise to have that house turned into a museum honoring me, well, you might question the independence of this channel.

Harlan, call me. 

Now, Thomas's former law clerk, James Ho, who currently sits on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals defended his former boss by suggesting that the hypocritical double standards were at play saying that, "there's a big difference between. Actual corruption and the appearance of corruption." but even if there isn't any quid pro quo between Crow and Thomas, the entire crux of judicial ethics is based on avoiding any appearance of impropriety. But under 28 US code section 455, any federal judge, including the Supreme Court justices, are supposed to recuse themselves from any proceeding, "in which his or her impartiality [00:13:00] might reasonably be questioned."

Unfortunately, there are neither official rules nor a legal mechanism to force the justices to recuse themselves, and chief justice Roberts has long resisted calls to impose a code of ethics on the Supreme court. And not surprisingly, there is a wide ranging debate on this topic. Multiple legal experts told ProPublica that these non disclosures were not just unethical, but may have broken the law, specifically the ethics and government act of 1978.

And in a bit of cheekiness from Congress, the Congressional Research Service put out a helpful explainer of this law following "a recent article detailing undisclosed trips by an associate justice", whoever that could be. 

Supreme Court's Corrupt Financial Ties To Billionaire Exposed During Senate Hearing - The Majority Report w/ Sam Seder - Air Date 5-3-23

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Yesterday, since we were talking about the Supreme Court yesterday, we played a clip of Sheldon Whitehouse talking about the conflict of interest that Clarence Thomas clearly had with his family member working for entities that had cases in front of the Supreme [00:14:00] Court, that being his wife and that being January 6th.

Whitehouse goes on in that same hearing to lay out all of the ethical violations that Clarence Thomas has appeared to have committed. Now, of course, the Supreme Court says, well, we don't have to respond. This came up in 2011 as well, the exact same thing. Clarence Thomas's relationship with Harlan Crow. Two judges actually came to testify in regard to it, Scalia and Ginsburg. That was back when the Supreme Court actually cared about its legitimacy. 

The important thing to understand here is that there's no mechanism. and Whitehouse has a piece of legislation that would impose at least a system to adjudicate whether there have been ethics violations.[00:15:00] 

I don't know that it would have any enforcement power, but at least it would place out there for our representatives a non partisan method of establishing that there has been an ethical violation. They then could have the opportunity to impeach the justice or whatnot. 

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: Which brings us to Justice Thomas's recent non disclosure of supposed personal hospitality from a right wing billionaire and its problems. 

First problem: private jet travel is not in the personal hospitality exemption, which is limited to food, lodging, and entertainment. Exhibit 7. Some textualist, by the way. 

Second problem: Thomas said it was okay because he'd asked colleagues, but that financial disclosure committee, it's there to ask about financial disclosure. Setting aside that his name should give a clue, Thomas knew the committee [00:16:00] existed because concerns about his yacht and jet travel gifts from this billionaire were referred there in 2011, after some of these gifts were first revealed in this New York Times story, Exhibit 9, 

Third problem: there's no legal way not to disclose the property acquisition in Georgia. 

Fourth problem: some of this personal hospitality involve people dedicated to turning the court into a tool for right wing billionaires, namely Leonard Leo. This guy doesn't have business before the court, his business is the court. This disclosure mess has again been referred to the Financial Disclosure Committee, which raises the question of the previous referral to that same committee of the same billionaire's gifts to Thomas of yacht and jet travel.

The rules seem to require the committee to report its findings to the Judicial Conference. The records of the Judicial Conference are [00:17:00] public, and the records of the judicial conference contain no mention of any such report. So what became of the 2011 referral? Did anyone intervene? Is the committee still considering the 2011 referral more than a decade later? There is much yet to learn, which is why last week I sent a letter to the courts asking for further answers. Exhibit 10. 

Three things are needed to fix all this. Better enforcement, better recusal rules, and better disclosures. My bill would do all three.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: I mean, it is extraordinary. He's saying he didn't know, he asked people, he had been called to court, as it were, on these, not even similar things...

MATT LECH - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Same guy. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: The same guy! It was just less numbers of trips at that point, because that was over a decade ago. And so [00:18:00] we're to believe that Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court Justice, when two of his colleagues went in front of the Senate, when there was discussion and a referral of his trips to the Financial Disclosure Committee, that he wasn't aware of any of that? And that's why he didn't do any more disclosures. He wasn't aware that he was like literally called up and publicly talked about, like the New York Times wrote about this. I mean, I get it, he doesn't want to read the New York Times because it's liberal lies, but he never heard about it? It's unbelievable. 

EXPOSED: Supreme Court Corruption CAUGHT Red Handed - The Kyle Kulinski Show - Air Date 4-27-23

KYLE KULINSKI - HOST, THE KYLE KULINSKI SHOW: We have more Supreme Court corruption to talk about. This is a really important story. The thing that I can't get over is just how much everybody pretends like, Oh, the Supreme Court? You mean the honorable gentlemen and gentlewomen over there? The ones who are above the fray and who are incredibly [00:19:00] intelligent? They are like our intellectual overlords and they just -- they only make the correct decisions based on the law. This is like the mythology that has been preached to us, this idea of the INDEPENDENT JUDICIARY is so important. 

But no, in reality, they are deeply, deeply political, even though they claim they're not. And they're corrupt. So now we know this: this is in Raw Story: "Justice Gorsuch failed to report property sale to CEO of law firm with cases before Supreme Court." Why would this matter? For those who don't understand, I think it's pretty intuitive and you can get it right away. But what do you think's going to happen in these cases? Gorsuch has a massive bias on the side of wherever the law firm is. He has a bias in favor of their side of any case. So he's probably not going to judge it on the merits, he's probably going to judge it based on his political connections and money. 

This is incredibly devastating. And this is on top of the recent Clarence [00:20:00] Thomas Supreme Court scandal, where he's basically, he has a billionaire sugar daddy, and he hears cases all the time where he has a massive conflict of interest and a bias. 

Another Supreme Court justice failed to disclose his financial relationship with an individual with business before the court. See, if there actually were a code of ethics or these people were not absolute goblins, they would recuse themselves.

No, actually, I retract that. They wouldn't have taken these gifts anyway. They wouldn't have done it. Neil Gorsuch has been trying to sell a 40 acre property he co-owned in rural Colorado for nearly two years, before Brian Duffy, the chief executive of one of the biggest law firms in the country, put it under contract exactly nine days after Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate in 2017, reported Politico.

Wow, would you look at that? What a coincidence that timing was. I'm sure it wasn't pay to play corruption. He and his wife closed on the house a month later, paying $1.825 [00:21:00] million according to a deed in the county's record system, reported political correspondent Heidi Prisbilla. Gorsuch, who held a 20 percent stake, reported making between $250,000 and $500,000 from the sale on his federal disclosure forms.

Gorsuch did not disclose the identity of the purchaser. The box was left blank. Gee, I wonder why. Couldn't be because he's trying to hide his obvious pay for play corruption, is it? The firm Duffy leads, Greenberg Traurig, has been involved in at least 22 cases before or presented to the Supreme Court since buying that 3,000 square foot log home and mountainous land from the justice, although Duffy says he has never argued a case before Gorsuch or met him socially. Quote, "I've never spoken to him." Sure. "I've never met him." Sure. 

By the way, this is how pernicious this stuff is. I just want everybody to understand this. The way it works in our legal system is in order to prove corruption, there has to be what's called a quid pro quo. Which is basically I will now [00:22:00] give you the money, and you will do X favor for me. Fill in the blank with whatever X is. That's quid pro quo corruption. Now the reason why that standard is absurd is because in most instances, the corruption is implied. So if you just buy the house, and you just let him get away with a $500,000 profit or whatever it is, you just do that, you don't say anything. It's implied, right? Oh, yeah, when that case gets in front of the court, and I'm on that side, it's implied, "Hey, man. I do you a solid, you're gonna do me a solid?" And also, to one extent or another, this is human nature, right? If I scratch your back, you scratch mine. Somebody does a solid for you, you're gonna wanna do a solid for them back in return. In fact, if that's not the case, you're kinda sociopathic. Now, in most instances in life, I scratch your back, you scratch mine is totally fine, but when it comes to politics, and people who are supposed to be above this, tit-for-tat, pay-to-play corruption type stuff, it's terrible, because his job is supposed to be, decide cases based on the [00:23:00] Constitution, based on the law, be objective. You are, by definition, no longer objective with this sort of conflict of interest.

By the way, I don't even believe him when he says I never spoke to him, I've never met him. But even if it were true, that doesn't change the nature of the case at all here. 

Duffy, a long time Colorado resident, said he had been looking for a property with access to fly fishing waterways for many years, and he insists he did not know Gorsuch was one of the owners when he made his first offer. I totally do not believe that, not even a little bit. Quote, " The fact that he was going to be a Supreme Court Justice was absolutely irrelevant to the purchase of that property," Duffy said. "It's a wonderful piece of property and we're so glad we bought it." Gorsuch has sided with Greenberg Traurig clients eight times and against them four times in the twelve cases where his opinion is recorded, including a case where he joined the other five conservative justices in agreement with a Greenberg client who challenged a Barack Obama measure to fight climate change by regulating carbon emissions from power plants. Quote, "We have seen a steady stream of revelations regarding Supreme Court justices falling [00:24:00] short of the ethical standards expected of other federal judges and of public servants," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin. "The need for Supreme Court ethics reform is clear, and if the court does not take adequate action, Congress must. The Senate Judiciary Committee will be closely examining these matters in the coming weeks." 

Okay. So let me point out this for you guys. It was implied here, but just so everybody understands. The way it works with lower federal courts, there is a code of ethical standards that they have to abide by. With the Supreme Court, there's no code of ethical standards. It's astonishing: the higher you get up the ladder, the fewer rules there are. So you have free reign, do whatever you want, and it's the honor system, basically. Oh, just trust me. I got this. They need a code of ethics. Absolutely. And I would get rid of the lifetime appointments for sure.

Now Durbin saying these things, okay, so he's nominally on the right side, but I'm gonna add to this in just a second here. He's not really doing his job right. [00:25:00] You're about to see, he's not really doing his job right. Durbin has asked Chief Justice John Roberts to testify next month before his committee on the court's ethics rules following revelations of Justice Clarence Thomas undisclosed financial relationship with billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow.

Here's what I just referenced. This was in Politico. "Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin says he didn't invite Justice Clarence Thomas to testify regarding ethics because he thought Thomas would ignore the invitation." So he didn't even try to get Clarence Thomas to testify, when he's like the heart of the corruption scandal.

Now by the way, Clarence Thomas has since sent a letter, where he was like, Yeah, I'm not really feeling it. We have separation of powers, so that means I get to do what I want. No the whole point of separation of powers is that so we have checks and balances, which is the exact opposite of how you're interpreting it. The separation of powers doesn't mean I get to get away with whatever I want, even if it's wrong. Separation of powers is, if I do something wrong, there's another branch of government that will check my ass. [00:26:00] But Clarence Thomas just flipped the meaning of that, to be like, "No I'm busy, I'm not gonna come to, yeah, I don't, this is a nothing matters." No, it is definitely not a nothing matter.

Ron DeSantis Sinking While Clarence Thomas Grifting - The Muckrake Political Podcast - Air Date 12-19-23 

JARED YATES SEXTON - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: ProPublica will not leave poor Clarence Thomas alone, they have got his number. It's like Hershel Walker with Roger Sollenberger over at Daily Beast. It's like a dog just snapping at somebody, not letting go. ProPublica's Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan, Alex Majerski, and Brett Murphy have released a report regarding Clarence Thomas's both public and private signaling to donors within the Republican party, the Supreme Court itself, and also the Republican party writ large, back in the early two thousands. Apparently Thomas was signaling all the way back then that, I don't know, he wasn't getting paid enough. Back then in 2000, he was making $173,000, which is the equivalent, Nick, if you want to feel bad about inflation, that's the equivalent of $300,000 a year at this point. 

NICK HAUSELMAN - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: Is that [00:27:00] right? 

JARED YATES SEXTON - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: That's right. 

NICK HAUSELMAN - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: Oh my God. 

JARED YATES SEXTON - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: Yeah, that's a tough one. Here's a quote from the ProPublica article: "In early January of 2000, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was at a five-star beach resort in Sea Island, Georgia, hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. After almost a decade on the court, Thomas had grown frustrated with his financial situation, according to friends. He'd recently starting raising his young grandnephew and Thomas's wife was soliciting advice on how to handle the new expenses. The month before, the justice had borrowed $267,000 from a friend to buy a high end RV." I give it to this guy, he loves his RVs. "At the resort, Thomas gave a speech at an off-the-record conservative conference. He found himself seated next to a Republican member of Congress on the flight home. The two men talked and the lawmaker left the conversation worried that Thomas might resign. Congress should give Supreme Court justices a pay raise, Thomas told him. If lawmakers didn't act, one or more of justices will leave soon, maybe in the next year."[00:28:00] 

Nick, that's right. Clarence Thomas, back in 2000, basically blackmailed the entirety of the Republican Party, the Supreme Court, and every Republican donor to pay off his debt and to corrupt him. He literally begged everyone to corrupt him. And you want to hear something wild, Nick? It worked. 

NICK HAUSELMAN - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: You know why it worked so well? The timing is important of this, right? What was going on in January 2000? 

JARED YATES SEXTON - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: I can't even imagine at this point what possibly was cooking up in January of 2000 that would completely change the history of the nation.

NICK HAUSELMAN - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: So I actually saw Al Gore speak at a high school that I was a substitute teaching at, and it was later, it was probably the summer of 2000. But remember, I think what he was preying upon -- and this is why the timing is important -- was it looked like Al Gore was going to beat George W. Bush in the presidential -- 

JARED YATES SEXTON - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: Wait, correction. Correction, Nick. He did beat George. 

NICK HAUSELMAN - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: Okay. Let's get to that because it just so happens that Clarence [00:29:00] Thomas got to decide who won that race later on in that year. And this is really why it becomes a little bit more nefarious than a guy who all of a sudden woke up after, let's see, 10 years of being in Supreme Court justice and realized, shit, I don't get paid a whole lot. I thought I got in this to actually make some money. What did he think after, when he first got this job and committed his whole lifetime to doing this job that, all of a sudden he's I want money. And then that timing is really important because I think he realized there was pressure on everybody to maintain that because they thought -- 

JARED YATES SEXTON - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: That's called recognizing the leverage, is what it is.

NICK HAUSELMAN - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: And if he were to resign when Gore was in presidency, then they lose that seat and becomes a lot less conservative. So this is a manipulation of all manipulations. I guess I want to give him credit. I didn't think he was that smart, but that's a pretty smart move. 

JARED YATES SEXTON - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: To be fair, I don't think he dreamed this thing up for himself. Ginny Thomas, very shortly after this, landed a six figure gig at the Heritage Foundation. She has done a really good job of understanding exactly what she can do because her husband is a Supreme Court justice. 

[00:30:00] Nick, we talked about George Santos. We said, probably the greatest liar and grifter that we have seen in Congress. The Supreme Court has been a bastion of grifters from the very beginning. Liars. Grifters. Manipulators. The very fact that corporations are people and the fact that was made up from whole cloth by a bunch of people basically who conspired to do it tells you who these people are. These are scoundrels in the Supreme Court, and they always have been. He, Clarence Thomas is on the Mount Rushmore of the most scoundrelish Supreme Court justices of all time. It's really incredible how blatant he has been about it. How big of a role he has played in to the blatant corruption of the modern Supreme Court. You have to take your hat off for him. You really do. 

NICK HAUSELMAN - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: And the veiled threats of like how the Constitution needed to be interpreted, and the quotes that he would have on this thing, it made it sound [00:31:00] like, it's " We all know how you want me --" Oh, here's the other thing. The backstory of this was he never asked a question for 20 years on the bench, which is completely strange. Everybody else asks something; he never would speak up because a) you could just assume that he was just uninterested or b) he was just waiting for the time to put his stamp on the Republican vote, whatever that's going to be in the conservative vote and then move on. I don't think he ever really spent much time thinking about any of these cases. And it just continues to add, we're going to add a little bit more context into what's going on, but it's I don't even know if it needs the context. The guy is corrupt. 

JARED YATES SEXTON - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: He's corrupt. He should not even be, he shouldn't even resign in disgrace. He should be let out of the Supreme Court in disgrace. He should have his ass kicked out of the court, if there was any justice. 

Also, for the record, what's that sound, Nick? Oh crickets. It's absolute crickets, as the Democrats say nothing about this, as they don't act on this whatsoever. As this hasn't even become a campaign [00:32:00] issue. Like we don't hear anything about this. We don't hear anything about Supreme Court reform. We don't hear anything about adding justices. We don't hear anything about it, and that is a disgrace, that they would rather protect the sanctity of our institutions, and big scare quotes around "sanctity of our institutions," than to actually call out some of the most blatant corruption that we will ever see. 

NICK HAUSELMAN - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE POLITICAL PODCAST: You know I think it would be a great -- remember I told you I would want to run for president and I would just say I'd release all the UFO information like that would probably catapult me to the White House. Maybe this way, I think that this wouldn't be a terrible idea to run on the Supreme Court, cleaning this up a little bit, I think. Maybe it's just me just wanting it, wanting someone to finally do something about it that had enough power because you would need the president's pressure to get anything done because they don't have anything to answer to. And that's I know how the Constitution was set up, but this is disgusting. It's repulsive. 

New Supreme Court ethics code 'does very little' to hold justices accountable, expert says - PBS NewsHour Air Date 11-13-23

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: Professor Clark, put this moment in context for us. For the first time [00:33:00] in the court's 234-year history, it's adopting a code of ethics. How big a deal is this?

KATHLEEN CLARK: This is not a very big deal. It does show that the Supreme Court can read the room. It knew that it had to do something to address the political and ethics crisis that it finds itself in. But in terms of substance, this new code does very little. And it provides no new mechanisms for holding justices accountable when they violate the rules.

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: Well, let's tick through some of that public pressure from the reporting that has been laid out.

And I do want to take a moment to, in particular, note the many reports by ProPublica breaking news on this front over the last seven months. You're seeing a few of those stories right there. They raised concerns over donor influence, failure to disclose gifts, failure to recuse from certain cases.

So, Professor Clark, does any of this — is any of this addressed by the new code?

KATHLEEN CLARK: [00:34:00] This new code addresses none of that. It doesn't address donor influence. It doesn't address what will happen when justices fail to disclose gifts. It does address the recusal problem by saying, nothing will change. It views recusal as a decision for an individual justice. And if a justice fails to recuse, the court won't do anything about it.

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: So, you have read through the whole code now. What does it do? And if it doesn't do anything, why do you think all nine justices signed onto it?

KATHLEEN CLARK: I believe that the justices, all presidentially nominated and confirmed by the Senate, are, in that sense, politicians. And they realize that the court is in some jeopardy, in some political jeopardy, because of the scandals uncovered by ProPublica and other journalists. So they felt pressure to take some [00:35:00] sort of action, perhaps to stave off Congress from taking action and imposing an actual ethics code that would provide accountability. So, I think that this should be seen really as a political document, as a way of addressing a political problem that the court had.

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: You mentioned that congressional pressure. One of those who has been calling for Congress to impose and enforce a code of ethics is Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. He tweeted some of his concerns, which get to a point you raised earlier about enforceability. He said: "The question is enforcement. Where do you file a complaint? Who reviews it? How does fact-finding occur? Who compares what happened to what's allowed? That is where the rubber hits the road."

So, Professor Clark, do I hear you saying none of that is addressed in this code and there is potentially still a role for Congress here?

KATHLEEN CLARK: Oh, there's definitely a role for Congress here. And, yes, this code is utterly silent. It's basically a failure to address those [00:36:00] really important questions of who is it that will hold justices accountable, and how will they be held accountable? And if I could just add one thing, ironically, the court touts the fact that it imposes mandatory ethics training on the court's employees. It does not impose mandatory ethics training on the justices. And that's where the failure has been.

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: Well, here's the question, because we have heard some of the justices publicly say they support a code of ethics. We have recently heard just earlier this fall from Justices Coney Barrett and Elena Kagan. Here's what they had to say then.

JUSTICE AMY CONEY BARRETT: I think it would be a good idea for us to do it, particularly so that we can communicate to the public exactly what it is that we're doing in a clearer way than perhaps we have been able to do so far.

JUSTICE ELENA KAGAN: It would [00:37:00] help in our own compliance with the rules. And it would, I think, go far in persuading other people that we were adhering to the highest standards of conduct.

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: Professor Clark, do you think there was a divide or there is a divide among the justices on how this should be addressed?

KATHLEEN CLARK: I don't — I'm not privy to the justices' conversations among themselves, but you could hear in both of those quotations a concern with public perception. And that, I think, is the bottom line about this new code. It's a way of addressing public perception, rather than addressing the heart of the problem, which is a lack of accountability.

AMNA NAWAZ - HOST, PBS NEWSHOUR: So, when it comes to public perception, we know the court has suffered a decline in public trust, like a lot of American institutions, in recent years. Does this code help at all with that trust and building it back up?

KATHLEEN CLARK: I don't believe so. I [00:38:00] believe what would actually help matters for the Supreme Court is for it to adopt an accountability mechanism, something like what has been suggested by, I think, Professor Stephen Vladeck and others, an inspector general, some kind of mechanism for investigating allegations of wrongdoing or violations, and as a way of actually holding justices accountable when they fail to comply with the law.

How to Fix a Broken Supreme Court - Robert Reich - Air Date 7-18-23

ROBERT REICH - HOST, ROBERT REICH: The Supreme Court is off the rails. And it's only going to get worse unless we fight to reform it. Public trust and approval of the court have hit historic lows due to seemingly partisan decisions and a growing number of ethics scandals. Here are three key reforms Congress should enact to restore legitimacy to our nation's highest court. 

Number one, establish a code of ethics. Every other [00:39:00] federal judge has to sign on to a code of ethics, except for Supreme Court justices. This makes no sense. Judges on the highest court should be held to the highest ethical standards. Congress should impose a code of ethics on Supreme Court justices. At the very least, any ethical code should ban justices from receiving personal gifts from political donors and anyone with business before the court, clarify when justices with conflicts of interest should remove themselves from cases, prohibit justices from trading individual stocks, and establish a formal process for investigating misconduct.

Number two, enact term limits. Article 3 of the Constitution says judges may hold their office during good behavior, but it does not explicitly give Supreme Court justices lifetime tenure on the highest court, even though that's [00:40:00] become the norm. Term limits would prevent unelected justices from accumulating too much power over the course of their tenure, and would help diffuse what has become an increasingly divisive confirmation process. Congress should limit Supreme Court terms to 18 years, after which justices move to lower courts. 

Number three, expand the court. The Constitution does not limit the Supreme Court to nine justices. In fact, Congress has changed the size of the court seven times. It should do so again, in order to remedy the extreme imbalance of today's Supreme Court.

Now, some may decry this as radical court packing. That's pure rubbish. The real court packing occurred when Senate Republicans refused to even consider a Democratic nominee to the Supreme Court on the fake pretext [00:41:00] that it was too close to the 2016 election, but then confirmed a Republican nominee just days before the 2020 election. Rather than allow Republicans to continue exploiting the system, expanding the Supreme Court would actually unpack the court. This isn't radical. It's essential. 

Now, I'm not going to sugarcoat this. Making these reforms happen won't be easy. We're up against big, moneyed interests who will fight to keep their control of the nation's most important court. But these key reforms have significant support from the American people, who have lost trust in the court. The Supreme Court has no real power to enforce its judgments. It has no army, it has no control over spending. Its power comes from only one source, the trust of the people. With neither the sword nor the purse, trust is all it has.[00:42:00] 

Bombshell new report on the Supreme Court’s abortion leak - All In with Chris Hayes - Air Date 12-15-23 

CHRIS HAYES - HOST, ALL IN: I want to start with bringing people back to the timeline, which I had sort of forgotten a little bit until I read your piece today, which is basically that Mississippi passes this law banning abortion to 15 weeks. They know it's frontally unconstitutional under the court's current jurisprudence, but they want to test it anyway. And they want to send it up to the court, and they petition the court, and then Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies. Amy Coney Barrett replaces her. Tell us about the dynamics in what we think of as the conference in that court about whether to take up the case knowing how adjacent it is to Justice Ginsburg's death.

JODI KANTOR: So, one of the things that Adam Liptak and I found was that this was a real point of sensitivity for the court. You know, it's interesting: on the one hand, in our system of lifetime appointments, the passing of justices helps refresh the law. It's part of what [00:43:00] moves the law along. But if the law changes too quickly after a justice dies, it can look like - actually, Amy Coney Barrett wrote years ago in a law review article - it can look like this is about politics and power instead of law and reason.

So, there's this debate in early 2021 about whether to take up the case, not how to decide it, but whether to take it up at all, and it becomes a debate about timing. It's very clear that this new conservative supermajority has the votes to hear the case. They have the minimum of four. In fact, initially they have five. But there's disagreement about when to do it. Justices Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas were very eager. They actually wanted to hear the case that term, the term before it was actually held. Whereas Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Barrett were a little reluctant. Justice Kavanaugh suggested a plan [00:44:00] to relist it. In other words, to withhold from the public, the court's decision to take the case. And actually, Justice Barrett made a really strong stand. She said to the others, if you try to take this case this term, I will change my vote from a grant, a yes, to a deny, a no. And then one of the biggest surprises of the reporting is that that is what she actually ended up doing. She opposed hearing this case. 

CHRIS HAYES - HOST, ALL IN: And it's key here to just set the context here when you quote that law review article, right? The perception from the outside is, the anti-Roe justices are sitting around waiting for their colleague to die and then be replaced with a new person. So, even before her body is in the ground, they can get to planning their long desired goal of overturning Roe. And I'm feeling, I'm reading into things here that you didn't report. I'm saying this is what it looks like to me, is that Justice [00:45:00] Barrett is like, That's going to look bad for me personally. Like, if we do this right away, she is objecting to it. But the most fascinating thing is that what Kavanaugh suggests they do is they decide to take the case and functionally deceive the public about doing so.

JODI KANTOR: So, he named some reasons. He says, we're going to watch the lower court cases on abortion. You know, we're going to see what happens, et cetera, et cetera. But it does have the effect of distancing, creating the appearance of distance from Justice Ginsburg's death. And I agree with you that Justice Barrett is in a fascinating position, because remember that President Trump said that he was going to appoint justices who would automatically overturn Roe. She gets appointed. She is a favorite of abortion opponents. She has, you know, she has seven Children. You know, that is the way she's read in the public mind. So, I think actually the fact that she voted against taking the [00:46:00] case gives us a lot to think about in terms of the court and also about her. You know, what is the meaning of her switching her vote? 

CHRIS HAYES - HOST, ALL IN: Ultimately, you only need four votes. They take the case and we all know that she ends up joining the majority, which was their gambit all along, that majority, that she would in fact join it. But just to, just because it's a technical thing, but it's important to me because in some ways it's my... I think the top line of this reporting is that they basically decide they're going to take it in February. But the way they communicate to the public isn't in February, we're going to take this case. Instead, they, they relist it, meaning we haven't decided yet, we haven't decided yet. And they keep doing that over and over again. They know they're taking it, but they are saying, Well, we don't know. Even though they know they took it three months after Ginsburg died, three months after Barrett. So, the public doesn't know that, but they know that, right? 

JODI KANTOR: I hear what you're saying, but I'm going to give you another [00:47:00] interpretation of the facts. This is also introducing a delay that opens a window for persuasion, because what happens next is that, you know, there's this sort of funny period when they have the votes. But this is not publicly announced. And Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Breyer, a conservative and a liberal, both very drawn to consensus, neither of them interested in pursuing Dobbs, have this window for persuasion. And they try to convince the two newest justices not to take the case. Whether that affected Justice Barrett's decision, we can't totally say for sure. But we know that she ends up changing her vote. So, the appearance point you make is a strong one, but you also have to ask what is happening strategically during this point, because we know that justice Alito gets a little nervous and says to justice Kavanaugh, Is your vote firm?

CHRIS HAYES - HOST, ALL IN: And on that strategy, so [00:48:00] when we get to actually they take the case, they hear the arguments, they're drawing up the opinion, right? They have the five votes for overturning Roe. Frontally, Mississippi has changed once the case gets taken, they say, We're actually not asking you to rule on this law. We want you to go all outta Roe. They go all outta Roe in oral arguments. It's like, Do it, do the whole thing. They've got five votes. There is an effort you report on by Breyer, basically, and Roberts to try to pull a justice away from that to find some consensus position that upholds Mississippi law, which would radically pare back rights but not end Roe.What does the leak do to those efforts? 

JODI KANTOR: So, that's another thing we're able to establish in this reporting. I cannot tell you who leaked that document. I can't tell you for sure what the motive is. But Adam and I can tell you the effect, which is that the leak cemented these votes. Part of the [00:49:00] reason that the votes are secret is that justices do sometimes change their mind. They want that freedom. They need that freedom. History shows us that it's happened plenty of times with a lot of consequence. And so the leak interferes with that. 

It's hard to say what would have happened anyway. There isn't overwhelming evidence that, you know, three justice compromise that would have saved the right to abortion, you know, is on the cusp of becoming reality. We cannot say that. But we know that the deliberative process was at play, that there were efforts at persuasion. The chief justice only needed one vote to make his 15 week position work. And also, Justice Breyer was so interested in this that he considered joining this 15 week position, which would have been a symbolic move. And then the leak comes along and those efforts become hopeless. And so part of what we need to remember about this decision is that it really does [00:50:00] look like somebody did something really inappropriate and intended to interfere with the process in some way. 

Supreme Court Scandals: A Story of Justice Now & Then - Air Date 4-26-23

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON - HOST, NOW & THEN: Fortas starts to get into trouble. Three months after he was sworn in January of 1966, he received $20,000 from the Wolfson Foundation, which was a nonprofit organization organized by Louis Wolfson, and he got the money for consulting on charitable contributions, so he’s taken consulting money. Wolfson was an early corporate Raider. He had built his financial empire out of construction, streetcar, and marine salvage companies during the 1950s, and had come under fire from the Securities and Exchange Commission in that era for trying to dump stock in a company he controlled called American Motors Corporation, but he had come out from that investigation successfully. However, months before Fortas joined Wolfson’s Foundation, his handling [00:51:00] of a marine salvage company came under new scrutiny because he was accused of bribing a Boston financier to buy shares of that company.

Now, Fortas apparently didn’t know about that and about the investigation into it, and he continued to socialize with Wolfson. And when the Supreme Court went into recess in June of 1966, Fortas flew down to Wolfson’s horse breeding farm near Ocala, Florida. Then the day after he gets there on June 15th, 1966, the Securities and Exchange Commission complaint against Wolfson hits the public media. Fortas leaves the farm the next day, and in December of 1966, as Wolfson’s legal troubles are getting worse, Fortas returned the $20,000 consulting check to the Wolfson Family Foundation. 

The controversy doesn’t really get a lot of attraction until 1968, when Johnson nominates Fortas to [00:52:00] replace the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who’s retiring, back in the days when Chief Justice is retired, Earl Warren. And Fortas comes under fire initially, not for his connections to Wolfson, but for an honorarium he had taken to give 11 lectures at American University. He had taken $15,000 to do that, and it had been paid by former clients of his corporate firm, some of whom had cases that were coming up before the Supreme Court.

So, Republicans then dredged up the news that Fortas had also advised President Johnson on a several non-correlated issues while he was acting as a sitting justice, including discussing the Vietnam War. So, armed with the American University honorarium and the fact that Fortas had talked to Johnson, again in those days, theoretically, Supreme Court justices didn’t talk to members of the Executive branch, South [00:53:00] Carolina, Senator Strom Thurmond began one of his famous filibusters against the vote on Abe Fortas for Chief Justice. Recognizing that his vote was in trouble because of Thurmond. Fortas asked President Johnson to withdraw the nomination, and Johnson was beside himself.

And mind you, the backstory here of course, is that Strom Thurmond is appalled by Lyndon Johnson’s efforts to desegregate the United States and to get through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and here’s this way to get back at him with the guy who was after all protected individuals in the Gideon case. And Johnson says, “The action of the Senate, a body I revere, and to which I devoted a dozen years of my life is historically and constitutionally tragic. I urge all involved with and [00:54:00] concerned about our constitution and its form of government to pledge now that this shall be no precedent, that the Senate hereafter will act by majority will and never fail to address itself to the issues which it has the constitutional duty to answer, as in cut it out with the filibuster.”

JOANNE FREEMAN - HOST, NOW & THEN: basically, do your job.

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON - HOST, NOW & THEN: Do your job. Fortas stays on the court without a lot of further incident until May of 1969 when a journalist for Life Magazine named William Lambert broke the story about Fortas and Wolfson wide open. That incident happened three years before it hadn’t gotten a lot of traction then. In early May of 1969, the Magazine ran a piece by Lambert outlining the $20,000 arrangement under the headline, “The Stock Manipulator and the Justice.” Fortas opted to resign 11 days later. He wrote Chief Justice [00:55:00] Warren, who was not retired of course, because there hadn’t been able to replace him, suggesting that he was not admitting misconduct, but that he wanted to protect the court by ending the controversy.

JOANNE FREEMAN - HOST, NOW & THEN: Fortas said, “There has been no wrongdoing on my part. There has been no default in the performance of my judicial duties in accordance with the high standards of the office I hold. So far as I am concerned, the welfare and maximum effectiveness of the court to perform its critical role in our system of government are factors that are paramount to all others. It is this consideration that prompts my resignation, which I hope by terminating the public controversy will permit the court to proceed with its work without the harassment of debate concerning one of its members.” So he’s talking about the welfare and maximum effectiveness of the court and resigning in the service of those things. [00:56:00] Now, his liberal allies on the court, particularly William Brennan, begged Fortas to stay on the court knowing that President Richard Nixon, who took office in January of 1969, was gearing up to nominate a particularly conservative replacement justice.

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON - HOST, NOW & THEN: So interestingly enough, people are looking back to Fortas now as they’re considering what’s happening with Justice Thomas, and Adam Cohen in the New York Times recently said, “if our body politic were as healthy today as it was in 1969, leaders of both parties would be demanding Justice Thomas’s resignation, and he would be as worried about being impeached by a Republican House as Fortas was by a Democratic one.” But what really jumped out to me about the Fortas case and how different it was than the Field case when we were prepping for this was this Joanne, and I want to see what you have to say about it, because it struck [00:57:00] me that one of the reasons we are at the position we are in this moment is that, really beginning with Nixon, the Republicans ignored norms and really just said, “Well, we don’t care. We’re going to do whatever we want.” and the Democrats continued to try to accept norms to say, “Okay. I’m going to resign even though I didn’t do anything wrong. It looks like I did. So I’m going to back down.” And I wonder if the Democrats had, early on, done what the Republicans were doing that is Fortas said, “Hey, forget it. I’m staying here.” that there would’ve been such a popular outcry that we would’ve gotten the kinds of court reforms that we need. 

Whereas instead, because you could always look at Fortas and say, “Hey, look, the court’s fine. People are retiring when they need to, or they’re stepping down when they look corrupt.” Or the many different times that there have been something that looked bad on the Democratic side and the Democrat has said, “Okay. I’ll [00:58:00] step down.” Whereas on the Republican side, they’ve just said, “No. We’re going to brazen it out.”

So we have George Santos still in the House of Representatives and some of the other people as well who’ve been questioned for their behavior. And the stuff that we covered last week about how corrupt the Tennessee legislature appears to be, that maybe the correct thing for Fortas to have done was not to resign, but to openly take bribes and say, “Yeah. You don’t like it, fix it.” Instead of giving people the excuse of saying, “Well, no. We’re really okay because half the people are behaving.”

JOANNE FREEMAN - HOST, NOW & THEN: that’s like the ultimate constitutional game of chicken. Essentially what you’re saying is, well, if the Republicans were violating norms, the Democrats should have done the same thing because then it would’ve been such an obvious problem that people would’ve cried out and pushed against it. So that is a game of constitutional chicken because it’s assuming people would’ve pushed back. And one of the interesting things that has drifted through this episode is the fact that although the Supreme Court [00:59:00] justices serve for life during good behavior and are supposed to be separate and apart from the other branches of government, and in some way are not supposed to be shaped by popular will, is that the mood of the country and the assumptions of a country and what is right and wrong actually still can shape what happens to a Supreme Court justice.

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON - HOST, NOW & THEN: It is an intellectual exercise here advocating not playing by the rules, but what we’re talking about with the court as opposed to necessarily with Congress, in this case, really does come down to the individuals, because Abe Fortas said, “Okay. I’m out of here. I don’t like the way this looks. I care about the institution. I’m gone.” Today’s Supreme Court has destroyed the court’s legitimacy. They’ve just destroyed it. And instead of being like, “Man, we are really worried about the court’s legitimacy.” They’re like, “Throw me off.” The fact that Justice Thomas is, yet again, just amending [01:00:00] his financial disclosures, considering everything that has come out about that man is mind boggling.

JOANNE FREEMAN - HOST, NOW & THEN: Why are you assuming that back in time, if there had been widespread corruption, that there would’ve been a loud outcry and response? I mean, why are you assuming that the American public would’ve responded differently? And maybe part of the answer to that is the body politic was in a different place. Assumptions about norms were in a different place. I don’t know. But what is your answer to that?

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON - HOST, NOW & THEN: Both of the things you just said, but I think I’m actually looking at something slightly more instrumental in a partisan system, it’s easy to whip up one side of the equation against a corrupt justice, as Strom Thurmond attempted to do and successfully did with Abe Fortas. But if half the population could say, “No, no, no, no, my guys are fine, and we get rid of all your bad guys,” there isn’t a bipartisan outcry against ethical breaches. [01:01:00] So what we’ve got now is we’ve got a whole bunch of Democrats and some independents looking at the Supreme Court and going, what on earth do you people think you’re doing? Whereas the hardcore Republicans are like, “Hey, we love these guys.” And because it’s only happening on one side of the equation, I think you lose out on having everybody say, Hey, we got a systemic problem. And them simply saying, “No, this is all just about politics.”

Final comments on John Roberts' year-end report and the slide away from the possibility of accountability

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with Ralph Nader laying out the case for resignations and reform on the Supreme Court. LegalEagle got into more of the details of Clarence Thomas's relationship with Harlan Crow. The Majority Report discussed why it would be impossible for Thomas to not have known about the ethical problems and reporting requirements he's been flouting. The Kyle Kulinski Show discussed Neil Gorsuch's questionable property sale. The Muckrake Political Podcast pointed to the long history of Clarence Thomas using his leverage on the court to get money from wealthy Republican [01:02:00] benefactors. The PBS NewsHour reported on the new ethics code written by and for the Supreme Court that will do nothing to change any behavior. And finally, Robert Reich laid out his proposals for needed reforms. 

That's what everybody heard, but members also heard bonus clips from All In with Chris Hayes discussing some of the inner workings of the court leading up to the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. And Now & Then discussed the differences between how court scandal was handled in a bipartisan way back in the sixties, compared to how it's basically ignored today. 

To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at BestOfTheLeft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information. 

Now to wrap up, I just wanted to share one more detail about what the court released to end this year, marked primarily by the exposure of vast [01:03:00] corruption within the institution. 

In addition to the toothless ethics rules intended to give the impression of ethical standards on the court rather than to create real standards, John Roberts, the Chief Justice wrote his annual report completely ignoring the topic of ethics. I think the Daily Beast sub-headlines it best: "The Supreme Court in 2023 faced ethics scandals and a serious loss of public trust. Naturally, the Chief Justice's response is a silly childish book report on AI." Continuing from the article: "He spends the first five pages giving a grade school-like report of how the court has evolved from using quill pens to typewriters and now computers. When Roberts does get around to discussing AI for barely two pages, his insights are so bland that Above the Law said about it, quote: 'If AI had a sense of shame, ChatGPT would be [01:04:00] embarrassed by this level of superficiality.'" 

now look, granted AI was also big news this year. I get why he might want to address its potential impact on jurisprudence. But one might also hope that someone in that position would have the self-awareness to realize when they're just not up to the task. Continuing from the article with this important point, quote: "He ducks any real discussion of the true legal ethics issues that AI implicates, such as how the use of it may affect client confidentiality, and what kind of disclosure duties do lawyers have to their clients when they use AI." 

This article and others on the subject make one last point as well, but first, a quick history lesson. This is as good a time as any to point out that Roberts was appointed to the court by George W. Bush after having spearheaded Bush's chaotic legal strategy during the 2000 election recount, that culminated in the so-called Brooks Brothers [01:05:00] riot, in which expensively-suited Republican lawyers literally banged on windows and doors trying to stop the recount, in line with their legal strategy that the only way to assure a fair election was to not count the votes. Now, I don't think Roberts was actually at that riot, but he was the leader of that team of maniacs. And it was rewarded with the appointment as chief justice. 

Secondly, his most famous catch phrase from his hearings was that judges are just umpires. They're just there to call balls and strikes, not make actual, you know, judgments. Which is why we should all be assured that his ideology wouldn't color any of his decisions. 

This was an argument that the left knew was bullshit at the time and said as much, but it was good enough cover for his extreme pro-corporate, anti-voting rights, anti-civil rights stances that he was confirmed without much controversy. 

Well, it turns out that now that [01:06:00] he's faced with the idea of actually mindless AI being integrated into the legal process, he no longer thinks that judges should be compared to relatively mindless umpires, simply calling balls and strikes. 

Back from the article, quote: " He searches for ways to show off his understanding of the limitations of AI. He says that in professional tennis, line judges have been replaced by optical technology to call balls in or out, which he asserts is inapplicable to judging. That's because, quote, 'Legal determinations often involve gray areas that still require application of human judgment.' So much for the umpire analogy." End of article quote. 

Now, of course, it's nice to know how we got here, and occasionally point out some hypocrisy that exposes what a powerful person like Roberts probably always knew was lies. But ultimately that all pales in comparison to the damage that's been done by the court's rulings over the past [01:07:00] 20 years. And it's not even just about the rulings they've made or some of the corrupt ways that justices have gotten their seats of power. The most important thing to understand is that we've created a system that effectively has no mechanism to check that power or corruption. The expectation was always that there would be enough honorable people filling the halls of power that the Supreme Court didn't need any mechanism for oversight beyond the threat of impeachment. But in the time of hyper-partisanship, the stakes, the political stakes, are perceived as being too high to act honorably. They see it as war, not governance. So the rules of war and raw power apply, not the behaviors that would produce good governance. 

And so accountability for corruption that would have been called for as obvious to practically all just a couple of generations ago, is now seen as essentially outside the realm of possibility. 

That is going to be it for [01:08:00] today. As always keep the comments coming in. I would love to hear your thoughts or questions about this or anything else. You can leave us a voicemail or send us a text to 202-999-3991, or simply email me to [email protected]. 

Now, thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our Transcriptionist Trio, Ken, Brian and Ben for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. 

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#1602 What Happens in Israel and Gaza Doesn't Stay in Israel and Gaza (Transcript)

Air Date 1/5/2024

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast in which we will look at the accusations of genocide by Israel that have been filed by South Africa at the International Court of Justice, and are reminded that the tactics and technology that is real develops and tests against Palestinians are sold around the world. Sources today include Democracy Now!, The Intercept, Up First, Making Contact, and The Chris Hedges Report, with additional members only clips from The Chris Hedges Report and the Ralph Nader Radio Hour. 

But first, I just want to quickly address a concern that seems to be fairly widespread, which is that antisemitism is being perceived based, not just on what some are saying about Israel, the war, or Jews in general, but also based on what's not being said, primarily from generally left-wing advocates, activists, and organizations. The accusation is that many on the left haven't prefaced their criticisms of the war or of [00:01:00] Israel with enough condemnation of the attack on Israel by Hamas, or with enough recognition of the pain being felt by the Jewish diaspora. For me, I can actually sort of understand the oversight and why so many on the left wouldn't have felt the need to condemn the attack by Hamas. And it's not out of a lack of concern for the Jewish community or some deep seated antisemitism. It's just so obvious. It seems like something that should go without saying. 

Well, that's how it feels from a left-wing, non-Jewish, non-antisemitic perspective. But the problem is that there are enough antisemitic extremists out there for whom an attack on Israel is not obviously bad which muddies the water to the point where everyone actually has to state their position on being for or against a war crime massacre. It seems absurd, but that's the [00:02:00] current state of play. Anyone speaking up to criticize Israel would be wise to state clearly their condemnations of the attack on Israel. And not just because it's being demanded of them, but because as Naomi Klein explained in her article a couple of months ago, "In Gaza and Israel, side with the child over the gun": "These Zionists' worldview is keen to interpret any perceived lack of support for Israel or Jews more broadly as antisemitism. Which is evidence that their project to build and maintain an ethno state through overwhelming force is justified".

So for those of us who don't support the use of that overwhelming force to maintain their ethno state, we don't want to do anything that would even accidentally help them support that ideology. And besides, for those of us who genuinely do stand with innocent people [00:03:00] against violence and murder being committed against those innocent people, our condemnation of the attack on Israel by Hamas back in October also happens to just be true. And there's really no harm in saying what's true. 

So, it's an absolute tragedy that condemnation of war crimes is something that needs to be clarified. But that is in fact, the tragic circumstances we are currently living with. So as we get into today's episode, which contains much criticism of Israel, I have no problem, starting with a full throated assurance that we stand against all violence related to this conflict, whether it's those in Israel and Gaza or those in the U.S. or elsewhere who are being targeted based on anger and hatred, inflamed by the current war. And stay tuned to the end where I'll talk a bit more about the perception of antisemitism coming from, not just the right, but also from the left.

Israels Push to Expel Residents of Gaza - Democracy Now! - Air Date 1-3-24

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Mouin Rabbani, I want to ask you about your new piece for [00:04:00] Mondoweiss headlined, “The long history of Zionist proposals to ethnically cleanse the Gaza Strip.” Israeli news outlets report that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told a group of Israeli lawmakers last week, quote, “Regarding voluntary emigration, this is the direction we are going in,” Netanyahu said. Israel’s Minister of National Security, the man who’s been convicted of terrorism, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has made similar comments.

ITAMAR BEN-GVIR: [translated] The solution of encouraging the residents of Gaza to emigrate is one that we must advance. It’s the right, just, moral and humane solution. I call on the prime minister and the new foreign minister, who I congratulate on his appointment: Now is the time to coordinate an emigration project, a project to encourage the residents of Gaza to emigrate to the countries of the world. Let’s be clear: We have partners [00:05:00] around the world whose help we can use. There are people around the world with whom we can advance this idea. Encouraging their emigration will allow us to bring home the residents of the communities near the Gaza border and the residents of the Gush Katif settlements.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Those were the words of Israel’s Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir. On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department issued a statement rejecting Ben-Gvir’s comment, as well as those made by Bezalel Smotrich. Meanwhile, The Times of London reports Israeli officials have held secret talks with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and several other countries to take in Palestinians from Gaza. If you can talk about the history of this, Mouin? And also talk about when they refer to “voluntary migration” in Gaza. And also talk about Egypt and the pressure that’s being brought to [00:06:00] bear on Egypt to open its borders to the Palestinians of Gaza.

MOUIN RABBANI: Yes, and voluntary emigration is now, referencing that article you mentioned, being marketed as humanitarian emigration. In other words, we’re doing these people a favor by ethnically cleansing them.

I think the problem here is that many people associate the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians with the Israeli extreme right, with people like Ben-Gvir, Smotrich, Netanyahu and so on. But the point I was seeking to make in that article, which is actually a lengthy Twitter thread that I then posted on Mondoweiss, is that ethnic cleansing, or what Zionists would call transfer, is intrinsic to Zionist and later Israeli policy towards the Palestinians from the very outset.

So, as early as 1895, Theodor [00:07:00] Herzl, the founder of the contemporary political Zionist movement, wrote that we need to “spirit the penniless population across the borders” and find employment for it in other lands. If you go to the period between the British Mandate and the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948, you find that the Zionist movement set up a Transfer Committee, with very clear terms of reference, to ensure that refugees who were expelled would not be able to return to Palestine, to destroy their villages, and things of that sort. And the Gaza Strip, in fact, with a population that consists of more than three-quarters of Palestinian refugees who were ethnically cleansed in 1948, has, since the 1950s, been a key target for depopulation by Israel, because it doesn’t want all [00:08:00] these refugees living within sight, so to speak, of their former homes on its borders. And it has produced a number of proposals and initiatives over the years to achieve that goal, including even one in the late 1960s to send over some 60,000 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to Paraguay, in return for which the Mossad would discover that it no longer had the resources to hunt Nazi fugitives being sheltered by the Stroessner regime.

So, my point was really to demonstrate that this is not a recent policy proposal by the extreme fringes of the Israeli political spectrum, but has been intrinsic to mainstream Zionism and later Israeli policy from the very outset.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: You say at the end of your piece, Mouin Rabbani, “As importantly, the 1948 Nakba did not defeat the Palestinians, who initiated [00:09:00] their struggle from the camps of exile, those in the Gaza Strip most prominently among them. It would take a Blinken level of foolishness to assume the expulsion of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip would produce a different outcome.” Talk about Netanyahu’s goal to de-Hamasify Gaza, and what exactly that means, and the effect of the killing, at this point, of over 22,000 Palestinians.

MOUIN RABBANI: Yes. Well, that takes me back to the second part of your previous question, which I had neglected to answer, which is that at the outset of the current war, Israel saw that it had unqualified, unconditional Western support from its U.S. and European sponsors, and resurrected this long-standing ambition to cleanse the Gaza Strip of Palestinians.

And the proposal that was put front and center, literally on October 7th and onwards, [00:10:00] was to move the population of the Gaza Strip to the Sinai Desert, to Egypt. And this was an idea that was very enthusiastically embraced by the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. And on his first trip to the region, he actually sought to market this to Washington’s Arab allies. And I think he is somewhat of a clueless airhead when it comes to the Middle East. And I think he was expecting to hear from U.S. allies, Arab allies, “How can we help you help our Israeli friends?” And instead he was met with categorical refusal and rejection for this proposal, first and foremost by Egypt.

And the U.S. and European governments later came out with a position that they would oppose forced displacement from the Gaza Strip, leaving open the possibility of what we’re seeing now, an Israeli [00:11:00] military campaign, a primary objective of which is to make the Gaza Strip unfit for human habitation, and then the encouragement of voluntary, or what is now even being called humanitarian, emigration in order to achieve the ethnic cleansing. And I think the genocide that we’re now seeing in the Gaza Strip — and this is something, of course, that’s going to be adjudicated by the International Court of Justice in The Hague after South Africa recently made an application under the Genocide Convention — all these things put together making the Gaza Strip unfit for human habitation.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Mouin Rabbani, we’re going to have to leave it there. I thank you so much for being with us, Middle East analyst, co-editor of Jadaliyya. We’ll link to your piece, “The long history of Zionist proposals to ethnically cleanse the Gaza Strip." 

South Africa Files Case Against Israel at International Court of Justice over Genocidal Gaza War - Democracy Now! - Air Date 1-2-24

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: If you can explain why it’s South Africa that’s bringing this charge, and what exactly is the International Court of Justice, where it fits into the [00:12:00] world justice system? And talk about the charge of genocide.

FRANCIS BOYLE: Well, thank you very much for having me on, Amy. My best to your listening audience.

Not to toot my own horn here, but I was the first lawyer ever to win anything under the Genocide Convention from the International Court of Justice, that goes back to 1921. I single-handedly won two World Court orders for the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina against Yugoslavia to cease and desist from committing all acts of genocide.

And based on my careful review of all the documents so far submitted by the Republic of South Africa, I believe South Africa will win an order against Israel to cease and desist from committing all acts of genocide against [00:13:00] the Palestinians. And then we will have an official determination by the International Court of Justice itself, the highest legal authority in the United Nations system, that genocide is going on. And under Article I of the Genocide Convention, all contracting parties, 153 states, will then be obliged, “to prevent,” the genocide by Israel against the Palestinians.

Second, when the World Court gives this cease-and-desist order against Israel, the Biden administration will stand condemned under Article III, paragraph [e], of the Genocide Convention, that criminalizes complicity in genocide. And clearly we know that the Biden administration [00:14:00] has been aiding and abetting Israeli genocide against the Palestinians here for quite some time. This has also been raised by my friends in the Center for Constitutional Rights and in the National Lawyers Guild in a lawsuit against Biden, Blinken, and Austin.

So, I believe we will be able to use the World Court order. Right now my sources tell me the hearing will be January 11, January 12. Based on my experience with the Bosnians, we can expect an order within a week.

I would also say, with respect to the Biden administration, they are currently in violation of the Genocide Convention Implementation Act, that makes genocide a crime under United States law. And again, [00:15:00] once South Africa wins this order, the Biden administration also will stand in violation of the Genocide Convention Implementation Act.

So, I believe this is where we will be going between now, I would say, and the end of this month. And it is up to all of us, as American citizens, to figure out and support what South Africa is doing at the International Court of Justice here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Francis Boyle, what’s the difference between the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, which is already considering allegations of war crimes by both Israel as well as the Palestinian militant groups?

FRANCIS BOYLE: Right, Juan. The International Court of Justice was originally established back in 1921, its [00:16:00] predecessor, legal predecessor, in law. And that is where I filed the genocide case. I was the first lawyer ever to win two orders in one such case since the World Court was founded in 1921, and it was on the basis of the Genocide Convention. The International Criminal Court is a separate international organization, set up in 2000.

The problem, Juan, is this. Back in 2009, after Operation Cast Lead, I advised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court for Palestine, which he did. I regret to report that the International Criminal Court has not done one darn thing [00:17:00] to help the Palestinians since 2009. The International Criminal Court has all the blood of the Palestinian people on its hands since 2009. And, Juan, that is why we set up a campaign to find a state willing to file a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice, the World Court.

The ICC basically operates at the behest of its funders and founders and masters, which is the U.S., the NATO states, the European states, etc. Until their expedited indictment of President Putin as U.S.-NATO lawfare against Russia, the International Criminal Court had not indicted [00:18:00] one American, one European, one Brit, one NATO citizen, and one Israeli, and one white person.

So, we have a campaign now to support the Republic of South Africa at the International Court of Justice. And we are asking — we’re starting this campaign today. I’m part of a coalition. We’re starting this campaign today to get members of the Genocide Convention to file declarations of intervention at the World Court in support and solidarity with South Africa against Israel and in support of the Palestinians.

A Conversation on the Horrors in Gaza with Jeremy Scahill and Sharif Abdel Kouddous - The Intercept - Air Date 12-20-23

JEREMY SCAHILL - HOST, THE INTERCEPT: I'm watching Al Jazeera and I see Wael wheeled into a hospital, his press vest with [00:19:00] blood on the side of it, and him wincing in pain as they have to then cut through clothes and figure out what kind of injury he suffered and he had been hit when he went to a hospital that had been bombed in an Israeli drone strike and Israel followed up when reporters were there by doing another strike and while got hit with shrapnel.

And the entire time when he's on that bed, he's telling them you need to go back for Semir, his longtime cameraman, and he's saying he's critically wounded. He's bleeding out. We need to send an ambulance back to get him. And so an ambulance tries to go and retrieve him and the Israelis fire on the ambulance, and they blockade the road, they will not allow anyone to retrieve the body of the main cameraman for Al Jazeera's bureau chief. And Al Jazeera's response to this then was to put a clock on their screen and start a timer of how many [00:20:00] minutes had gone by that Israel wasn't allowing any medical personnel to go and retrieve their cameraman, and it went on for more than five hours. He struggled to stay alive, and then he bled out and died.

This is not collateral damage. This is murder. This is murder of a journalist on television. This is beyond anyone's excuses or justifications. This is murdering journalists to silence them, to take the main network whose cameras have been capturing the war crimes and knock them out, and knock the people operating those cameras out. And you know what? Let's kill multiple generations of their families.

If I sound angry, it's because I am. I'm furious. I'm furious at what is happening to the people of Gaza and to my colleagues in Gaza. Sharif, it is unconscionable, the silence that we hear from so many. It's deafening in this country and around the world. [00:21:00] 

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Yeah, Jazeera is preparing a legal file to submit to the International Criminal Court over what it calls the assassination of Semir, and Reporters Without Borders is also intending to file a lawsuit with the ICC against Israel for targeting journalists in Palestine.

 I don't think, unfortunately, those are going to go anywhere. And then you're watching the journalists who are still alive, Dahdouh or Motaz Azaiza or these journalists will become the faces through which we understand of what's happening in Gaza, and I'm really afraid they're going to be killed.

Like I don't know how well is alive, actually, He was almost killed. And he keeps going out there and he keeps reporting. He's not leaving. And yeah, what angers me almost more is that yes, this response by Western news outlets. I'm not talking, they are reporting on what's happening, increasingly, there is more reporting on it and they do report on these journalists being killed. But [00:22:00] on the editorial line of it, the "Democracy dies in darkness" or whatever, stuff like that. Or the way they responded to Jamal Khashoggi or the way they responded to Evan Gershkovich. There isn't the same response, and this is so much worse. And yeah, it lays bare of a terrifying bias. Often corporate media outlets and journalists, there's this big debate over whether you're allowed to have a political opinion or not or objective journalism. And they often label outlets like Democracy Now!, like The Intercept or independent journalists as "activist journalists," as if we have some bias that that skews our reporting in a bad way. 

I can't see a stronger bias than what is being reflected in their coverage. It's just that their bias is framed by establishment orthodoxy. And it spans the political spectrum of Washington, basically. It doesn't fall outside of that. Anything that falls outside of that is [00:23:00] radical. But they're the ones who have a radical agenda, I think -- that is, if you're just an honest journalist, then you should be outraged. And this should be the number one story that you're covering. 

And I've spoken about this before with you, Jeremy, on Intercepted, about the coverage of places like the New York Times that I'm still somehow shocked by. I'm still somehow shocked. It's gotten better because of the scale of the killing and the length of it. But especially in the beginning, it was just outrageous reporting that on a very basic level of journalism was really handing a microphone to Israel and publishing their narrative without challenging it. That's a terrible bias. 

And then, yeah, what is going to happen to Palestine? What's going to happen to Gaza? They have made it unlivable. Even if the bombing stopped today, if there's a ceasefire at this moment, what's going to happen? The people have nothing to go back to. There are no homes left. They've destroyed it. [00:24:00] There's no water. There's no sanitation. They've bombed bakeries. They've bombed wheat mills. I don't know what the plan is. I don't understand. And I don't frankly, I don't think that there is one, a coherent one. 

Mosab, the poet that I just heard talk, he said, "You're not allowed to stay in Gaza. They're driving us out, but you're not allowed to leave it either." And he's, " I don't know what they want. I don't think they know themselves what they're doing. They're just killing and destroying." And I think that is right.

Northern Gaza has been turned into this hollow shell. It's an uninhabitable moonscape with few residents left. There's bodies, thousands of bodies or hundreds of bodies buried under the rubble. Southern Gaza is a humanitarian catastrophe with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians crammed into this even smaller space of the Strip, displaced in schools and tents and shelters. And there's a relentless bombardment and assault there as well. 

And can you think of any twin image that is more [00:25:00] illustrative of colonial expansion than that, a destroyed and empty geography alongside an overcrowded ocean of displaced suffering? 

And one can only assume that this mass slaughter and destruction that Israel has wrought in Gaza, it's just an intention to make the territory uninhabitable for the 2.2 or 2.3 million Palestinians who live there and to push for expulsion via a military-engineered humanitarian catastrophe.

Disease In Gaza, New York Times vs. ChatGPT, Hottest Year On Record - Up First - Air Date 12-28-23

A MARTINEZ - CO-HOST, UP FIRST: In Gaza, access to food, sanitation and clean water is scarce as the war between Hamas and Israel rages on.

ASMA KHALID - CO-HOST, UP FIRST: The World Health Organization warns disease may eventually kill more people than actual combat if the health system is not fixed. 

A MARTINEZ - CO-HOST, UP FIRST: You've got NPR's Ari Daniel here to walk us through what's being done to try to stay ahead of an outbreak. Ari, first off, can you give us a snapshot of infectious disease in Gaza right now? What's it looking like? 

ARI DANIEL: Sure. It's bad, and it may well get worse. The WHO says rates are, quote, soaring. [00:26:00] Here's one example: more than 100,000 cases of diarrhea, with rates among children that are 25 times higher than before the war. Our producer, Anas Baba, spoke to pediatrician Tahrir Alsheikh, who's seen some brutal cases of diarrhea.

PEDIATRICIAN TAHRIR ALSHEIKH: I treated a four month old baby who had 20 bowel movements in a day. 

ARI DANIEL: Along with a torrent of respiratory diseases. 

PEDIATRICIAN TAHRIR ALSHEIKH: I've had cases that didn't respond to any treatment. 

ARI DANIEL: The WHO says there are also numerous cases of meningitis, rashes, scabies, lice, and chicken pox. 

A MARTINEZ - CO-HOST, UP FIRST: Wow. Now we hear how hard it is to treat people who are hurt and sick right now.

Ari, what combination of conditions created the situation where an infectious disease disaster could really be right around the corner? 

ARI DANIEL: Well, Gaza's health infrastructure has really crumbled amidst Israel's bombardment and ground offensive. The WHO says more than half of Gaza's hospitals are no longer functioning. [00:27:00] And that's because Israel has accused Hamas of harboring fighters and weapons in and around those hospitals and under them in tunnels, putting them in the line of fire. Plus, the conditions inside Gaza are a perfect storm for the spread of infectious disease. There is intense overcrowding, colder winter weather, and a lack of clean water, sanitation and proper nutrition, which are services that are difficult to secure under Israel's near total siege of Gaza.

Here's Amber Ali, a deputy program manager for Doctors Without Borders in the Palestinian territories. 

AMBER ALI: It's just sort of a cauldron of possibility of infectious disease. This really just is an infectious disaster in waiting. 

A MARTINEZ - CO-HOST, UP FIRST: And that brings us back, I suppose, to the World Health Organization's prediction that disease could endanger more lives than military action.

ARI DANIEL: Exactly. And it's why global health groups are racing to ramp up disease surveillance efforts. 

A MARTINEZ - CO-HOST, UP FIRST: What did [00:28:00] that look like in Gaza before the war? 

ARI DANIEL: Pretty good, actually, despite the Israeli blockade. But the war's compromised all that. Here's Dr. Alsheikh again. 

PEDIATRICIAN TAHRIR ALSHEIKH: We used to culture bacteria in Gaza, prescribe medication based on the results. Now, we can't do cultures or anything, and the infections are spreading. 

A MARTINEZ - CO-HOST, UP FIRST: So then what are public health professionals doing to try and catch an outbreak before it even takes off? 

ARI DANIEL: Well, a WHO official recently traveled to Gaza with rapid tests for hepatitis and cholera. They want to resuscitate one or two of the local laboratories that used to do pathogen screening. Negotiations are also underway to bring a mobile lab into Gaza or ferry specimens out to Egypt for testing. For now, Rick Brennan, a regional emergency director with the WHO, told me it's fortunate that terrible diseases like measles or cholera haven't yet surfaced. 

RICK BRENNAN, WHO: To be honest, I'm grateful that we've got to [00:29:00] this point. We've got increased rates, but we haven't had a deadly outbreak yet. 

ARI DANIEL: Whether that good fortune lasts isn't certain. But early detection will be critical to keeping potential disease outbreaks contained before they lead to further suffering. 

Gaza, Solidarity, and the Movement for Palestinian Liberation - Making Contact - Air Date 11-29-23

LUCY KANG - HOST, MAKING CONTACT: We're going to zoom out from the situation on the ground in Gaza to looking at the various actors involved in these atrocities.

So I sat down with Nora to hear about the weapons that Israel is using in attacks like on al Shifa hospital and where they're coming from. I want us to take a closer look at Israel's military industry. So, Israel is one of the world's most militarized countries, as well as a major weapons supplier internationally. I'm wondering, could you maybe sketch out for us a broad picture of what Israel's military industrial complex looks like and how it enables this current genocide and the ongoing occupation? 

NORA BARROWS-FRIEDMAN: Israel is a settler [00:30:00] colonial rampart of Western imperial interests in the Middle East. Israel is not only a leading arms manufacturer that sells its so-called battle tested or field tested weaponry to other states around the world.

Of course, the research and development wing of these weapons are the people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, specifically Gaza over the last, 20 years. Tons of brand new weaponry are tested on Palestinians and then sold in the world market by Israeli arms companies, but it's also a leader in surveillance technology and biotech weaponry and technology.

So Israel is also a leading supplier of spyware for governments and bad faith actors around the world. And of course it is all supported and financed by the [00:31:00] US. The US finances the Israeli military up to three, sometimes six billion dollars a year. A lot of that is also through weapons contracts.

The US also uses Israel as a weapons storage depot where it can store weapons for US led imperial interests in the region. I mean, it is so expansive and it is so insidious. Israel's weapons industry is its biggest export. I mean, where do we start? I, Israel uses surveillance drones on Palestinians right now, as we speak. These same surveillance drones are the ones that the Department of Homeland Security has purchased to patrol the border wall between the US and Mexico. 

There are these weapons something that's called the ninja missile, I believe, and it is designed [00:32:00] to, upon impact, fan out these blades, and they're designed to rip flesh just into pieces. I'm just imagining. people in business suits, sitting around boardrooms, coming up with designs for these kinds of weaponry. I just, I have a lot of just fear for humanity that this is what our minds can come up with, and that these weapons are being used against mostly children in the Gaza Strip is just, I mean, there are no words. I keep losing words for this horror that we're seeing. I feel like we need to come up with a brand new vocabulary.

LUCY KANG - HOST, MAKING CONTACT: Yeah, absolutely. And when you were talking about this vision that you had of people in boardrooms, I was also thinking about the role of global defense corporations as well, who are not only enabling [00:33:00] the genocidal war, but also profiting from it. Can you talk about some of the other players who are profiting actively now? 

NORA BARROWS-FRIEDMAN: Yeah, the big three, in the US which is Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, which design and manufacture not just missiles, but also, the war planes the fighter jets, drones. We're talking about Elbit systems, which is an Israeli company, but which has headquarters in the UK and facilities in the US, especially on the East coast. I mean, it is an enormous industry, I think, and it's so ingrained with Western capitalism. I mean, they're just normal factories producing normal products for normal states to be used in normal situations. That's how it's marketed. 

Boeing, oh, they make airplanes as well. We all fly passenger jets. Boeing also makes weapons that kill people. Raytheon is one of the biggest weapons [00:34:00] manufacturers on the planet, Lockheed Martin as well, and it's just, these players are always excited when there's a global conflict or a war or a genocide happening because their stocks go up, because their products become more valuable. And we're seeing now, we're seeing these stock prices rise. We're seeing economic experts talking about how great this war on Gaza is for these weapons manufacturers. How it's all just normalized and into this sort of natural outcome of capitalism and Western interests. It's just, it's devastating, and it should not be normal. 

These weapons manufacturers are complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity, and when we look at what's happening in Gaza, when children, fathers and mothers and grandparents, and doctors and journalists and school teachers are being shredded to bits by Western [00:35:00] weapons. We have to figure out ways to stop it. 

There are activists all over the country all over the world, but if we're focusing in on the US there are activists who every day since the start of this genocide in Gaza have been engaged in incredible direct actions and protests to stop these weapons manufacturers and these war criminal, conspirators from profiting and that is incredibly necessary. People are getting arrested. People are locking themselves down at the gates of Boeing and of Elbit facilities and stopping the weapon shipments on cargo ships just like the port of Oakland a couple of weeks ago, and then two days later at the port of Tacoma, Washington.

It's time for people to not see this as business as usual. The majority of people in this country do not want this genocide to happen, and It is incumbent upon us to do whatever we [00:36:00] can to stand in the way of these war crimes. We're seeing these marches nearly every weekend just here in California, and every day around the country, where thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people are gathering to add their voice to this growing, exponentially growing choir saying not in our name, stop the bombing, stop this genocide, and warning the Biden administration that they're going to be voted out.

Gaza is a weapons lab for the arms industry w Antony Loewenstein - The Chris Hedges Report - Air Date 12-8-23

CHRIS HEDGES - HOST, THE CHRIS HEDGES REPORT: Let's talk about privatization. You talk about the neoliberalism that transformed Israel, which was a socialist state, major state-owned enterprises were sold off, privatized, especially in the 1990s. Israel has very high income inequality. Poverty rate at 23% in Israel, 36% for the Arab population. And you write, "Many Palestinians are unaware at how the occupation has been privatized, because it [00:37:00] makes no difference if a state officer or a private individual harasses or humiliates them". You go on to write, "Many checkpoints through which Palestinians are forced to travel to access their schools, workplaces, or Israel, if they are fortunate enough to get one of the few work permits handed out by the Jewish state, use facial recognition technology and biometric details to document their every move". But these are private companies, so explain that, what's happened to how essentially private for profit firms are managing the occupation? 

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: It's worth saying obviously that Israel was a self-described socialist country, but socialist country for Jews, and that's... 

CHRIS HEDGES - HOST, THE CHRIS HEDGES REPORT: Well, yes. Yes. That's right. 

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: And also, yes, and clearly I mean as some older viewers will be aware, it's amazing to think now that so much of the global left was enamored with Israel for the first really 20 years of its existence. Anyway, that was a bit of blindness that we can talk about some other time. But anyway. 

Yeah, look, Netanyahu [00:38:00] was a key factor in this, that yes, Israel had a quasi-socialist background. In the last 20 or so years, there's been a shift, to not just neoliberal policies within Israel itself, but also outsourced in the occupation. And in some ways, it sort of goes along with the massive expansion of settlements. You now have roughly three quarter of a million Jewish settlers living in occupied territory, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And a lot of the guards or security officers that are working on both settler checkpoints, but also Israeli checkpoints are run by private companies.

And I've spent some... I lived in East Jerusalem between 2016 and 2020 and been visiting there for close to 20 years. So I spent a lot of time looking into these kinds of issues and it's worth saying that, as I say in the book, yes, it's been outsourced and the accountability was zero, even if an Israeli soldier commits an abuse, let alone if a private interest does. And it's important also to say that, yes, a lot of these [00:39:00] companies are Israeli, but many of them, in fact, that are doing this are also foreign and international. And that's relevant because some viewers will remember the last years, the UN had tried for years to release this list of global companies and Israeli companies that were directly complicit in the occupation, and therefore they should be boycotted, essentially. And they released a list a number of years ago. It caused a big scandal in some circles. About 20 or so of those companies then removed themselves from being involved in managing the occupation, so to speak. But there are still, I think, around 100 companies, Israeli and foreign, that are directly involved day to day in so called managing the occupation.

That, to me, is not just illegal and immoral, but also ripe for a kind of boycott campaign, which I suspect will increase in the coming years after what we've seen in the last six weeks. 

CHRIS HEDGES - HOST, THE CHRIS HEDGES REPORT: Can you talk about AnyVision, I think it's changed its name to Oosto, and then Unit 8200? 

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: AnyVision, which you said [00:40:00] has changed its name, is a facial recognition company, an Israeli company that was testing this at Israeli checkpoints. So, what that means is that when Palestinians want to, say, move around the West Bank, if they want to potentially go from the West Bank into Israel proper, they have to have their details checked, their irises often checked now, and they were gathering all this information. We don't exactly know where that information was going, but clearly it was going into Israel, a massive database that they were using to gather personal data on pretty much every single Palestinian in the Occupied Territories.

Those tools are then marketed globally. They have appeared in huge amounts of infrastructure from airports to other places around the world. And when those companies promote it, whether, AnyVision uses the term 'battle tested'. I'm not sure, but they are saying it's been tested in Palestine successfully. So called successfully. And that does tie into Unit 8200, which is, as I said, [00:41:00] Israel's NSA. It is the body that is gathering intelligence on Israelis and on Palestinians and increasingly, I should say, there is a lot of evidence that increasingly the occupation is coming home. That a lot of Israeli Jews who for years believed that this was just happening to Palestinians down the road are increasingly being surveilled themselves.

And I'm not just talking about since October 7, although particularly since then, that there is a mood within Israel, increasingly, of criminalizing dissent entirely, whether it's by Arabs or Jews. But Unit 8200 has become this kind of quite infamous funnel of people who work in the military for years developing all these tools and methods to surveil Palestinians, which they then take to the private sector to develop various forms of repression, which they can then sell around the world.

And by maintaining those close ties, that's how it goes to my point earlier on, the NSO group was essentially an arm of the state. Many of these companies, these surveillance [00:42:00] companies, repressive tools, biometric companies operating in the Occupied Territories or in Gaza are then used by Israel as a key selling point to make new friends, so to speak.

It's a transactional friendship, transactional relationship, and it's why, as I really think, I think this more and more, that the Israeli arms industry really is an insurance policy. It's an insurance policy because, yes, there are some countries that oppose what Israel's doing. Not many, not enough. But even the countries that publicly do oppose what Israel is doing, many of them are still buying Israeli repressive technology. I mean, Mexico is one example amongst many. So, often I think words matter. Sure. What a government or, you know, prime minister or president says, it's not irrelevant. Yeah, sure. But what matters more is what you're doing, what you're buying, what you're deploying yourself in your own country.

So, when you have 130, 140 nations in the world that have [00:43:00] bought some form, in the last decades, of Israeli defense technology, drones, missiles, spyware, whatever it may be that's what matters. And I think those Israel believes probably with justification, those nations, at least for now, are unlikely to turn on Israel while they're so reliant on those tools of repression.

Gaza, Solidarity, and the Movement for Palestinian Liberation Part 2 - Making Contact - Air Date 11-29-23

LARA KISWANI: As Palestinians, we understand our movement as part of the movement against settler colonialism. We understand our movement as the struggle against Israeli apartheid. We understand that struggle as against ethno supremacy, white supremacy, religious supremacy, fascism, and right wing authoritarianism. And we understand that all these systems of oppression are used to exploit and dominate indigenous people and land, from manifest destiny to the Zionist colonization of Palestine, to fascist coups across the global South.

And as such, what we're witnessing in Palestine as part of a 75 year struggle against colonial [00:44:00] violence, 16 years of a brutal and inhumane siege on Gaza, most importantly, backed by and made possible by the economic, military, and political support of the US government. 

So from an abolitionist perspective, we need to unpack the violence the system uses to exercise state repression and inhibit people of color and poor people from their own self determination. I won't get into all the specifics of what Israel has done, but we know that they have oppressed us as Palestinians for 75 years. My father is older than the state of Israel. And they imagine that the old would die and the young would forget, and what we're seeing in the streets today and what we're seeing around the world is evidence that that is absolutely not true. 

And today, as anti racists, as feminists, as abolitionists, we must recommit ourselves to the critical work of defunding genocide, defunding war, defunding apartheid and militarism, and funding people's health, well-being, and freedom. Abolition, I [00:45:00] believe, forces us to ask the critical question of what are the economic and political priorities of this US government, and what do we need to do to shift those priorities?

Our immediate strategy as a movement is quite clear, it's plain and simple. We must do everything in our power to stop this war on Palestinians in Gaza and demand an immediate ceasefire. Without that, we cannot build or strengthen our movement, let alone any social justice movement. We, when I say we, it's the big we, right? It's all people of conscious. We're lucky today to have our anti Zionist Jewish allies like Jewish Voice for Peace taking bold and necessary steps to engage in mass civil disobedience against this war. We are fortunate to have other social justice movement partners joining us in that struggle, but right now we need everyone.

The call for an end to this war should be echoed by anybody who values human life, by all [00:46:00] freedom loving people. And we know that we will not stop until there is a ceasefire. And once there is, we will not stop until there is no more siege on Gaza. And once that happens, we will not stop until we end apartheid and Palestine is free and myself and my six month old child have the right to return.

What we have seen in the past, and in the current, that has had an impact, are the mass direct actions, what we witnessed at Grand Central Station with our Jewish allies, shutting down federal buildings, shutting down freeways, disrupting warmongers when they speak, as we saw with Blinken, making it so that nobody can turn a blind eye to this.

And let's continue to do that, to do everything we can to build and shift power, but while we work to demand an end to this war, we are also drawing on our historical memory of 9/11, and working to defend and protect our communities right here in the United [00:47:00] States against the growing rise of anti Palestinian, Islamophobic, racism, and violence, facilitated by the systems of policing, imprisonment, and surveillance. 

We're seeing the criminalization of any Palestine solidarity. Prior to this war on Gaza, in 37 states it was illegal to engage in boycott, divest, and sanctions against Israel. We are seeing the emboldenment of political repression, more laws attempted to be passed right here, including in California, where I live, to make Palestine solidarity on college campuses illegal. We're seeing surveillance increase with the targeting of Palestinian homes, communities, and faith institutions. Superintendents and school districts, democratic club parties, elected statements are fanning the flames of racism, calling for people to "stand with Israel". In layman terms, stand with genocide and war.

And just as the struggle, we know, [00:48:00] for a free Palestine emboldens those repressive systems of the prison industrial complex, Palestine solidarity also expands the terrain for social justice movements. To unpack and challenge militarism, policing, surveillance in the spirit of solidarity and collective liberation. So while we're watching the United States government. And so many of its Western allies clamor to beat the drums of war and annihilation of my people, we have a duty, for those of us in the belly of this beast, to stop this war, to defund this war, to defund apartheid. And we have learned from the movement against apartheid South Africa, what has worked.

As such, we call on everybody to boycott Israel. We call on institutions to divest from Israel. We call on the US government to sanction Israel and end its billions in military aid. We call on our communities and allies to stop the [00:49:00] annihilation of Palestinians by demanding an end to the siege on Gaza, end to the occupation, freedom for all of our political prisoners, and an end to US aid to apartheid Israel.

But despite The egregious violence our people are facing today, I also want to remind us of the gains we've made, because we have made gains over the last few decades where the question of Palestine is central to any social justice movement. Today, there's consensus across progressive communities that an attack on Palestine is an attack on all movements for justice.

And fundamentally, we also know it's never really just been about Palestine, it's about what the movement for Palestinian liberation represents—the ongoing anti colonial struggle against US imperialism, racial capitalism, global militarism, the decolonial liberatory potential of all our movements, and the development [and] implementation of a people-centered, multi racial democracy.

The revolutionary Palestinian [00:50:00] Arab tradition I come out of is indebted to, and shaped by, international feminists and abolitionists such as Angela Davis. Through that lens, we know what is made possible by understanding our struggles as linked, understanding the necessity of solidarity and internationalism. Bringing it back to the radical understanding of intersectionality, the Combahee River Collective. We understand solidarity's not just simply a moral imperative, it's a necessary way of life for all those committed to changing the course of history, and transforming society and ourselves in the process. 

The embodiment of that tradition is why and how I and AROC understand the struggle to abolish apartheid, the struggle to abolish Zionism, the struggle to abolish fascism in our homeland, As one in the same with the international struggle to free all political prisoners for economic and political democracy, for [00:51:00] education and healthcare, for right relations to the land, for social justice, for gender justice, for climate justice, shaped in the interest of working people.

So with the rebellions we've seen in the United States in recent years, we've also seen the unmasking of violence, of the violence of racial capitalism and policing. The whole world is questioning the foundation of this system, the historical exploitation and dispossession of Black and Indigenous people. And just as the system finds its origins in the exploitation of Black and Indigenous communities, it's also true that it finds its undoing in the centuries long emancipatory visions of these same people. Freedom for the indigenous people of Palestine is part and parcel of that emancipatory vision.

BONUS Gaza is a weapons lab for the arms industry w Antony Loewenstein Part 2 - The Chris Hedges Report - Air Date 12-8-23

CHRIS HEDGES - HOST, THE CHRIS HEDGES REPORT: Let's talk about the Alpha Gun Girls. So, a little sidelight, but something, just disgusting, didn't know existed until you wrote it, until I read it.

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: [00:52:00] Yes. Well, there is a side industry, I guess you could call it, of Israeli women, Jewish women, who are... often they've been in the military, they kind of have fetishized or sexualized the Israeli military. So, you have these groups of women who are scantily clad, often holding guns, often posing in photo shoots as if they're kind of in war in Gaza or somewhere else, as an idea and a way to show two things. One, the IDF is female-friendly. You can be a incredibly sexy woman and still be in the IDF and kill Palestinians. That's the implication. And secondly, that Israeli women are cool. I mean, that's the message they're trying to send. I don't know if it's particularly effective, but that's the message they're trying to send.

And for years, you know, I've been following this story that there's been a real push by the IDF, the Israeli army, to [00:53:00] show how gender-friendly they are, how in fact gay-friendly they are, how trans-friendly they are. By how vegan-friendly they are. I mean, this is, we sort of laugh in a way by saying this, but I have a big section in the book talking about, this is such a key part of Israeli messaging, so called 'hasbara'.

I'm not entirely convinced it's massively successful. I mean, people can argue that either way. But a lot of Israel's social media in the last 10 or so years has focused on this issue. We give vegan meals to soldiers who want it. We are trans-friendly. We are women-friendly. We are gay-friendly. You can, you know, wave the rainbow flag. In fact, some viewers will see, about two weeks after the Israeli invasion of Gaza, there was this Israeli soldier in Gaza, the background was apocalyptic, holding the rainbow flag. And this image kind of went viral, I did a story about it, essentially saying, and the message was very clear, you see, we want to liberate Palestinians in Gaza who are gay to just be [00:54:00] themselves.

Now, the mocking that this got, justifiably, was clear, as if people were saying, Right, so you've decimated Gaza and it's apocalyptic, but gee, you can be a gay Palestinian and some may have freedom in Gaza. I mean, the cognitive dissonance to actually believe that. And that ties into these girls you're talking about, just finally, that these women over the last years are traveling around Israel and the world promoting an image of Israel as liberal, but also militaristic, pro-feminist, but also gun-friendly. And that's why a lot of pro-gun groups in the U. S., and mostly men, let's be honest, are into these kinds of sexualization of Israeli gun wielding women. 

BONUS Christian Zionism - Ralph Nader Radio Hour - Air Date 12-30-23

HANNAH FELDMAN - CO-HOST, RALPH NADER RADIO HOUR: Reverend Wagner, my question is about how American fundamentalist Christian clergy fetishize the Holy Land. We've had previous guests speak to how Birthright Israel and other similar programs [00:55:00] fetishize Israel and try to turn Zionism into a core tenet of American Judaism. Could you speak to how American Christianity, whichever relevant sects, how they fetishize the Holy Land, and the work that you're doing to counteract that.

REV. DR. DONALD WAGNER: Yeah. Well, that's a book right there, but you can find it in my memoir, Glory to God in the Lowest. I deal with that. I grew up in this right wing evangelical Christian Zionism. It's actually a form of fundamentalism. It actually also predates Zionism, and worked with Zionism like as a handmaiden, symbiotically, back in the 1890s and so on.

But Christian Zionism as an evangelical fundamentalist movement really elevates the modern state of Israel, and it equates biblical Israel with the modern state. That in itself is [00:56:00] a heretical teaching. There's nothing in the Bible that says a modern state will be the fulfillment of prophecy. But this movement takes that kind of a direction, and it has kind of a three act scenario to it.

The first act is that we are now in a difficult period, but we must support Israel because that is not only the locus, but the movement that will bring Jesus back. The second act of this scenario is that soon we will enter a final period where Israel will be attacked from the north. Christians, who are true believers, as born again Christians, will be raptured, lifted out of history, conveniently. Now, this is all heresy, in my opinion. So, two thirds of the Jews will die in the final battle of Armageddon. So, that's Act 2. And Act 3 is that Jesus comes back, [00:57:00] and you have a chance to build a thousand year rule and convert to Christianity or go to hell. 

A great Jewish writer, Gershon Greenberg, was on 60 Minutes once, and he was asked about that. He said, yeah, it's a three act scenario, and we Jews, two thirds of us, die in act two, or we have to convert to Christianity. He said, as a Jew, I don't like my chances. So, that's a summary of the movement. It's very strong. It has a movement called Christians United for Israel, which has offices in every state, mobilizes groups, and Trump loved them and he had John Hagee, the director, on.

They work hand in glove with the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, to mobilize evangelical Christian support and funding. They are funding settlements, they raise money, Hagee raises money and gives millions of dollars to the Israeli Defense Forces, and it's all tax exempt. That is a loophole that [00:58:00] has to be closed to shut this down. And they're aligned with many of these militant settlement groups. 

So, this is a dangerous movement, and it's not just in North America. It's growing in Central and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. So, Netanyahu is reaping global support, and they bring people to Israel and spend a lot of money when no one else is coming, like now. 

So that's just a summary, but you can get more of this in my book, Anxious for Armageddon, and there's a great website that I worked on for a while called www.christianzionism.org, where evangelicals critique this heretical theology and show alternatives. 

What we're hoping is we're going to have a powerful coalition working from the bottom up to mobilize more people at the grassroots to change Congress, but we're not quite there yet. So we need your help.

Final comments on the impacts of the antisemitism that is felt by the Jewish diaspora in the wake of the Hamas attack and war in Gaza

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with Democracy [00:59:00] Now! describing Israel's strategy of voluntary migration. Democracy Now! also explained the process ahead at the International Court of Justice. The Intercept discussed a journalist being killed in Gaza. Up First looked at the rise of infectious disease amid limited medical resources. Making Contact focused on the export of Israeli military technology around the world. The Chris Hedges Report looked at the security apparatus in Israel and how it's sold abroad. And Making Contact featured a monologue laying out an anti-colonial vision of freedom. 

That's what everybody heard, but members also heard bonus clips from The Chris Hedges Report highlighting the inclusive marketing of the IDF, and the Ralph Nader Radio Hour discussed Christian Zionism in the U S. 

To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at BestOfTheLeft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a [01:00:00] financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information. 

For more on our take of the war in Gaza and Israel more broadly, we've done several episodes recently that are worth checking out. Number 1584 covers the political turmoil in Israel before the attack by Hamas in October. 1589 gives first impressions, just 10 days out from the Hamas attack. 1591 looks at both traditional and social media in relation to the war. And 1592 looked deeper into some of the underlying causes of the conflict. So check those out. Again, those are episodes 1584, 89, 91 and 92. 

Now to wrap up, I wanted to share a couple of contrasting points that I came across while reading some of the latest on the reverberations of this war currently being felt here at home. There was an article in Politico titled "California lawmakers pull the fire alarm on anti-Semitism"[01:01:00] and it features an interview with a California assemblyperson who is also the co-chair of the legislative Jewish Caucus, expressing their concern about growing anti-Semitism that seems to be coming from both the left and right, in their perception. The quote that really stuck out is this one: he says, quote, "We now find ourselves in this incredible situation where we are trapped between the far right and the far left. Those two groups hate each other, see each other as a threat to everything they love and believe as holy, and the one thing they seem to agree on is that Jews are uniquely evil and that we are responsible for the world's problems. " Continuing, "Those are two segments of our society in the United States and around the world that are growing. And if one of the core ideologies that's made its way into both of those groups, is that Jews are bad and Jews are oppressors and Jews are evil. That's a very [01:02:00] problematic and scary thing for us given how we've seen this unfold in history over and over again." End quote. 

Now to me, that sounds practically unhinged. I mean, the description of anti-Semitism, as displayed quite frequently from the far right, makes perfect sense. The sort of conspiratorial anti-Jewish vision of a cabal of Jews being evil and causing all the problems in the world -- that's not a fantasy, that's not something that doesn't exist in the real world. It does. But I basically never hear about it coming from anyone who claims to be on the left. That seems to be almost exclusively a far-right conspiratorial mindset. 

Now I'm sure that there are some outlier examples that could be pointed to, but I mostly think that this kind of thinking stems from what I discussed at the top of the show: [01:03:00] that anyone who didn't do a good enough job of condemning the Hamas attack gets suddenly categorized as antisemitic in the minds of people like this California politician, that is basically equivalent to white supremacists. 

But for another perspective on this, let's turn to another recent article, this one is from the Guardian titled, "Anti-Defamation League staff decry dishonest campaign against Israel critics." So the Anti-Defamation League has made a name for itself over the last more than a hundred years as experts in extremism by tracking and cataloging antisemitism and extremist violence. However, they're not just a hands-off data organization. They also advocate quite explicitly for the state of Israel and for the ideology of Zionism. In 2022, the ADL CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said that, quote, [01:04:00] "Anti-Zionism is antisemitism." And he singled out Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace as groups that, quote, "Epitomize the radical left, the photo inverse of the extreme right that ADL long has tracked." End quote. 

So, again, this is taking an extreme position that I would argue defines antisemitism so broadly as to be basically absurd, and which has the effect of stoking far more fear of antisemitism from the left than could possibly be justified. 

It sort of conjures the idea that, before we thought the only danger was coming from the far right, but now we see that the danger has basically doubled and that it's coming from both sides, as the left-wing peace activists who criticize the policies of the government of Israel are equally dangerous to Jewish people as those primarily on the right who hold [01:05:00] conspiratorial. antisemitic views. 

But the good news being focused on in this article is that there seems to be a healthy amount of dissent within the ADL, which I had not heard before. Continuing from the article, just after that quote from the CEO, quote, " His remarks didn't only upset grassroots activists and Jewish groups critical of Israeli policy. It also set off a firestorm within the Jewish advocacy group. Some members of ADL staff were outraged by the dissonance between Greenblatt's comments and the organization's own research, as evidenced by internal messages viewed by the Guardian. 'There is no comparison between white supremacists and insurrectionists, and those who espouse anti-Israel rhetoric, and to suggest otherwise is both intellectually dishonest and damaging to our reputation as experts in extremism,' a senior [01:06:00] manager at ADL's Center on Extremism wrote in a Slack channel to over 550 colleagues. Others chimed in, agreeing. Quote: 'The afore-mentioned false equivalencies and the both-sidesism are incompatible with the data I've seen,' a long-term extremism researcher said." End quote. 

So I was really glad to hear that, and hold out hope that this perspective, one based on the evidence and data about where the actual dangers of antisemitism stem from, will be the one that prevails in the long run. But we can't depend on data alone. This is a mistake that the left makes often. How people feel, and how they perceive a situation, is almost always more relevant than what the data says. And the Jewish community feels attacked right now, obviously. The California assemblyman, when asked what [01:07:00] he wanted support to look like, ended up just talking about how it simply felt bad when critics of Israel didn't also acknowledge the pain and suffering that's going on in the Jewish community. 

Now for some, like the CEO of ADL, any criticism of Israel will be seen and felt as antisemitism. And I'm happy to have that debate, because I think that's nonsense. But for others, it seems like they feel attacked and just don't want to also feel abandoned at the same time. So if acknowledging the pain and suffering actually helps people feel less threatened, and helps sap the energy from the more extreme and dangerous instincts within the Zionist ideology, then, if you're criticizing Israel from the left without making your holistic perspectives clear about all of the violence on all sides, then I think you're doing your [01:08:00] left wing politics wrong. 

That is going to be it for today. As always, keep the comments coming in. I would love to hear your thoughts or questions about this or anything else. You can leave us a voicemail or send us a text to 202-999-3991, or simply email me to [email protected]. 

Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our transcriptionist trio, Ken, Brian, and Ben for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who already support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships. You can join them by signing up today at BestOfTheLeft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good and often funny bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content, no ads, [01:09:00] and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. You'll find that link in the show notes, along with a link to join our Discord community where you can also continue the discussion. 

So coming to from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay!, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast, coming to you twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from BestOfTheLeft.com. 

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#1601 Christian Nationalism is not Christianity, it is Fascism (Transcript)

Air Date 1/2/2024

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast, in which we will look at Trump's greatest impact, that of bringing the fringes of the conservative movement into the center, and by strongly courting the evangelical Christian vote, helping accelerate the Christian nationalist movement to merge religion with patriotism. 

Sources today include Confronting Christian Nationalism, a little on the nose there, Fresh Air, Radio Atlantic, The Hartmann Report, Meet the Press, and The Chris Hedges Report, with additional members-only clips from the Benjamin Dixon Show and Democracy Now!.

A Threat to Church and State - Confronting Christian Nationalism - Air Date 9-9-23

AMANDA TYLER: We should have a common understanding about what we're talking about as far as Christian nationalism goes, and I'm going to point to the statement that's available at ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.org. The work that we did back in 2019 was about providing an advocacy platform for people who are interested in learning more and for taking a public stand, and the centerpiece of the [00:01:00] project is a statement, and in the statement itself, we define Christian nationalism as a "political ideology that seeks to merge our identities as Americans and Christians." 

So a few things here: one, we are specifically talking in the American context. This is something that comes up, this is not particular to the United States, but In our work, we are really focusing on the American expression of Christian nationalism, and so we talk explicitly about American and Christian identities. But we also want to distinguish that Christian nationalism is not Christianity.

Christian nationalism is a political ideology, Christianity is religion. That said, you can't totally divorce Christianity out of it. It'd be great just to say, "Oh, this has nothing to do with Christianity," that would be really easy, right? That's not accurate, and that's because Christian nationalism uses the narratives and the symbols, [00:02:00] and in some cases, even the theology of Christianity to further this political ideology. But as we define Christian nationalism, it is not itself a religion. It is more about identity than religion in a lot of ways. And we get at this in one of our resources that we have available at ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism, a really handy one pager that your guests last week Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry helped us put together called, What is Christian Nationalism?, and we talk about how it's more identity than religion. 

When we define Christian nationalism, I think it's also important to say what it's not. It's not patriotism. Patriotism is a love of country, and we can love, we can show our love of country in a number of different ways. We can wave an American flag. We can protest in the streets. We can exercise our constitutional rights. These are all different ways to be patriotic. Nationalism is a love of country [00:03:00] that also requires an allegiance to it above everything else, including our theological views. And so when our patriotism starts to ask us to sacrifice our theological views, that's no longer patriotism—that's nationalism, and particularly as we're talking about here, Christian nationalism.

DOUG PAGITT: It really does seem like there's a lot of people who believe, as a matter of fact, that this was founded as a Christian nation with intent for a Christian community to express the desire and will of God in the world. I don't know. I hear that so often from people who I think would feel totally bothered by the fact that that would be Christian nationalism. They think it's just history. They think it's just a proper description of how the world came together. 

Can you talk a little bit about how do you make sense out of the history that so many people have been taught? Maybe it was in Sunday-school or school-school, or homeschool or somewhere along [00:04:00] the line, they just picked up from, I don't know, the pilgrims forward, that there were a bunch of religious freedom seekers that came to America to establish freedom from a oppressive government and that was God's call and the United States of America has a unique place and they just view the world through God's lens and they think God has given the people of Christian faith this land and we should be gracious to everyone, but, you know, it was a Judeo Christian place. How do you even begin to unravel that when that doesn't feel like a choice people are making or an ideology they're picking? They feel like it's history. What advice do you have for people trying to, make some better sense out of all that?

AMANDA TYLER: I think for one just engaging in conversation and not taking some of this history and sometimes I'll put that in air quotes, "history" as fact. You can cherry pick any kind of history of the United States. You can take different anecdotes about certain founders or constitutional framers own religious views. You can construct a [00:05:00] narrative as some of these Christian nationalists, like David Barton, have done in the past. 

David Barton is someone who has spent decades writing this history of the United States as a Christian nation, and a lot of this, as you said, gets into some of these curricula that homeschools and others use in order to teach this history—you can cherry pick that history. You could spend your time going anecdote for anecdote or quote for quote. I don't often think that that's really a productive way to do it, and so instead, and again I'm a lawyer and I lead this advocacy group about religious freedom for all, so I go to our founding documents and I go to the US constitution itself. And religion or religious is mentioned exactly once in the original US Constitution from 1787, in Article 6 where there says there will be no religious test for public office. And so I say if our founders really wanted to set up a Christian nation, this was a really [00:06:00] ineffective way to do it, to say from the beginning that there would be no religious test for public office. 

And then you can go to the first amendment, of course, that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. But if you are saying at the very first amendment to the US constitution that we are not going to establish a religion, there will should be no law respecting an establishment of religion, again, you're not setting up a Christian nation when it comes to the laws and the structure of our government itself. 

It was never meant, however, for there to be a total divorcement of religion from the public square, far from it, but as far as our government itself, our government was set up as a secular government, not one that was meant to promote one particular religion over others or even religion over irreligion. It was set up as a [00:07:00] secular government 

How Trump Is Dividing The Evangelical - Fresh Air - Air Date 11-29-23

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: I think it's fair to say that you trace some of this to Jerry Falwell, who was a founder of the Moral Majority. And the Moral Majority is credited as being the evangelical group that helped Ronald Reagan get elected and that brought the evangelicals into the political realm and into a very forceful influence in American politics. So can you talk about that a little bit, the connection that you see?

TIM ALBERTA: Yes. I think, in many ways, when people ask, where does this story begin, I think it starts with Jerry Falwell Sr., and I think it starts with his Moral Majority. I think, perhaps even more to the point, Terry, it starts with the founding of a small Christian college in Lynchburg, Va., that was later renamed from Lynchburg Baptist College into Liberty University. And that period of time in the mid to late 1970s, when Jimmy Carter is president, when the culture wars are [00:08:00] beginning to rage around abortion and prayer in public schools, and pornography, and drug usage, and all of these things, Jerry Falwell Sr. senses an opportunity to use these massive organizations—his Christian school, his large Christian church, and this new organization, the Moral Majority—to use them in concert to apply pressure on the secular left and to enlist like-minded religious conservatives to join his cause.

And what he discovered was this incredibly explosive, dynamic formula for raising money, for mobilizing the grassroots to vote Republican. And I think what was so dangerous about it was that there's ample evidence to suggest that Jerry Falwell Sr. himself did not believe in most of this fear that he was peddling, this fear that he was using to [00:09:00] exploit the masses of evangelicals who he was raising hundreds of millions of dollars from, and buying a private jet and flying around the country, saying that the end is nigh. Falwell Sr. himself did not personally believe that, but he was planting this...

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: But how do you know?

TIM ALBERTA: Well, I've spoken with a lot of people close to him. I've read some of his correspondences. There is ample evidence to suggest that Falwell, and his contemporaries at the time, some of whom spoke to me for this book, they knew that what they were doing was dishonest, that it was duplicitous, and they didn't particularly care because they saw this as a means to an end, the end being a conquest of the secular culture. And so once you justify things that way, then it's fair game.

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: Would you say that Ronald Reagan opened the door to evangelicals basically becoming the base of the Republican Party?

TIM ALBERTA: I think in some ways, yes. [00:10:00] This kind of shotgun marriage between Jerry Falwell Sr. and his Moral Majority and the Ronald Reagan campaign in 1980, I think it completely reoriented American politics as we knew it to that point. And what we see today in terms of Donald Trump's relationship with the religious right, the throughline is Jerry Falwell Jr., who was probably the single biggest endorsement for Donald Trump back in the 2016 campaign because it was establishing a continuity between not only generations of the Falwell family, but generations of these evangelical activists who had finally found relevance and success in the political arena and were really reluctant to give that up.

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: Oh, you describe one picture of Jerry Falwell Jr. and Donald Trump, and the background was one of Trump's walls at one of his homes, and it's filled with photos, and some of those photos are Playboy [00:11:00] models and other things that should be far outside of what Jerry Falwell Jr. would be endorsing.

TIM ALBERTA: Yes. And the great irony was that it was Jimmy Carter's presidency that really galvanized Jerry Falwell Sr. to get engaged and to mobilize these tens of millions of evangelical voters. And one of the specific things that Falwell Sr. cited was the fact that Jimmy Carter had the audacity to give an interview to Playboy magazine, which Jerry Falwell Sr. singled out as an avatar of America's cultural and moral decay. And here is his son and his namesake, Jerry Falwell Jr., a generation later, posing in front of a Playboy magazine with Donald Trump, giving a thumbs up and smiling broadly, and tweeting that out to all of his followers. And just that split screen, that juxtaposition, tells you so much about the [00:12:00] trajectory of this movement.

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: Jimmy Carter was a much more liberal evangelical than the Falwells, but also, that's the interview, the Playboy interview, is the interview in which Jimmy Carter confessed that he sometimes had lust in his heart. Not that he acted on it, but that he had it in his heart, and I think the implication was he felt guilty about it. But Trump's lusted out loud. He's had affairs with Playboy models, and he's talked about sexually harassing women and how cool that is. So, that's a contrast, too.

TIM ALBERTA: I'm so glad you're raising that, Terry, because yes, in that Jimmy Carter Playboy interview that I believe he gave in 1976, that was what Falwell and some of his associates at the time seized all over. "How dare this person who would run the United States of America, be the leader of the free world, how dare this person admit that he has felt temptation and lust in [00:13:00] his heart? That is totally unacceptable for the leader of God's ordained country, the United States." And yet here we are, 50 years later, dealing with a president who has become the unquestioned leader of that religious right movement who has spent years parading his mistresses through the tabloids, boasting about sexually assaulting women, who was found liable recently of sexual abuse by a jury. 

So understanding the backslide here of what the standards are and what they aren't inside the American evangelical movement, and really, I think, just to put it very bluntly, understanding the rank hypocrisy that has guided this movement in recent years is at the core of this story.

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: Do you see parallels between the split in the evangelical church and the split in the Republican Party? Just as many people have left their churches for more open-minded [00:14:00] churches, a lot of Republicans who are more from the Republican mainstream have abandoned the party.

ALBERTA: Oh, absolutely—the parallels are uncanny. I think they start with just this basic fact that Donald Trump, in many ways, represented the fringe of the party becoming the mainstream. That is probably the single biggest consequence of the Trump presidency is that these voices that once existed at the periphery of the GOP during the Tea Party years and even farther back, they, in Donald Trump, suddenly took over the mainstream of the party to the point now where anyone who is attempting to adhere to traditional conservative Republican policy beliefs is an outcast because they no longer belong in the party.

We've seen that same dynamic at work in the evangelical movement, which is to say that 15 or 20 years ago when you would [00:15:00] see Westboro Baptist Church protesting outside of funerals with these heinous, hateful banners that they would hold up, those people were rightly viewed as a cult, they were viewed as the fringe, but today, you have pastors who are even more incendiary, even more extreme than Westboro Baptist, and they have massive followings. They preach to millions of people online every Sunday. They've been invited to Trump's White House. One of these pastors in particular, Greg Locke, who has built this massive tent revival church in Tennessee and who is known for things like saying that autistic children are oppressed by demons, and for staging burnings of Harry Potter books, and he's debating flat Earth theology next week at his church, in fact— this pastor, he was invited to the White House, and he posed for a photo there with Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham. So these people who once would have been treated as outcasts [00:16:00] and pariahs, they are now very much in the evangelical mainstream.

How Trump Has Transformed Evangelicals - Radio Atlantic - Air Date 12-14-23

TIM ALBERTA: Floodgate is a church in Brighton, Michigan, which is my hometown. They had about 100 people, 125 people on an average Sunday for their worship services. So it’s a pretty small church—roadside congregation—in my hometown. And I grew up a few miles from there. I had never heard of it. 

Fast-forward to COVID-19: Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic governor of Michigan, had issued shutdown orders that implicated houses of worship, and most of the churches in the area, including very conservative churches—theologically, culturally, politically conservative—they decided to shut down for some period of time, and that included my home church, where my dad had been the pastor—the church that I grew up in, spent my whole life in, they closed down. And basically, at that moment, this massive schism was opened in the [00:17:00] community, not only in the community I grew up in, but in the faith community that I grew up in, sort of universally speaking when we talk about evangelicalism in America, because this same thing that happened in Brighton, Michigan, was happening all over the country, which was to say that churches that closed down had some number of their congregants who were up in arms, who were furious, who basically believed that the pastors there were cowards and that they were succumbing to the forces of secularism that had the Church in the crosshairs.

And meanwhile, churches like Floodgate that took a bold stance against the government and stayed open, those churches were doing the Lord’s work. And so what you saw at Floodgate was a congregation that had about 100, suddenly within about a year had gone to 1,500, and now they’re even much bigger today than they were at that time.

And so when you go into Floodgate on a Sunday morning, as I did many times, instead of some of [00:18:00] the traditional Sunday-morning worship rituals—the church creeds and the doctrines being read aloud, the doxology sung, some of the standard stuff that you would become accustomed to in an evangelical space—really what you would see was the pulpit being turned into a soapbox, and the worship service turning into a low-rent Fox News segment, with the pastor just inveighing against Anthony Fauci, against Joe Biden, against the Democratic Party, against the elites who are trying to control the population—very dark, very angry, very conspiratorial. And that’s what you would see inside of a church like Floodgate.

HANNA ROSIN - HOST, RADIO ATLANTIC: It’s not exactly an evolution. It’s more like an intensification, and I’m curious how the dots got drawn between a theological argument, and COVID-19 masking, and then went all the way to Fox News.

ALBERTA: Well, you’re right that it’s intensification. It is also evolution. [00:19:00] I’ll explain, I think, what is the arc that led us to this place. To understand this moment is to understand the sweep of the last 50 or 60 years in the evangelical world. 

So, during the mid-to-late ’70s, and certainly into the ’80s through the Reagan years, the Moral Majority is ascendant. You’ve got tens of millions of evangelicals who are suddenly energized, galvanized, mobilized politically. And then you begin to see, after the Iron Curtain falls and the Cold War ends, and we move into this period of a kind of peace and prosperity, that some of that panic starts to fall away a little bit.

A lot of churches ratchet it back, and things return to normal for a period. And you see that, really into the early 2000s, with a notable exception, I would add, of the Bill Clinton impeachment, which I think was a major moment for a lot of evangelicals—certainly my own father, my own church—where a lot of evangelicals wanted to take that moment to emphasize that [00:20:00] character matters, morality matters, and that our political system depends on having moral leaders.

And then you fast-forward, and things are still at a low simmer for a while there.

HANNA ROSIN - HOST, RADIO ATLANTIC: I think at the same time during the period that you’re describing, we do come to think, in our cultural imagination, of evangelical as equivalent to conservative, eventually as equivalent to Republican conservative, and then eventually as equivalent to white Republican conservative. Those definitions are also getting hardened during the period that you describe as quiet.

ALBERTA: I think that’s right, and I think that some of that owes to just a self-identification phenomenon. So, during George W. Bush’s presidency, he’s talking about his relationship with Billy Graham, he’s talking about evangelicalism, and so that is becoming a part of the political lexicon all over again.

I think really what starts to trip the alarms [00:21:00] inside of evangelicalism is the end of the Bush presidency and the election of Barack Obama. Now, for some reasons that are obvious, i.e., we’re talking about a white evangelical movement, portions of which, perhaps significant portions of which, are deeply uncomfortable with a Black president.

I also think that during Obama’s presidency, you see a significant move in the culture. I mean, even just on the issue of same-sex marriage, for example, Obama runs for president in 2008 opposed to same-sex marriage, and by the time he leaves office, he is in favor of it and the Supreme Court rules to legalize same-sex marriage nationally. All of that is happening in the space of less than a decade, and you’re seeing major cultural movement toward the left. And a lot of evangelical Christians during this period of time are really beginning to sound the alarm, they’re really hand-wringing, saying, [00:22:00] "Okay, this is it. This is the apocalypse we’ve been warning about for 50 years." 

Even if that apocalypse was once an abstract thing, something that they gave voice to but maybe didn’t really believe it, suddenly this convergence of factors is causing a lot of churches to become, not just more conservative, not just more Republican, but really more militant in a lot of ways—in the rhetoric you hear from the pulpit, with the tactics that they will choose to engage in some of the culture-war issues with. 

And so that leads us to Trump coming down in the golden escalator. And Donald Trump is not exactly a paragon of Christian virtue. The thrice-married, casino-owning, manhattan playboy who parades his mistresses through the tabloids and uses terrible, vulgar rhetoric—I mean, this is not someone who the rank-and-file evangelical would point to as an ally, much less as a [00:23:00] role model.

And I reported extensively in 2016 on a really well-organized, well-financed effort to rally evangelical leaders around Ted Cruz, because they at least viewed him as one of their own. But he also had all of that same pugilism, all of that same attitude, that "we’ve been pushed around too long, and now it’s time we fought back and we did something about this."

Donald Trump secures the Republican nomination, and then he realizes that he can’t get elected president without the support of these white evangelical voters and, frankly, without overwhelming support of those voters. And so, methodically, he starts his courtship of them. He chooses Mike Pence as his running mate. He releases this list of Supreme Court justices. He promises explicitly that they will be pro-life Supreme Court justices, something that had never been done by a presidential nominee. He’s doing all of this signaling [00:24:00] to evangelical voters. 

Perhaps most importantly, he goes to New York in the summer of 2016, and he meets with hundreds and hundreds of these prominent evangelical pastors from around the country, and he basically promises them, he says, look, I will give you power. If you elect me, I will give you power, and I will defend Christianity in this country.

And so there’s \ this transactional relationship where Trump gets the votes from these people, and they get not just the policies in return, but they get the protection in return. It’s almost as though Trump becomes this mercenary who, on their behalf, is willing to fight the enemies out in the culture, in the government. Anyone who is hostile to the Christian way of life as they view it, Donald Trump is going to fight on their behalf.

Will MAGA Mike Inflict a Religious Crusade on America? - The Hartmann Report - Air Date 11-2-23

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THE HARTMANN REPORT: Can we stop MAGA Mike and the Republican party from inflicting their religious crusades on America? We have the handmaidens tale alert—Idaho just [00:25:00] arrested their first teenager for abortion trafficking. But to start out my op ed today over at Hartman report. com is titled, Can We Stop MAGA Mike & the GOP from Inflicting Their Crusades on America?

Mike Johnson, it turns out about three and a half years ago, Mike Johnson gave a speech in which he said that he wanted a religious litmus test for office holders. , David Corn is reporting this over at Mother Jones. Johnson told attendees to a workshop on America as a Christian nation, quote, "You better sit down any candidate who says they're going to run for legislature and say, 'I want to know what your world view is. I I want to know what, to know what you think about the Christian heritage of this country. I want to know what you think about God's design for society. Have you even thought about that?' If they haven't thought about it, you need to move on and find somebody who has... we have too many people in government who don't know any of this stuff. They haven't even thought about it."

The idea of religious people taking over government is not, I'm pretty sure, what Jesus had in mind when he said, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is [00:26:00] God's," but Johnson goes on to clarify the phoniness of his embrace of Jesus when you consider his very anti Christ like positions on, for example, despoiling our planet.

He's a climate change denial person. He had tax cuts for billionaires. Whose taxes would Jesus cut? Really? And his opposition to health care and other welfare programs. I point out an article, and I'm not going to go through the whole thing again with you, because I say it so often on this program, but there is literally only one place in the Bible where Jesus tells his disciples what they have to do to get into heaven, and it's in Matthew 25, and he says, I was hungry and you gave me food. He says that, in the end days, he's talking to the sheep, the people who are going with him to heaven, as opposed to the goats who are going to hell. He says, I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came onto me. And at that point, his disciples freaked out and said, wait a minute. We've never seen you in any of these [00:27:00] situations. And he said, as you do, onto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me.

This is the essence of Christianity. It's also the essence of Judaism and Islam and Hinduism and Buddhism. It's told with different stories and different religions, but this message that it is our job as human beings, and particularly as followers of a religion, it is our job to care for our brothers and sisters. This is core to every religion in the world, and it is rejected by Mike Johnson and his right wing buddies. Rejected.

Mike Johnson voted repeatedly to end Obamacare, to overturn Obamacare. Oh, those 20, 30 million Americans, they don't need healthcare. Screw them. They're just low income people. This is clearly Mike Johnson's philosophy. And, it shouldn't surprise us, this has been the philosophy of the Republican Party since 1920, when Warren Harding basically kicked out all the progressives after the downfall of Teddy Roosevelt and [00:28:00] Robert Taft, and Harding flipped the Republican Party into pure oligarchy. That's where we're at.

So anyhow, Jesus is not, yes, there are places in the Bible John 14, where he talks about being saved through confession, or John 3:5, where he talks about baptism, but basically, that's the only place in the Bible where Jesus says, "Here's how you get to heaven."

I realize there's a debate among Christian theologians about whether it's possible to get to heaven without ever having done any good works, purely by confession, by saying the right magic words. I'll leave that debate to those folks. I'm not going to weigh in on it. I am a fan of " you are known by your works." but there's nothing. Jesus never said anything about taking over governments, or banning books, or cursing queer people, or trying to overthrow elections that you lost, or passing laws to enforce your religious beliefs. In fact, he said the opposite. Crippling the IRS, religious litmus tests, nothing about controlling women, or embracing AR [00:29:00] 15s, or trickle down economics. None of that stuff came out of the mouth of Jesus. But now we've got these fake Christians running around saying, "We know, we know what what Christianity is."

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, don't pray in public. and what do they do? What's the first thing they do as soon as Mike Johnson is elected speaker?

They gather around him and pray over him on the floor of the House of Representatives. Johnson even goes farther than that. He says that the environmental movement, "defies the created order of how this is all supposed to work." He believes environmentalists, presumably because they're looking at scientific data rather than reading the Bible. Johnson apparently believes the universe is 6, 000 years old and all that kind of stuff, noah's Ark held dinosaurs. 

Apparently because environmentalists are reading science instead of the Bible. He thinks they're working for Satan. He says, "when you take God outta the equation and you remove absolute truths... you gotta make all this stuff up. So what they've done is, as the devil always does, they take the truth, they turn it upside down. So the radical environments environmentalists—they actually [00:30:00] believe that the environment is God." How dare they, see the sacred in nature? Frankly, that's another part of most religions. 

I'm telling you, the fossil fuel billionaires must have laughed themselves silly when they found Johnson. They really hit the jackpot. Here's a guy two heartbeats away from the presidency, and he thinks doing anything about climate change is Satan's work. It doesn't get weirder than that.

Similarly, because democracy appears nowhere in the Bible, Johnson's just fine with strongman autocracy. He's the architect of the Republican Attorney General's strategy to sue before the Supreme Court to throw up Biden's votes in multiple swing states. After all, King David didn't need democracy, he wasn't elected. Why should King Donald have to be elected? 

Trump’s ‘personal shortcomings’ have become a ‘bonus’ for evangelical Christians, says Tim Alberta - Meet the Press - Air Date 12-24-23

KRISTEN WELKER - HOST, MEET THE PRESS: You write that "for decades, the religious right had imposed exacting moral litmus tests on public officials," and yet eventually "evangelical leaders embraced Trump's shortcomings." How do you explain this evolution?

TIM ALBERTA: It is an evolution, it's an arc. So you think about the [00:31:00] 2016 election and It's easy to forget now, but for a long time, Evangelicals were Trump's softest supporters. He had to really go to great lengths to firm up his support. He had to put Mike Pence on the ticket. He had to release the list of Supreme Court nominees. He really had to court this group. And there was this uneasy alliance, a transactional relationship, where he said, I will give you all these policy victories that you want in exchange for your votes. 

What that has morphed into is something very different, where those personal shortcomings that were once a real deficit in the eyes of those White evangelical voters, it's almost now like a bonus. And I think what I mean by that is, for a lot of these people who are panicked who are just stricken with fear about the culture changing so quickly, and the country turning on Christianity, and that their faith is in the crosshairs and one day they're going to be persecuted for their faith in this country— a lot of folks believe that. They think the [00:32:00] barbarians are at the gates, and so they need a barbarian to defend them, to protect them.

And so, they look at Trump, and the behavior, and the rhetoric, and in some sense, because he is not bound by biblical teachings, not bound by biblical virtues, he is free to fight for them in ways that no good Christian ever would. And that's the tragic irony to all of this is that in some sense, these people have decided that the best way to preserve Christian virtue in this country is to first set Christian virtue aside.

KRISTEN WELKER - HOST, MEET THE PRESS: Are you saying that evangelicals idolize? 

TIM ALBERTA: I think some portion of them do, absolutely. And I think an even bigger portion of them, Kristen, idolize America. They have taken this country, and held it up in a place of a covenant relationship with God, where if America suffers, then God himself suffers. And that is a-biblical, [00:33:00] it is bad theology but it's also dangerous to the precepts of what a pluralistic society is and how it functions. And to be clear, we now have some significant chunk of the American people who, they don't view these partisan political disputes as red team versus blue team, they view them as good versus evil. They view these everyday political debates as a proxy in a holy war. And I don't know that we've fully begun to grapple with the implications of that.

KRISTEN WELKER - HOST, MEET THE PRESS: It's significant because what you are describing is a relationship that evangelicals have with politics that supersedes what the average person feels when they think about politics, and you describe this evolution of evangelicals as increasingly entrenched within far right politics. Do you think that's because of Trump, or do you think that was also a natural evolution? 

TIM ALBERTA: Both. Trump [00:34:00] accelerated a lot of things and I think, even more so, Kristen, one of the, one of the factors here that sometimes goes underappreciated is COVID 19. And when you had a number of blue state governors issuing shutdown orders that implicated houses of worship, and people who had been marinating for decades in this message that the culture was coming for you, that the government was going to come for your churches, that they were going to shut you down, that you wouldn't be able to preach God's word in this country anymore, that's a real phenomenon dating back to the 70s and the 80s, this sort of end times prophesying. So when COVID 19 comes, it was like the prophecy was fulfilled for a lot of these people, and they were radicalized by it inside churches that preached that the end is here. 

KRISTEN WELKER - HOST, MEET THE PRESS: How did pastors respond to the challenge of guiding their congregations through COVID 19? You described this as really deepening this phenomenon that you're talking about. 

TIM ALBERTA: Yeah, and so there were some [00:35:00] pastors who decided to be war profiteers, who turned their churches into, they turned their Sunday morning worship into Fox News segments. They turned their pulpit into a soapbox and they really decided to lean into this. 

That, from all of my reporting, Kristen, represents a very small fraction of the clergy. Most of the pastors who I've spent time around, including a lot of just big, conservative Republican pastors in conservative communities, they took a safe, rational approach. They shut down their church for a few weeks or for a few months or whatever the case was with their congregation. And by doing so, they were labeled Marxists. They were labeled as collaborators with the regime. They were weak, spineless, squishes, whatever, and some small but vocal portion of their congregation would first wage war against them, trying to get them to relent, and then if the pastor wouldn't relent, they would leave the church, and they would find their way to one of these other churches that [00:36:00] had pounced on the COVID 19 fracturing as an opportunity to grow.

And as I document in the book, I've been to churches that have grown tenfold, twelvefold, just in that 18 month period or so during COVID, where the pastor saw an opportunity, a financial opportunity, because the people who come into your church, they put money in the plate, and suddenly, some of these churches have grown from small little roadside congregations to big, booming megachurches. So, there's an industry here and people have taken advantage of the fear and the grievance that was percolating at the grassroots level. 

The Trump movement is turning America fascist w/ Jeff Sharlet - The Chris Hedges Report - Air Date 10-27-23

JEFF SHARLET: The first rally I went to was in early 2016 in Youngstown, Ohio, which is, of course, a town just absolutely destroyed, a steel town just decimated. And there was a big crowd at the airplane hangar, and the first thing I noticed and realized was a staple was that while the press -- which was all penned up, they all agreed to stay in a little metal cage basically so that they can [00:37:00] be used as like a prop in Trump's passion play -- was twiddling their thumbs. 

He was introduced by one of the most right-wing preachers that [you'd] ever heard, just a local preacher, but a very, very militant guy. And I've heard a lot of right-wing preachers. And in fact that this was a staple of this, and it was a sort of a combination of that kind of wrath of God, but also at this particular -- or I think it was at this, but no, it was a different rally -- black preacher who often introduced him would say, "I don't see black. I don't see white. The only color I see is green." And I would listen to the people around me talking about, while they waited for his plane, Trump Force One, to come in -- remember, this is not a president, he's coming in his own president [plane] -- they would talk about all the gold with it; the plane was literally heavy with gold. And I realized that what was happening here was this appeal to the prosperity gospel when Trump says, "We're going to win so much you're going to get tired of winning." He wasn't saying that I'm just like you. He was saying like prosperity gospel preachers always do: [00:38:00] "Look at my blessings. Look at my airplane, my riches, my beautiful suit. I am obviously more blessed than you. But by falling behind me, falling into my wake, you can partake of that blessing too." 

And you raise Norman Vincent Peale, who he referred to as his preacher, Trump -- we make a lot of Trump's irreligious religiosity, but of course. I think we're confusing religiosity with piety. He is certainly impious. But he grew up really fascinated by Billy Graham on television as a charismatic figure, and Norman Vincent Peale, the power of positive thinking. He described Norman Vincent Peale as part of his "holy trinity" of mentors: his father, Fred, from whom he learned toughness; Roy Cohn, the legendary Red Scare warrior from whom he learned cunning; and Norman Vincent Peale, you could argue, from whom he learned bullshit. That, the point is the sale. Norman Vincent Peale boiled the gospel down to a [00:39:00] salesman's manual. And he carried that forth. And that's what was happening in 2016, I think, was really was he was saying, " Vote for me and you'll get a piece of the riches, you're going to get some of the gold. Your plane too will be heavy with this precious cargo." 

CHRIS HEDGES - HOST, THE CHRIS HEDGES REPORT: In that sense, he really replicates the role of a mega preacher completely, who is idolized, who can't be questioned, on the route to physical prosperity. 

But the second time Trump runs, which you also cover, you say the whole landscape has changed in a much darker way. How did it change? 

JEFF SHARLET: By 2020, of course we're into the pandemic. The "You're gonna win so much you'll get tired of winning," we can't really go with that. There was the aborted slogan tag, "Keep America Great", but MAGA just works so well that he's stuck with that. But it was darker in the sense of he had been using conspiracy theories -- and I think what's fascinating with that kind of narrative world that he was [00:40:00] creating, was winking at -- he's a little bit like a drug dealer who starts using his own supply. And I write in the book of a particular interview with Laura Ingraham in -- I think it was in 2019 actually the summer of '20, no the summer of 2020 -- and Laura Ingraham is doing what the right wing press did for him, which was always take his words, broadcast them, but also channel them into some kind of reason. And he was resisting it, sitting on the edge of his chair, leaning forward, looking very uneasy, talking about dark forces, men in black uniforms, circling in the planes above him, right now, he's using the present tense, and you could see Laura Ingraham trying to reel him back, saying by dark forces, you must mean Obama's people. And he's "No, people, you don't know who they are. I can't, I couldn't, I can't tell them the name." And he's no longer winking at the conspiracy theories he's trafficked in. I think he's fallen into the abyss and that kind of conspiracy thought was so definitive of the rallies I would go [00:41:00] to, where there's always a lot of blood and gore in the rhetoric of a Trump rally -- and that's been one of the failings of the press in not really addressing that; they would just ignore those stories -- but now he would go on at length about decapitations and disembowelments and "bad hombres" as he put it -- creeping in through windows, lots of these sort of horrible horror movie kind of rape fantasies and things that he knew that he couldn't even tell you about.

And it struck me as a kind of modernized, Americanized, bastardized, gnostic gospel. Gnosticism -- and I know that you've read deeply in this literature, but just to boil it down in the simplest sense -- an idea that there's an elect or a small group, initiates, who have secret knowledge, and that what's on the surface isn't real. And in fact, the actual God isn't real. There's a deeper power behind that. And of course gnosticism even has its own variation of the [00:42:00] deep state, the bureaucracy that gets in the way of the truth. And I think this is -- I don't think Trump actually believed QAnon, but he believed in this kind of gnosticism, this secret knowledge that you obtained not through rationalism, but through a kind of mystic connection.

And of course, this starts to sound a lot like fascism, which it is. 

Interview with Author Elle Hardy on Christian Nationalism - The Benjamin Dixon Show - Air Date 1-19-23

ELLE HARDY: Pentecostal Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in the world. And it's something that's been going a bit under the radar, I think, which is really why I wanted to write the book.

So it only started in 1906. It was founded by the son of freed slaves from Louisiana in a small Los Angeles church. And what really got it going then, and what's really making it explode now over the last 30 years around the world, is still a lot of the same things. It's really the faith of the world's working poor. And it really centers spirituality around the Holy Spirit. So it's the gifts of the Holy Spirit as told in the Bible. So it's things like speaking in tongues [00:43:00] that, that usually come to mind, but the main thing that's really getting people in the tent is health and wealth. In terms of getting people in the tent, it's about 35,000 people a day -- which I think is like pretty much like two Madison Square Gardens for context, so that's a lot of people -- and at the moment it's about 600 million and counting. And by 2050, there'll be about a billion people, or one in 10 people globally, who are Pentecostal charismatic. I tend to call them Pentecostal for ease of reference, but there are a few different branches and ways of referring to the movement. So it's a really significant thing that's going on. 

And the other thing that's pretty significant there is that there's been a lot of connections with the rise of what I call the radical right in politics. So Pentecostals were the first evangelicals in America to get behind Donald Trump, more so than before Southern Baptists and other groups like that. They were really prominent in J. O. Bolsonaro coming to power and just recently the storming of the Brazilian capital in Brazil. They've been behind people like Rodrigo Duterte in the [00:44:00] Philippines, very prominent in Nigerian politics. So it's a really influential movement and a global one. One I think is really fascinating. And as I said, something that I think has just gone a bit under the radar. 

BENJAMIN DIXON - HOST, THE BENJAMIN DIXON SHOW: Elle mentioned the foundations of the Pentecostal movement, and it immediately triggered in my mind, a memory of the Azusa Street revival. I know of it because of my biblical background, my church background, William J. Seymour, a Black man, son of a free slave is who founded it. So I asked Elle, how did this movement go from being one founded in Blackness to what it is now? A very forward-facing, nationalist, racist movement. And I want you to pay particular attention to her response and how historically as this movement grew and changed and evolved, there's still an alignment between Blackness, Black people, Black nations that have aligned with this new Pentecostal movement that is increasingly becoming the face of racism, [00:45:00] bigotry, and hatred, and even becoming the religious face of the Trump campaign. 

ELLE HARDY: There's a couple of things. There's certainly in terms of substance, I think that there's a real movement going on globally that we're seeing that a lot of conservative-minded people and a lot of conservative-minded Christians are really feeling besieged by the liberal world around them. You'll hear people say, I can't turn on the damn TV without, some Hollywood actor telling me who to vote for, or I lost my job because women are in the workplace now. And, as all you hear about is is the environment and climate change and that sort of thing.

So there is a real sense of a lot of people in a lot of very different contexts around the world, really feeling like a liberal mindset is closing in on them. Someplace in the US, they'll call it wokeness. But you're certainly hearing it in other places as well. In the developing world, particularly places like Brazil and Nigeria, where Pentecostalism is really huge, you hear a lot about gay marriage and people, saying, "Oh, look, the West has lost its way with gay marriage," and " look [00:46:00] at your societies are falling apart since you let the gays get married." And that's absurd, but it's something that unfortunately a lot of people believe.

So there certainly is that sense, but I think the style is really important too. Pentecostal preachers have been, from the very earliest days, they've been one of the people. These are often people that come from working class backgrounds or, might be the most charming guy in the village in some places, or because of they don't often need a theological training to get their position. So they tend to be very good at what they do. They tend to be "people persons." They tend to have a real sense of an audience. And you find a lot of common cause in people like Trump. Trump's rallies are, if you read out the sorts of things that he would say at his rallies, it's incomprehensible. But if you listen to it, it's about the sort of back and forth with the audience, and it's about playing on certain things and it's about getting the energy going. 

And so there just is some common cause, it's about preaching from the garden, not caring about what people say in books. And I think that is something that certainly can't be underestimated in the popularity [00:47:00] and how these political and faith-based movements have been able to aligned.

BENJAMIN DIXON - HOST, THE BENJAMIN DIXON SHOW: This is audio of pastor Greg Locke, who is the pastor of Global Vision Bible Church in Tennessee. Now he doesn't identify as a Pentecostal. In fact, his church was taken from a traditional Baptist church. Listen to this audio. 

GREG LOCKE: I am not apologizing for what I said on this platform last week. [Applause] The Delta variant was nonsense then, it is nonsense now. You will not wear masks in this church! You will not wear masks in this church! I'm telling you right now. Do not get vaccinated! Do not get vaccinated! I don't care what you think about me. I don't need your money. I don't need your hand clap. I don't need more people on social media to follow me. I ain't following along with it. Joe Biden's days are numbered. I've told you the whole time this election was fraudulent. We got so much proof. The only people that can deny it are crack [00:48:00] smoking, demon-possessed leftists. I'm about to tear this whole pulpit in half. 

BENJAMIN DIXON - HOST, THE BENJAMIN DIXON SHOW: Greg Locke perfectly fits the description of what Elle Hardy was speaking about in our interview. Here she is with more.

ELLE HARDY: It can be really tricky, because a lot of people don't identify as Pentecostal. A lot of these, what we call now the third wave of the Pentecostal movement are broadly called neo-charismatics, but many won't call themselves that.

So it is very confusing. But the real unifying thing is the Holy Spirit. And so you can often see that in declarations of faith. You can see it on the focus on things like health and wealth. Greg Locke is a great example. Yeah, I do believe that he started out Baptist but you see him talking about the Holy Spirit. He's very focused at the moment on deliverance ministry. He's actually broken with Trump. I think he's saying that, he might not be the one for the next election and Locke really made his name by joining forces and by coming out for someone like Trump. And so yes, he's really moving into deliverance ministry, which is a very Pentecostal-based thing.

A lot of these churches now actually call themselves non-denominational because it's not great for business to exclude a [00:49:00] lot of denominations. So yeah, the thing to really watch out for is the Holy Spirit, is the style and is really focusing on the gifts like health and wealth and speaking to people's lives in the here and now as well as the ever after. That's a really significant thing. And once again, that's what's always really set Pentecostals apart from the beginning is an understanding of things like hip-pocket issues and and what's really bothering people in their everyday lives. 

Trump’s Escalating Racist Rhetoric & the Far-Right’s Plan for a Slow Civil War - Democracy Now! - Air Date 12-21-23

NERMEEN SHAIKH - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Over the weekend, Trump claimed immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the country.

DONALD TRUMP: When they let — I think the real number is 15, 16 million people into our country, when they do that, we got a lot of work to do. They’re poisoning the blood of our country. That’s what they’ve done. They’ve poisoned.

NERMEEN SHAIKH - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Trump’s remarks sparked widespread criticism. Vice President Kamala Harris said Trump’s words were, “similar to the language of Hitler.” On Tuesday, Trump doubled down during a campaign stop in Iowa.

DONALD TRUMP: It’s crazy, what’s going on. They’re ruining our country. And it’s true: They’re destroying [00:50:00] the blood of our country. That’s what they’re doing. They’re destroying our country. They don’t like it when I said that. And I never read Mein Kampf. They said, “Oh, Hitler said that,” in a much different way.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Trump was standing between two Christmas trees.

Jeff, first respond to this “poisoning of the blood” and the comparisons to Adolf Hitler. His wife, Ivana Trump, the mother of his first three children, who died falling down the stairs a little while ago, had said that he had a book of quotes of Adolf Hitler on his bedstand. 

JEFF SHARLET: Yeah, I think it’s fascinating that Trump volunteers, “I haven’t read Mein Kampf.” And, in fact, the book he’s alleged to have had, and seems to recently have had, was a different book of Hitler’s. But what’s fascinating to me is he’s going out of his way to say that and to repeat that language, [00:51:00] after it’s already — the comparison has already been made. And I think he’s invoking that because it’s chaos and it’s drama. And I think he’s counting that in his base he’s going to be more helped by the high drama of Hitlerian operatics in World War II than the comparison to the worst fascist dictator in history. I don’t think he’s dodging it. I think he’s going toward it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: So, what do you think, Jeff, of the consequences of not taking these words of Trump’s seriously? And also, you know, is this likely to diminish his support or, in fact, increase it?

JEFF SHARLET: I mean, we can just — all we need to do is sort of look what’s happening. It’s increasing the support. Again, he’s understanding that drama and spectacle are what he purveys.

But in terms of not taking it seriously, I’m glad a lot of the press is still covering this race like it’s a horse race, as opposed to a last gasp of the closest thing [00:52:00] we could — you know, let’s hold on to what we have of American democracy. We’re starting to look at something called Project 2025. This is a 900-page blueprint put together by Trump’s allies, the Heritage Foundation, funded by Koch money. Press has made a lot of Koch — about the Kochs endorsing Nikki Haley, but they’re covering their bets. A 900-page blueprint for day one. Remember, Trump says, from day one — “On day one, I’m going to be a dictator,” which is another bit of language that I think he’s kind of rope-a-doping the press. “I’m going to be a dictator. I’m just joking. No, no, on day one, I’m going to be a dictator. Just joking. What was that word I kept saying? Dictator.” Again, even more important than the substance is the spectacle, the drama, that makes him the exciting and, in fascist terms, the man of action. Then you’ve got this 900-page document that lays out, agency by agency, with every right-wing think tank on board, [00:53:00] with the personnel, 20,000 personnel, already figured out, recruiting 5,000 lawyers to fight for this, with — talking about concentration camps, domestic surveillance, all the facets of a full-sized fascist government. He doesn’t have to have read that, just like he doesn’t have to have read Mein Kampf, to hit those notes.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: So, in the 2025 document that people should understand, this 30-chapter, as you said, 920-page document funded by the Heritage Foundation, the Koch brothers, talking about defunding the Department of Justice, dismantling the FBI, breaking up the Department of Homeland Security, Departments of Education and Commerce — and your title of your book, the subtitle of The Undertow, Scenes from a Slow Civil War, can you tease that out as we move into 2024, [00:54:00] what you mean by a “slow civil war”?

JEFF SHARLET: I think the slow civil war — I mean, first of all, we look at the casualties of — that are already happening, people, pregnant people, forced to have children or suffering physically, even dying, the epidemic of trans and queer suicide, all these facets of a growing concentration of fascist policy. But the slow civil war also takes place through lawfare, through the laws that prevent people from getting the things they need. They are casualties of that.

What we see in that document is the blueprint for a massive acceleration of it. It’s an eight — the plan is based around 180 days. And they go back to — Heritage Foundation made its name by making a similar document for Ronald Reagan in 1980, 60% of which was implemented within the first six months of his administration. They cite [00:55:00] that, and they say, “OK, but that was for Reagan. Now we’re in the age of Trump. We need to go much further.” That’s the term that they actually use, “much further.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: So, Jeff, how representative would you say this document is to the far-right conservative movement? And do you think, irrespective of whether Trump is elected or not, some of these policies will be carried through, or an attempt will be made to carry them through?

JEFF SHARLET: Yeah, I think that’s the other thing we have to remember. One, if, through some fluke of fate, it is, after all, Nikki Haley — a possibility I don’t take seriously, but if it does happen — this is ready-made for her, as well. But it’s also ready-made for right-wing activism. It’s putting the stamp of Trumpism. And that’s coming not from one group or another that’s been taken over, but Heritage Foundation, Alliance for Defending Freedom, which is the group arguably responsible for overturning Roe. We see the Christian right organizations. We see the libertarian big business [00:56:00] organizations. We see the intellectuals, as it were, of the right-wing movement, Claremont Institute, Hillsdale College. It’s a convergence. The document represents 400 contributors, many, many of them former Trump officials, defense contractors. So, I think what it — it’s a document also meant to display, once and for all, the full sort of application of the competence of the wonks put to work for the fury of Trump’s fascism and to sort of say, “OK, everybody’s on board. This is the shape. This is the project.” The project is Trumpism, regardless of where the man is.

Final comments on the idolatry at thte heart of Christian Nationalism

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today starting with Confronting Christian Nationalism explaining Christian nationalism, Fresh Air spoke with Tim Alberta about the evolution of the Christian right from Carter to Trump. Radio Atlantic looked at the transformation of churches into extremist political hubs. Thom Hartmann discussed House speaker Mike Johnson. Meet The Press also spoke [00:57:00] with Tim Alberta about the idolatry of Trumpism. And The Chris Hedges Report discussed Trump's role in the prosperity gospel. That's what everybody heard, but members also heard bonus clips from The Benjamin Dixon Show looking at the rise of Pentecostalism in right-wing politics. And Democracy Now! looked at the intersection of Christian nationalism and project 2025, the plan to seize dictatorial powers for the next Republican president. We did all show on it if you need more context. To hear that and of all of our bonus contents delivered seamlessly to the new members only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information. 

Now to wrap up, I just wanted to share a bit of the article that inspired today's topic to help drive home what I think is an important point. We heard from Tim Alberta, a couple of times in the show today. He's [00:58:00] Christian, but not a Christian nationalist. And he wrote an article in The Atlantic about how his father was a pastor of a church who sort of leaned into the merging of religion and patriotism a bit. For the first big chunk of the article, I thought it was just another of those stories that I now find completely boring about how a Christian conservative realized that the movement they've been supporting had, to their dismay, gone completely off the rails. Heard it. I'm sure that's hard for you. Welcome to reality. Try to keep up this time. Right? But I was glad to see that later in that same article, he actually got into some analysis that was truly illuminating. Up to that point, I had heard plenty about Christian nationalism; just, what it is, what it wants, why it's dangerous, et cetera. But I hadn't really heard what the pivot point is, what is the thing that differentiates a person who is both a Christian [00:59:00] and a patriot from someone who's a Christian patriot, if you know what I mean. 

So towards the end of this article - the article is "My father, My Faith, and Donald Trump" - the author, Tim Alberta, is speaking with a new pastor in his father's old church. Winans is the new guy's name, and Winans didn't follow the same hyper-patriotic path that the author's father had been on. And so people are beginning to leave the church and he's sort of struggling with this. So from the article, it says, "'A lot of people believe there was a religious conception of this country, a biblical conception of this country', Winans told me, 'and that's the source of a lot of our problems. For much of American history, White Christians have enjoyed tremendous wealth and influence and security. Given that reality and given the miraculous nature of America's defeat of great Britain, its rise to superpower status and its legacy of spreading freedom and democracy, and yes, [01:00:00] Christianity across the globe'" - just pausing for a second to recognize that this is coming from a certain perspective and at the very least, this is what people believe. There would be a lot of asterisks and counterpoints to the idea of us succeeding in spreading freedom and democracy, but we're setting that aside for now. So back to the article, given all of that, that he just mentioned, "'it's easy to see why so many evangelicals believe that our country is divinely blessed. The problem is blessings often become indistinguishable from entitlements. Once we become convinced that God has blessed something, that something can become an object of jealousy, obsession, even worship. At its root we're talking about idolatry. America has become an idol to some of these people. If you believe that God is in covenant with America, then you believe, and I've heard a lot of people say this explicitly, that we're a new Israel', Winans said, referring to the old Testament narrative of God's [01:01:00] chosen nation. ' You believe the sorts of promises made to Israel are applicable to this country. You view America as a covenant that needs to be protected. You have to fight for America as if salvation itself hangs in the balance. At that point, you understand yourself as an American first and most fundamentally. And that is a terrible misunderstanding of who we're called to be. Plenty of nations are mentioned in the Bible. The United States is not one of them. Most American evangelicals are sophisticated enough to reject the idea of this country as something consecrated in the eyes of God. But many of those same people have chosen to idealize a Christian America that puts them at odds with Christianity. They have allowed their national identity to shape their faith identity instead of the other way around'". 

And then skipping to the end of the article, the author asks the new pastor, "'What's [01:02:00] wrong with American evangelicals?' Winans thought for a moment. 'America', he replied. Too many of them worship America'". And I don't know about you, but I found that very clarifying. Maybe not particularly comforting, but definitely clarifying. On the other hand. Since idolatry is such a core no-no of Christianity - you know, the worshiping of false gods and such - then maybe turning the ship around won't be impossible because the idea of turning away from false idols is something that is already part of their whole framework and worldview. 

Now, of course it would take the right messengers to get the idea across. And I get that. We, as a progressive podcast, probably are not to those messengers. But it's definitely an idea worth spreading and perhaps the right message will eventually get to the right ears, coming from the right people and, uh, we'll save ourselves. But you know, [01:03:00] we'll see. 

That is it for today. As always keep the comments coming in. I would love to hear your thoughts or questions about this or anything else. You can leave us a voicemail or send us a text at 202-999-3991, or simply email me to [email protected]. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our Transcriptionist Trio, Ken, Brian, and Ben, for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who already support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships. You can join them by signing up today at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good and often funny bonus episodes in addition to there being extra [01:04:00] content, no ads, and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. You'll find that link in the show notes, along with a link to join our Discord community, where you can also continue the discussion. 

So, coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington DC, my name is Jay and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show, from bestoftheleft.com. 

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#1600 Housing Cannot be a Fundamental Human Right and a Commodity at the Same Time (Transcript)

Air Date 12/23/2023

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award winning Best of the Left podcast in which we will look at the fact that the housing crisis is at a worst point than at any time in recent history. Solutions are available and require political will to bring into reality, but because the problem is now so widespread, we may actually be able to take action that would have been untenable before. Sources today include Future Hindsight, Notes From America, The Majority Report, and the Thom Hartmann Program, with additional members-only clips from Notes From America and Channel 4 News in the UK.

Housing is a Moral Issue w Shaun Donovan - Future Hindsight - Air Date 12-7-23

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: So let's jump right in. Describe the current crisis in housing and how is it worse than it ever was?

SHAUN DONOVAN: Well, I've been doing this about 30 years, starting in the South Bronx. I grew up here in New York City. And I would say the crisis has been getting worse over those decades. But during the COVID crisis, we actually saw rents increasing more than [00:01:00] we ever have since we started keeping records, literally never seen bigger increases, 18 percent increase in rent year over year. And I think what is different about it, beyond the numbers, is the level of homelessness we see on our streets.

And so often, the housing issues have been problems of the coasts or problems of big cities. Now, I was talking to a senator the other day who said, just nonchalantly, well, our housing crisis in Bozeman, Montana. And it is really that the crisis is everywhere now, the depth of it is so intense that I think people across the country are starting to grapple with issues that have long been issues in New York or other places, but now it's really become a national crisis in a different way.

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: It's interesting that you mentioned that the rents have increased so much, 18 percent in some spaces, and that there is a housing crisis in places like Bozeman, [00:02:00] Montana. What do you think is the source of this crisis? And is it really specifically COVID? Or is it well beyond that? 

SHAUN DONOVAN: Well, what I would say is we've had a chronic crisis for a long time. If you go back decades, we've seen that more and more people are paying outrageous shares of their income towards rent, especially. And the challenge is that on top of that decades of increases, we then had this incredibly acute crisis on top of the chronic one during COVID. And part of that, frankly, was that people became much more interested in more space at home when you're working at home. You probably want to have something other than just a bedroom, right? And there was more and more demand for housing. But what we also saw was there was a short term help for people with rent. They were able to stay in their homes because the federal [00:03:00] government put lots of money into protecting people against evictions.

But As that money is going away, you have rents that are still much higher than they were, but people's incomes are going back down in ways that are really challenging them. And the most visible crisis that you see out of that is the homelessness on our streets. But there's a silent crisis too. Families living in shelters, people doubled up across the country.

And people not putting food on the table at night or not being able to buy their kids the books that they need or so many other ways that we always say rent eats first, everything else gets put to the side because rents are going up and up. 

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: Well, speaking of rent eating first, in your mind, what is affordable housing now? I know that simply means, broadly, that it's a housing that you can afford and that looks different in a place like New York or Bozeman or Detroit. But at Enterprise, how do you think about affordable housing? 

SHAUN DONOVAN: Well, we think about it in a [00:04:00] few ways. The simplest way to answer that is we have a federal standard that people shouldn't pay more than 30 percent of their income, about a third of their income towards their housing. So that's a simple way of answering the question. But we also really believe that it isn't just about the housing being affordable. It is also about the quality of the housing. Think about the depth of whether it's asthma or lead paint or a whole range of problems that come from where we live. 

It's also about your neighborhood. The truth about housing is that where you live determines so many things in your life because when you choose a home, you choose a neighborhood, right? You choose where your kids go to school. You choose your access to jobs. Even one of the things we've seen, if your neighborhood isn't safe, if you don't have sidewalks, the ability to exercise, mental health, there's so many things that suffer based on the community that you [00:05:00] live in. And so we look at it not just as the affordability and the quality, but also making sure that homes are part of neighborhoods of opportunity. And housing is the primary building block, if you will, of neighborhoods.

Why NYCs Move to Privatize Public Housing Could Impact the Rest of the Country - Notes to America - Air Date 12-18-23

KAI WRIGHT - HOST, NOTES FROM AMERICA: We are thinking this week about home: the place where you go for comfort and safety, where you settle down and unwind, maybe share holiday time off with your loved ones. How much should that cost us and how do we make it available to everybody? Because right now it's not something you can take for granted. 

There's an official measure that determines when you can't afford the place you call home. Whether you rent or pay a mortgage, if you have to spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing, the federal government considers you "cost burdened" and therefore at risk of losing your home. 

Right now, a record high number of Americans fit this definition -- more than 21 million households. Nearly 12 million renters [00:06:00] spend more than half of their income on housing. And we wonder why so many people feel so insecure about money. Perhaps it is more than gas prices, yeah? 

The problem is not that everybody wants an overly fancy place to live. On the contrary, over roughly the past decade or so, there has been a dramatic decrease in the supply of affordable housing all over the country. 

Now there is a very old solution to this problem. It's called Publicly Subsidized Housing, and I want to start this week by hearing from a young woman, a 17-year-old in New York City, for whom public housing has been a life changing force. Fanta Kaba moved around a lot when she was growing up because her family couldn't afford a place to stay. Public housing solved that problem, but she and many others now fear that the resource that gave her stability will not be available to the next generation of families. So she's been reporting on the future of public housing as part of WNYC's Radio Rookies program, which is a program that trains people to [00:07:00] tell first person stories of what's happening in their communities.

We'll hear a couple of reports from Fanta in this show. First up, she kind of sets the stakes for our conversation. Here's Fanta. 

FANTA KABA - REPORTER, NOTES FROM AMERICA: [Sounds of family talking] 

I have a big family, so I barely get any privacy. When things get too loud or when my siblings annoy me, I just go to my room and shut the door.

All right, so this is my room. On the wall, there's a bunch of posters. One of them says, "Don't stop trying", and "Life is fantastic". I love my room. It's my favorite place. It's the one place where I can get some peace and quiet. 

So there's a poster of Jimi Hendrix. And there's another poster for Tim and Paula. And another one is Rolling Stones. And then I do have to share it with my annoying little sister. But it's [00:08:00] way better than when I had to share one room with all five of my siblings. Or when we lived with my grandparents and aunts and uncles. Imagine, 15 people in a two bedroom apartment. That was one of the places we stayed.

Growing up, we moved around a lot. Harlem, Queens, the Bronx, even North Carolina for a while. My parents' jobs did not pay enough. My dad drove taxis and my mom was a home attendant. 

Alright, so when you first came to America, where did you first go? Like, what was your first place you stayed at? 

FANTA KABA'S MOTHER: When we first came to America we was living in Manhattan. Yes. Harlem. 

FANTA KABA - REPORTER, NOTES FROM AMERICA: That's my mom. She and my dad moved here from Guinea, hoping for a new life. What they didn't know is that finding a home in a place like New York City is almost impossible. 

When I was eight, [00:09:00] after bouncing around, we ended up at a shelter. So how did it feel to stay in the shelter with six kids, you know it's a temporary housing situation. How was it for you? 

FANTA KABA'S MOTHER: Well, it was not that easy. But I was grateful at least I have a place to stay for my kids. And it was okay. It was okay. 

FANTA KABA - REPORTER, NOTES FROM AMERICA: It was okay. We had a roof over our heads. But the shelter never felt like my home. It had blank white walls and I didn't put anything up. I knew we were just gonna leave again. I felt really uncomfortable there. 

Then, the workers at the shelter helped my mom apply for a new apartment, a NYCHA apartment. That's what everyone calls the New York City Housing Authority, or our city's public housing, the projects.

I knew there was some stigma around living in the projects, but my parents told us we were going to have a big [00:10:00] new apartment with four bedrooms. They took us to Home Depot to pick out paint colors. And they said, this time, we're not moving again. 

NYCHA gave my family stability and community. Out of everywhere I've lived, this is the only place I've ever considered home.

And I know thousands of New Yorkers can relate. Our buildings may not be the prettiest or the newest, but we know our rent won't go up. Everyone pays 30 percent of their income in rent, no matter how much or how little you make.

Biden In Trouble With Voters Over Inequality And Housing - The Majority Report - Air Date 11-28-23

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Recent New York Times / Siena poll of voters in six battleground states - and this is really the most relevant stuff too, right? - is 62 percent of Biden voters think the economy is only fair or poor compared with 97 percent of those who voted for Donald Trump. That's, uh... 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: And there are four basically indicators on that scale. They're excellent and good, or poor and only fair, and the generational differences here are striking, in [00:11:00] my opinion. The 89% of folks, Biden supporters in those swing states who are 18 to 29, believe that the economy is either poor or only fair, and in the 30 to 44 age cohort, that's 80 percent there. And you can draw some conclusions based on that, or at least a correlation, which is that the supporters 29 and under, I would say that those are largely the folks who are being gouged by landlords, and who have to pay a ton in rent. And the 30 to 44 cohort are often people who are either also being gouged by rent, but maybe are trying to save for a home and they're seeing how high housing prices are and how the Biden administration has ticked up the interest rates in an effort to combat inflation during his presidency, what like ten times at this point it's more expensive to get a mortgage right now than it has been in decades. [00:12:00] 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Well, I mean to be clear, the Fed is theoretically independent, so it's not necessarily the Biden administration has done the ... but that is what's happened. Interest rate has gone, essentially, on a mortgage anyways, uh, from high twos, mid threes, to mid sixes, to mid sevens. And the difference on that in terms of your buying power, two things happen. One is that to afford, even if prices of houses stay the same, the same house cost $250,000 or $300,000 as it did three years ago, the cost of carrying, let's say it's a $300,000 house and you've got to put down 10%, the cost of carrying that $270,000 mortgage, we're at an [00:13:00] interest rate of, let's say, 3 percent, is somewhere around, just 'back of the envelope', 1,100 bucks, is now going to cost you 2,200 bucks a month, maybe $2,300-$2,400 a month.

And what that does is, A) it prevents people from buying their first homes, and it increases the pressure on the rental markets, raises the rents there, and B) it also keeps people locked in and have no choice but to stay where they are. So maybe you wanted to move because you've had another kid and you want to get a bigger house. You can't. Because the 3.5% you're paying to buy the same house is going to cost you double. 'Cause you don't get to carry that mortgage over. So, if I'm in a $300,000 house and I'm paying 1,100 bucks a month in a mortgage, I'm not going to go [00:14:00] get a $500,000 house because the mortgage is going to, like, triple.

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: And that explains those generational differences there, where it's not, like, if this was just due to inflation and prices still remaining high, that would, in theory, I would say, at least decrease some of these stark differences because, of course, you know, the more money, the older you have [sic], and you're supposed to have more savings, etc. But, like, prices would at least, if that was the driving factor, mitigate those stark differences to some degree. But that's clearly not the case here, right? So, 45 to 64 and 65 and older, they're much more likely to already have a home and have paid off a good amount of it. And, yeah, not be as subject to this.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: And all you need to do is... I mean, there's two things going on here. You have the economic numbers that are showing, like, the GDP is growing at a good rate, that wages are up to a certain extent, even over inflation, although some of these prices are locked in and, again, [00:15:00] housing is such a key component because it's not only impacts like your costs, but your flexibility and this is... I think you also look at like how much wealth... 

MATT LECH - PRODUCER, THE MAJORITY REPORT: That's it.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: ...people at age 30 have now as opposed to what they would have had... 

MATT LECH - PRODUCER, THE MAJORITY REPORT: That's what the economy is good for.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: ...20 or 30 years ago.. boomers had more money at any given age than Gen Xers that had any more money than Millennials that had more money than Gen Z at the same age. When you compare apples to apples. 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Controlling for inflation, controlling for all of those things.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: It's just in terms of who's controlling the amount of wealth in the country.

MATT LECH - PRODUCER, THE MAJORITY REPORT: It's property relations. Like, these sorts of things, like, because we only ask by income. So, it's under 50k, 500... But we don't ask, like, how much property you have. Are you a rentier, are you a business owner, or are you a worker? But age is a good proxy for that. [00:16:00] So I'd imagine most 65 year olds are on the rent. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: It used to be. I mean, you, I'm saying that a 30 year old, in the year 2000 had more... 30 year old cohort had more of the wealth... 

MATT LECH - PRODUCER, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Right. Yeah, of course. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: ...than a 30 year old today. And so what we're dealing with is like, at one point you hit a critical mass where people are like, This sucks! On top of which the boomers are like, You know, when I was your age, I wasn't whining about this as much. 

MATT LECH - PRODUCER, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Well, speaking of boomers, Washington Post, November 13th, "Baby boomers are buying up all the houses this year. Median age for a repeat buyer was 58. According to...", yeah, it must be nice. I'd probably think the economy was pretty good.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: And the reason why that is the case is because if you're at that age, and you've owned your house for 25 years, you have a lot more equity. 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Oh, totally! 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: So, when you turn around, the interest rate doesn't influence you as much because you're going to have to borrow, if anything, less. And you can afford to put [00:17:00] down 50, 60, 70 percent, 80 percent in your house.

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: What did those folks also pay for college as well? And how much did they have in student loans? Like, the perception of the economy for people 44 and under, that's going to affect that, a ton. And also by income. And I should also just say, like, Osita Nueva, who's been a guest on this program before, had a tweet just basically saying, You know how Biden could get his numbers up maybe, is, like, actually start running on something and have some initiative and tell people what he wants to do if he gets re-elected. And my suggestion would be a national housing initiative. Like, whatever he wants. I'm sure it would be in some form of vouchers. I'm sure that, you know, it would not be exactly what I wanted, but we could have a beginning of the conversation of repealing the Faircloth Amendment, where we build more affordable housing for people and hopefully drive down some of these prices.

I don't know. They can workshop it. But that would be [00:18:00] something that maybe young people would be incentivized to come to the polls for you for because, gotta be honest, there's a lot of folks who are pretty angry right now about not just the economy but of course the administration's enabling of Israel's mass killing in Gaza.

Housing is a Moral Issue w Shaun Donovan Part 2 - Future Hindsight - Air Date 12-7-23

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: I'm curious about your thoughts on the intersection of housing and democracy.

You know, it just does something that's a basic need that everybody must meet. You have to live somewhere. And since we are a pro-democracy podcast, we think a lot about the comments. Why is it important for a democratic society that everyone ought to be housed? 

SHAUN DONOVAN: Well, I will say for me, housing is a moral issue, because it is one of our basic needs. And if you don't have a decent place to live, if you don't have a stable and affordable place to live, it is really hard to be a part of our democratic society [00:19:00] in fundamental ways. 

Think about a child who's living in a homeless shelter or moving from couch to couch with relatives. Think about the challenge we saw them during COVID -- the ability even to learn remotely. So many other things that are really hard to do. Hard to hold down a good job if your housing isn't stable. 

I do think there is a fundamental threshold of participation in our democratic society that requires housing to be a kind of platform or a foundation for that.

And I will say, in a country where it is an entitlement to get food assistance or to get assistance with health care, every child has the right to go to public school, only one out of five low income people in this country that is eligible on an income basis actually gets housing assistance. 20 percent get it. We need to have a fundamental conversation about housing, [00:20:00] whether you call it a right or say that everybody should get some assistance who needs it. So that's the first thing I would say. 

The second is that, given the levels of particularly street homelessness that we're seeing in this country now, I hear more and more from people that they are questioning the ability of our democratic form of government to work. People are asking, What is happening with my tax dollars? Is government actually functioning? Because homelessness is the sort of tip of the iceberg of all of our social challenges in this country. And it is visible to people in a way that so many other of our social challenges aren't. It is in many places, I think, starting to undermine the belief in our government and the ability of our democratic form of government to function, if we can't do the basics to help people find a place to live. 

And then the last thing I [00:21:00] would say about this is, one of the things that we're seeing is more and more segregation along economic lines. And as our politics have become more skewed across education and income levels and economic levels, people are living with people like themselves: wealthier people with wealthier people, Democrats with Democrats, Republicans with Republicans. And one of the things that I think is fundamentally contributing to the polarization that we're seeing in our country, the lack of a civic engagement with people that are different from yourself is because housing affordability challenges are increasing, not just our political polarization, but our geographic polarization; that It is harder and harder for a low-income person, a person without a college degree, to live in many places. And that stratification and that polarization is [00:22:00] compounding the challenges to our democracy in a way that I don't think we talk about enough. Most people will say, look, it's Facebook, it's all of the online ways that we're living in bubbles, but we're actually living In geographic bubbles. 

So I really worry about that because at the end of the day, what is the best way to change how people perceive people that are different from themselves? It's to have lived experience with them. It's for your kids to go to school with people that are different from themselves. It's for you to run in the grocery store or the post office or wherever it might be, somebody who has a different life experience and can begin to change your views about what "the other" is in this country.

And I think our democratic ideals, if we can't respect difference in this country, it's going to be hard for our democracy to survive.

FANTA KABA - REPORTER, NOTES FROM AMERICA: N

Why NYCs Move to Privatize Public Housing Could Impact the Rest of the Country Part 2 - Notes to America - Air Date 12-18-23

YCHA is notoriously slow when it comes to fixing things. Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of open [00:23:00] work orders across the city, and it takes an average of 360 days for NYCHA to handle each one.

JOHNATHAN GAVIA: As has been very well documented, we have not been getting sufficient capital funding for decades to maintain the buildings at the level at which they should be maintained. 

FANTA KABA - REPORTER, NOTES FROM AMERICA: That's Jonathan Gavia, NYCHA's Executive VP for Real Estate Development. 

JOHNATHAN GAVIA: It is our hope that residents will see these opportunities as a way to bring the comprehensive renovations that they need and enhance services that they deserve.

FANTA KABA - REPORTER, NOTES FROM AMERICA: And here's the opportunity NYCHA came up with: inviting private developers in to take over public housing. Because private companies do have money, and they can take on debt to finance these big renovations. This public-private partnership plan comes from the federal government. It started 10 years ago in Greene County, Illinois. Since then, about 200,000 public housing units across the country have gone under private [00:24:00] management, in big cities like Los Angeles and small cities like Ypsilanti, Michigan. Most of our tenant protections are supposed to stay the same, but people don't trust these landlords to follow the rules. And I can see why. A report from a nonprofit called Human Rights Watch says there's not enough oversight of these private companies. And city officials in New York are investigating eviction rates in these buildings with private-public partnerships. So tenants here are scared... and they're fighting back. 

CALLER: What private developer do you know that gives a damn about low income people? They don't. 

FANTA KABA - REPORTER, NOTES FROM AMERICA: NYCHA's plan puts for-profit real estate companies in charge. They sign a 99-year lease. Then they pay for all the renovations and bring in a private management company. They do everything, from collecting the rent, to cleaning the hallways, to handling leaks.

So I wanted to know,[00:25:00] what does it really mean for families like mine? 

SANJI LOPEZ: Hi, I'm Sanji. 

FANTA KABA - REPORTER, NOTES FROM AMERICA: Hi. Nice to meet you, Sanji! Hi, my name is Fanta. 

SANJI LOPEZ: Nice to meet you. 

FANTA KABA - REPORTER, NOTES FROM AMERICA: Sanji Lopez grew up in Batances Houses, which is a few blocks away from my housing complex in the South Bronx. When Sanji's complex went under private management three years ago, Sanji's family thought the new company would come in and solve all of the leaks, mold and pest issues in their apartment. 

SANJI LOPEZ: They really showed us pictures of the before and after, of course, that got everyone excited and riled up, seeing what could be. Oh, they're gonna remodel everything. They're gonna take the cabinets down. Finally, these old cabinets that we've been dealing with for decades at this point are going to be removed and going to be replaced with better cabinets. The walls are going to be repainted, the bathrooms are going to be redone.

FANTA KABA - REPORTER, NOTES FROM AMERICA: She was so excited about this plan, which is called PACT, Permanent Affordability Commitment Together.

She even appeared in a promotional video NYCHA made. I [00:26:00] found it on YouTube. 

SANJI LOPEZ: I trust that PACT has the residents best interests in mind. 

FANTA KABA - REPORTER, NOTES FROM AMERICA: When did you realize the renovations weren't all cut up to be? 

SANJI LOPEZ: The paint was the first thing. The paint started chipping in a matter of days. And I realized, oh my gosh, this wasn't really well done. It was, I don't know, the contractor they hired wasn't good, but there was still spaces where they didn't paint. Spaces that were missing paint, spaces that were painted over improperly, spots that were chipping away so fast, and also it was like incomplete in the bathroom, we had to complain about missing sealants around the bathtub. Mold, also, again, accruing even more than it did with NYCHA, right? And whenever I would tell the.... 

FANTA KABA - REPORTER, NOTES FROM AMERICA: Even though NYCHA usually takes forever to fix things, Sanji thinks this new system is much worse. 

SANJI LOPEZ: It's just, send the email, hope that somebody responds, follow up again, two or three times, and then maybe they'll come. 

FANTA KABA - REPORTER, NOTES FROM AMERICA: She says some things are better. [00:27:00] The kitchen looks much nicer with dark brown cabinets and new countertops. Someone fumigates so there are fewer roaches. But overall, she said, it feels like she traded one bad situation for another. 

SANJI LOPEZ: Speaking to some neighbors on the same block, they've told me things, I've heard this quote twice, same crap, different toilet.

FANTA KABA - REPORTER, NOTES FROM AMERICA: She laughs about it because sometimes that's all we can do. Shrug it off. But the reality is, this is the plan that was supposed to make everything better. And residents in her building don't have another shot at another plan. Their complex is under private management now. For the next 99 years. 

SANJI LOPEZ: Still, we have issues with heat and hot water during the winter time, so that didn't go away. The issues didn't go away. We thought that privatization was going to solve all of our issues, but it didn't.

Why The US Is Failing At Housing And How To Fix It - The Majority Report - Air Date 7-9-23

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Now, your story talks a bit about how Rhode Island, in particular, [00:28:00] the state legislature in June approved this new pilot program meant to target housing. Can you talk a bit about that program and what makes it different, and what makes it encouraging? Maybe something that other states could follow.

RACHEL COHEN: Yeah, and I should say, and this wasn't my story and I feel bad about it, but it only adds to the thing. I actually learned following my story coming out, my story looked at a couple of states, Rhode Island was a big one, Colorado, Hawaii, California. It turns out, 3 years ago, Massachusetts actually, I think Massachusetts was first and that they have been doing on a smaller scale... what they've been doing, which is really new, but arguably not done since pre-New Deal, is the state is stepping up and we're going to put money into develop[ing] new mixed income housing, affordable and market rate. We're going to own it. And I think something to understand is that, [00:29:00] and you kind of briefly mentioned this earlier, but in the 1990s Congress effectively made it so that it's really, really hard now to build any new federal public housing due to something called the Faircloth Amendment. That's something Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been trying to repeal, but it is still around and so it's why, I mean, right now with federal public housing, there's tens of billions of dollars in backlogged repairs. That's where the leaky roofs and the clogged toilets and the mold and the asbestos, all that stuff that's not getting repaired, Congress is behind in funding those repairs, but they also are not building new units. We're fighting to maybe keep the units we have intact and out of disrepair. 

So, what's really interesting and to me, exciting, about what's happening in those states I was mentioning earlier, like Rhode Island, is they're saying, Okay, the federal government can't build new public housing for all the reasons we just talked about, but we are going to invest ourselves [00:30:00] and we are going to build new housing and we're going to own it, which is really a very different way of thinking about housing because a lot of times the way affordable housing development has worked in the past is they've been on these, like, 15-20 year subsidy things and government will basically give tons and tons of subsidies to a private company and then the private company will build it and they will be under certain restrictions about how high they can charge in rent. But then after the 15-20 years runs up, then it's out of their hands and then, you know, might not even stay affordable after that and it can become in the private hands.

So, this is new in the sense that they're building housing and they're saying, We're going to keep it, and we're going to also capture all the value that comes from owning that unit. And we might be able to reinvest that in more housing production or other social services. And so I find it a very interesting example of how the public sector is thinking about flexing its muscles that they haven't [00:31:00] really done in a very long time.

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Well, I mean, it's common sense, frankly, if taxpayer money - not to use an old, I guess, small 'c' conservative political term - but if taxpayer money is going towards the subsidization of this, then the government should own it. They should be the public developer of this project as opposed to just subsidizing it under private management, which is wildly inefficient, but it's just a way to get around the easiest answer to these questions, which I think a lot of members of our government don't actually want to reckon with. It reminds me of, I use this example all the time, during COVID, Nancy Pelosi bending over backwards for COBRA subsidies as opposed to temporarily expanding Medicare because, you know, we can't do that because of what that might lead to, as opposed to just doing what's most straightforward. 

RACHEL COHEN: And I think I do think part of what's happening here is, [00:32:00] you know, public housing, federal public housing, doesn't have a great reputation right now. I think part of that is because of rules and defunding that Congress has done. And it doesn't mean all public housing has to be bad. We have strong models elsewhere and some states do a better job than others, but what it has meant is that... there's a lot of skepticism right now that the government can get in the housing game and do it well, and, like, they think of the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago, which is sort of like the notorious example of, you know, segregated, underfunded, problematic towers, um, and so part of what I think is for all the people who are who are getting into this space, they're saying, Look, yes, mistakes were made. Yes, we know there are all these problems with federal housing programs, but that doesn't mean we can't get it, right? And that doesn't mean we're doomed to make the same mistakes again. And so I think a lot of what's happening now, and a [00:33:00] really sort of very competent kind of successful place where this is happening is in Montgomery County, Maryland, and that's at the county level, but that's a place where they are showing how this can be done how it can be done in the kind of apartments you or I would probably love to live in, like, next to transit, really nice looking. You can't even, you wouldn't even know it's public housing in the traditional sense of what we sort of imagine that to look like. And I think part of what this will require is just getting some more proof points, like Montgomery County, like Rhode Island, like Massachusetts and Colorado and Hawaii to sort of help people shake the stereotype of what they think American governments building housing can look like and mean, because we have such a stigmatized image based on, you know, how the federal program has kind of shaken out 

EMMA VIGELAND - CO-HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Well, the federal program, they've made it anemic. And then they say, Well, it's unfixable. And so we're putting a moratorium on [00:34:00] it. And when you talk about Montgomery County, that is a suburb, right? And so that, I think, changes the conversation around public housing as well, and also just the outcomes because we've seen urban sprawl, people having to move out of the cities in order to afford a place to live, and when you, I think, make public housing more widespread as opposed to confines to certain areas of cities, then you're including middle class renters as well, as you write about, which might make these programs more durable.

Housing is a Moral Issue w Shaun Donovan Part 3 - Future Hindsight - Air Date 12-7-23

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: So part of your organization is solutions, which I understand to mean that you work in collaboration with local partners on policy and on systems change. What kind of systems change do you think is most necessary in this moment, and then what are the public policy ideas that you think are most promising to get us there? 

SHAUN DONOVAN: Well, right now, given the scale of the [00:35:00] challenges that we have, I think there is an opportunity to create systems change at a scale we haven't seen. And, you know, my old boss, Barack Obama used to say, a crisis is a terrible thing, but it's also a terrible thing to waste. And I do think the fact that housing has now become a challenge everywhere in this country and that more and more people believe that there needs to be system change, that we need to approach this in a different way, there is an opportunity to build at the federal level, but also at the state and local level, new solutions and policy change. One of the things that I think is most powerful is an increasing understanding that we're just not building enough housing and that barriers that stand in the way are outdated zoning codes, many of them racially and economically directed, where communities don't want low income people living [00:36:00] there and have resisted the ability to have denser housing, more affordable housing, and we're really seeing that start to change.

Zoning is generally controlled at the local level. We're seeing states and local communities stand up and say, We're going to create what's called inclusionary zoning rather than exclusionary zoning. That means when you build a new building, you could allow it to be a bigger building, but require, for example, that 20 or 30 or 40 percent of the housing has to be affordable housing. We're seeing more and more communities look at places where there are subway or train stops and saying, Because of the access to jobs that you get from a transit stop, we ought to be building bigger buildings there. And so they're up zoning. And we've also seen a lot of places say, Why does it take three or five years to build an apartment building? Why are we subjecting many of these processes to build new housing to [00:37:00] unending meetings and requirements that end up standing in the way of creating housing, making it much more expensive or just eliminating it altogether? 

And so states like California and traditionally blue states, but also you see red states like Florida and Georgia and others that are coming together across very different political lines - housing activists, advocates for racial justice, combining with builders and private sector organizations - saying the lack of housing is really standing in the way of the future of our communities, and I think that really is bigger picture. More and more places around the country are not able to attract the workers that they need. We now have studies showing that GDP growth in large parts of our country is slowing down because of housing affordability challenges. And so people are seeing that housing isn't just a moral issue or an issue of justice for low income people. [00:38:00] It's a larger challenge for our society in a way that I think you're starting to see kind of political strange bedfellows come together and start to make change at a systems level that is really different. And that's what we do at Enterprise. The solutions part of it is actually creating new policy that is really going to make systems change.

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: So, what's a gold standard for you? What's an area where you're like, Wow, they're doing it right. Like, that's where we should be living, or that's how we should be living. 

SHAUN DONOVAN: Well, what I would say is I wish there were a nirvana for housing somewhere in the country. I've been working on this a long time and I think lots of places have really interesting pieces of this. Just to give you an example, the City of Minneapolis recently eliminated single family zoning.

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: Eliminated it!? 

SHAUN DONOVAN: Eliminated it. First place in the country to do that. And that has started to make real change, but there were also more incremental ways that people are [00:39:00] taking this on. Part of the problem here is the perception is when you hear affordable housing or you think about zoning changes, you're imagining you live in a single family home and there's going to be a 20 story building next door to you. That's not really the way it works. 

One of the exciting things is starting to happen in many communities is a really wonky sounding name, which is accessory dwelling units, ADUs. Basically, that's like a granny flat in the backyard. If you have a single family home, you can build a garage with an apartment above it. And you can go from one unit of housing on a parcel to two. That effectively could double the amount of housing you have in a community, but in a way that doesn't really change the look of the community that much or create challenges in a way that some people perceive when you start to talk about these issues.

So, that's been a big policy change that we've started to see in Los Angeles. It's been tens of thousands of new units that can be created through that. That's true even here in New [00:40:00] York City, where we have many, many communities that are single family homes and lower density. So, there are lots of different strategies that depend on where you're living. In some places, it's going to be much denser, taller buildings and others it's going to look different. The fundamental issue is understanding that we have millions of people who don't have an affordable place to live because we're just not building enough housing in the country.

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: T

Can the French Plan For Social Housing Save America From Hyper-Gentrification w Cole Stangler - Thom Hartmann Program - Air Date 11-9-23

hink most Americans are familiar with the word gentrification. I'm not sure all of them understand exactly what it means or how it plays out. Can you describe what you mean when you talk about hyper-gentrification in the subtitle of your book and how it might be different, the way it's playing out in Paris than the way it might play out in NEW York or in Boise? 

COLE STANGLER: Yeah, I mean, when I use the word gentrification, I'm talking about an economic process that I think there are really two fundamental manifestations of this process. One is rent hikes. So, significant rent hikes taking place in urban areas. [00:41:00] And the second part of that is displacement. So, you have people that are being forced to leave. And you have this process that can, you know, completely transform urban areas. We've seen it in so many cities in the United States. I'm from the northeast. I think about a place like New York, New York City, that has just been changed so much from the city that I knew that, you know, when I was growing up there, or when I grew up around there, excuse me. Or San Francisco. You have a lot of these cases in the United States of these cities that have been just completely transformed. Low income, working class people having to leave. And that changes the character of cities and in a lot of ways it's tragic to see the kind of identity being sucked out of these places because normal people, Ordinary people can't afford to live in them. 

So that's the process. Paris, you know, I use the word hyper-gentrification because it's already a city that has a lot of wealth in it. We're not talking about neighborhoods that are very, very poor. We're talking about neighborhoods that are, you know, where ordinary people can still afford to live, that have, you know, some amount of wealth in them, but I think we've seen so many waves of this play out, and I think we're [00:42:00] kind of at a very advanced stage in the city of Paris.

One other kind of very specific thing about Paris is that the city is already very, very dense. And so it means that one of the solutions people talk about for dealing with housing is often to build more housing. That's part of it. Increasing supply. But that can be quite hard to do in a place like Paris, where the city is already tremendously dense. So, that's just kind of one important aspect of it to underline.

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: In reading in your book, you were talking about how you can still find an apartment, at least in this part of Paris, where you were living for 500, 600, 700 euros a month. But it's going to be a disaster. It's going to have a bathroom down the hall, or it's going to open onto a busy street, or you'll have to deal with rats crawling all over you. How bad is it? I mean, how bad has the situation become? And to what extent have the working class been driven out of Paris and its suburbs? 

COLE STANGLER: Yeah, you know, the rent hikes have, I think since the year 2000, roughly, I've gone up, uh, housing costs have increased three times since the year 2000.[00:43:00] 

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: Three times or 300%? 

COLE STANGLER: 200%. So, you know, you have more than 10,000 people that have been leaving the city every year, according to the official data. And, as you mentioned, yes, so these neighborhoods people are living in, you know, kind of cramped spaces to be able to hold on, but I think in some ways, you know, the book is kind of trying to raise the alarm in some respects in the Anglophone world, but it's also trying to celebrate these neighborhoods for what they are, and, you know, these are tremendously diverse places, and I think that's something that can often be forgotten about in, you know, outside of France, just how multicultural and diverse of a city Paris is, and really France as a country, and so the places that I'm talking about in the book have large shares of immigrant population from West Africa, from North Africa, from China, from India. We don't often think about, you know, Paris as being the sort of melting pot, but it is in a lot of respects. And that's because of historically, you know, there's been affordable housing in [00:44:00] the city and that I'm trying to also show. When you take that away out of the equation, it means that you have a negative impact on the character of the city. And I think, just another aspect to highlight what we're talking about, why these neighborhoods have persisted over the years, right now there's many key elements, but I think one above all that I want to highlight, and that is we have something called social housing in France. So that's, that's state-managed, state-regulated housing at below market rates. And, if you look at these neighborhoods where the working class still lives, you have pretty high shares of social housing. That's one of the really important policy tools that's quite effective that we don't have, unfortunately, in the United States.

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: How would we do that in the United States? How would that lesson from Paris translate into a city in America? 

COLE STANGLER: Yeah, you know, I think there are a few kind of policy measures. So, social housing is a big one. It's interesting. I think the conversation is shifting a little bit, it seems like. Although I'm obviously not on the ground in the US, but there seems to be an acknowledgement that maybe we should be turning more to these kind of solutions we have [00:45:00] in Europe for dealing with housing, social housing being one of them.

I think Seattle just, if I'm not mistaken, a couple of years ago, passed a referendum that created a social housing agency to start experimenting with this because, you know, there's one thing again, I'm repeating myself, but I think it's so important to emphasize for American audiences. In the US, we often talk about the YIMBYs versus the NIMBYs, you know, 'yes, in my backyard', 'not in my backyard'. I'm simplifying, but oftentimes the debate can kind of be simplified into this, you know, Do you want more supply, or do you not want more supply? And, obviously that's part of the equation, but it depends who owns the housing, who owns that supply? Social housing is the government stepping into the market and saying, We're going to build housing or manage the housing and regulate the price. 

So, social housing is so key. And then rent controls are another tool that we do see in the United States to some extent. In Paris, they're experimenting with them again now, after a long break of not having rent controls. That's a very, um, it's an important tool as well. It's not a magic silver bullet, but[00:46:00] let's look at how Europeans regulate housing to think about, how can we deal with some of these problems that we have in the United States. I hope that's one of the takeaways, at least of the book.

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: How does social housing differ from what we refer to in America as the projects? 

COLE STANGLER: Yeah, well, I think one big difference is that you've had just a lot more government funding of social housing. It's been recognized as a kind of important policy tool. And it's not reserved for only the least well off in France. It's not reserved for just the lowest income bracket. You know, people who are lower to middle income, even to middle income, have the right to have social housing. And it's actually even a source of debate in Paris where people are saying, Well, maybe we shouldn't be allowing so many middle class people access to social housing.

So, you do have this tradition of having good funding for the program, quality housing stock, too, that's such an important point. If you look at the social housing that's being built in Paris today, um, you know, these are nice looking places. They're enjoyable places to [00:47:00] live. And I got to tour a few of them for reporting. It's a question of political will, too. You know, it's been a priority. This has been a priority to fund this and to use it as a tool to combat the housing crisis in Europe. And I think that we're starting to maybe think that way a little bit in the US, but maybe not there yet.

BONUS - Why NYCs Move to Privatize Public Housing Could Impact the Rest of the Country Part 3 - Notes to America - Air Date 12-18-23

KAI WRIGHT - HOST, NOTES FROM AMERICA: Which is to say in the 90s, as far back as the 90s now, there was a conversation about, Oh, we can't afford public housing, what if we privatize it? And I think some people, I certainly remember the coverage of that and the controversy at the time about the HOPE program. But it's interesting that it's something you hear about often now. I mean, this is not a big part of our public conversation, do you think?

TATYANA TURNER: It's not. But I will say residents do point to it when they do hear about PACT or, you know, when they hear about a possible demolition, they point to HOPE VI and they'll say, Oh, like look what happened at Cabrini Green or the Magnolia Houses in New Orleans. They'll point to...

KAI WRIGHT - HOST, NOTES FROM AMERICA: Cabrini Green in Chicago. 

TATYANA TURNER: In Chicago, yes. [00:48:00] And they'll point to other developments across the country and say, Look at what happened with the displacement. And just to give some figures for HOPE VI, 200,000 units were demolished. They were removed and only 50,000 were for low income. This is across the nation. But even with those 50,000, it wasn't guaranteed that those residents, low income residents, were able to move back into those properties. 

KAI WRIGHT - HOST, NOTES FROM AMERICA: So, let me make sure I followed that. So the outcome of this, of the 1990s-era privatization idea, was that they tore down 200,000 public housing units, and then only 50,000 people moved back into public housing.

TATYANA TURNER: Only 50,000 units, uh, apartments were for low income when they rebuilt them. But, as for the number of residents, it's not 50,000, unfortunately. People had to get rescreened and, yeah. 

KAI WRIGHT - HOST, NOTES FROM AMERICA: The demand was much higher than there was supply. 

TATYANA TURNER: Absolutely. 

KAI WRIGHT - HOST, NOTES FROM AMERICA: What is at stake here in terms of, in privatization, in terms of [00:49:00] this tradeoff between investments that are needed financially and the rights of tenants? This is something that Fanta [Fanta Kaba, a reporter for WNYC’s Radio Rookies] has talked about, that there's not enough money to do the repairs and so they're doing privatization and then that means you lose some rights. So, what does that mean? What policy change goes with moving from public to private. 

TATYANA TURNER: Well, I want to say it's, like I said, with NYCHA, it's a sense of stability. Your rent is not going to go up. That's guaranteed. And under private management, there are more question marks. There's no definitives that I can give. Because, you know, with each developer it could be different. The relationship could be different. And let me just kind of break that down further. When I'm referring to PACT, each development that goes under the PACT program, they may each have a different developer. So, one development team may work better with a group than another might. 

KAI WRIGHT - HOST, NOTES FROM AMERICA: So instead of having just 'the city', or the state or the [00:50:00] federal government as your landlord, now each complex has a different developer, and we know what that's like. Anybody living in private housing now, sometimes you've got a good landlord and sometimes you do not. 

TATYANA TURNER: Right. So, it's chancy, and that's what residents are really pointing to. Like, it could be great, and I believe it was Sanjeev Batandas [?] who was basically like, you know, We were told that this was going to be a great fix, and we were really believing these promises only to be let down.

KAI WRIGHT - HOST, NOTES FROM AMERICA: Yeah. So, where privatization has occurred, if the trade off is supposed to be more investment in exchange for these question marks around stability, has the investment followed? Have we seen nicer countertops and paint that isn't chipped and all of the things that we heard Fanta talk [about] in Fanta's report? Has that happened? Have they seen better repairs? 

TATYANA TURNER: That has happened. There's one tenant I remember speaking with a couple of months ago and I asked him, uh, he's at the Baychester Houses in the Bronx, and he was saying that he's happy with the changes. He said that [00:51:00] there's more upkeep, better communication in place, more security and he feels safer and he feels more pride not only within his unit but just the development as a whole. On the complete opposite end, I've heard residents say that the relationship with the development team is not great, and they wish that they could go back to the traditional public housing Section 9 model. 

KAI WRIGHT - HOST, NOTES FROM AMERICA: So again, Section 9 model meaning that it's in public housing. 

TATYANA TURNER: In public housing. In NYCHA. Mm-hmm.. 

KAI WRIGHT - HOST, NOTES FROM AMERICA: But again, I mean, so it's like, sometimes it's worked for you, sometimes it doesn't. I guess I want people to understand, or I want to understand, like, why that's a bad thing then? How's that different than housing in general? That's life in housing, right? 

TATYANA TURNER: I think because of a sense of familiarity and it might just, for residents that's uprooting them from what they know and the people that they know, the management that they know into other hands where you're just kind of taking chances that, yeah... 

KAI WRIGHT - HOST, NOTES FROM AMERICA: Right. And again, the idea [00:52:00] is that folks in public housing are there because they needed the stability because of housing insecurity. We heard Fanta talk about the tenant activism in New York around this. And one change that officials have made here is to allow tenants to vote on whether they want to go private. That's a big deal nationally, right? Like the fact that that's happening. Put that in context for us. Has that happened anywhere else? Or is New York the first place that's happening? 

TATYANA TURNER: To my understanding, it's New York so far. And just on Friday, Mayor Adams had announced that the Nostrand Houses in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, was the first development to go under a model called Public Housing Preservation Trust. But yes, that was the first development to ever even vote on what funding model they want for their future. 

KAI WRIGHT - HOST, NOTES FROM AMERICA: And how did that vote go? 

TATYANA TURNER: So, at the Nostrand Houses, just to walk it back a little bit, they found out earlier this year, I want to say in July, that there would be a vote. And between July and November there was a 100 days of [00:53:00] engagement period, where NYCHA management along with organizations would go to Nostrand and speak with residents about this vote, the three options that they have. And the three options were to stay in Section 9, stay as is. The other one was Permanent Affordability Commitment Together program (PACT), or The Public Housing Preservation Trust, which is an untested model. That's the one where funds are unlocked through bonds and mortgages. And that's the model that they chose, which was Public Housing Preservation trust.

KAI WRIGHT - HOST, NOTES FROM AMERICA: But this seems like a lot, first off, for, I mean, I'm having trouble following that. I can't imagine, like, my housing being dependent upon me having to make that choice. That seems like ... is this really a solution? I mean, to have that's a fairly high level of sophistication for you to have about a housing market to choose your road forward. I mean, do you think this is the way to do it? And if not, why? 

TATYANA TURNER: I think that it's still too early to tell. My hope is [00:54:00] that it is a solution. From a financial standpoint, perhaps. But from a residential standpoint with people's experiences, I think it might vary. 

BONUS - How to build beautiful social housing in a crisis - Channel 4 News - 9-7-23

PETER BARBER: We looked at so many new developments, and this was the one that really caught our eye. 

RESIDENTS: I actually feel quite safe here. It's like a way of living that I didn't think my children were ever going to experience.

REPORTER, CHANNEL 4: Forget tower blocks, forget glass fronted developments, forget the council houses of old. 

PETER BARBER: That's the wonderful thing about doing architecture, and then several years later it actually gets built.

REPORTER, CHANNEL 4: This is the work of Peter Barber, an architect who focuses on urbanism and social housing. He's won accolades and admirers for his innovative approach. He takes small parcels of land and turns them into a housing haven, always centred around a street, a courtyard, where people mix, where communities form. 

PETER BARBER: When I see a big tower block sitting in a sea of tarmac or grass, I sort of want to turn it on its side and turn it into a terrace. 

REPORTER, CHANNEL 4: [00:55:00] Because you look at, you know, all the houses, you look at tenements, you look at back to back housing. I guess they had a stigma before, but you feel like they're worth looking back into. 

PETER BARBER: Well, I think they are. These are places where people from all sorts of different backgrounds, and racial groups, and social groups, and economic groups are kind of thrown together and are at the very least visible to one another. The other advantage of this street-based housing that we have is that those people, the quite well off people and the not so well off people, are sharing the space, whereas quite often when you have tower blocks, you have a tower for the social housing, the tower for the wealthy people and they're kind of in glorious isolation.

REPORTER, CHANNEL 4: Avoiding isolation is crucial. 

PETER BARBER: So there's a kitchen there. Uh, a shower room under there. 

REPORTER, CHANNEL 4: Barber's practice built temporary housing for the homeless in Camden. Rather than adjoin the rooms along a corridor, they open out onto a garden space. 

PETER BARBER: I mean, that's literally two weeks after they'd moved in. 

REPORTER, CHANNEL 4: He also built homes for people over 60 in Barking. Gardens at the front open out onto their own [00:56:00] street; architecture stimulating, socialising for those who might be lonely. And he won the Neave Brown Award for Housing for this development in Newham. Twenty-six townhouses, available for those on social rent or shared ownership. 

RESIDENTS: All the families have benefited the most probably, just being able to play freely like this is, is limited in London.

It's like a little family unit, if you need help, someone's there for you. 

We are really proud, we like the architecture, we like our neighbourhood. 

The council sort of making it affordable for us, it's really liveable. 

It's really nice that Peter's changed the aspects. I think it's given people that confidence to be able to say, yeah, you know, like, yeah, I'm living in social housing.

REPORTER, CHANNEL 4: Barber works with local authorities, housing associations, as well as private developers. Like here, at Edward Mews in Finchley. Yet it's not all social housing. Many of the homes here are simply for sale, while others are available for shared ownership or classed as affordable housing. [00:57:00] 

Because when we talk about affordable housing, do you think it actually is affordable?

PETER BARBER: No, it's troubling. And I think this sort of umbrella of affordable housing is a little bit of a, it's not specific enough. If you're buying something in shared ownership, which is 80 percent of market value, then, if it's in certain areas of London, it's clearly, you know, still beyond a lot of people.

REPORTER, CHANNEL 4: Is there a way to sort of solve the housing crisis? 

PETER BARBER: We should have a social housing program on the scale that we're able to manage after the Second World War. 

ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE: We know now that we have built more than 300,000 houses, new houses, in 1953. 

PETER BARBER: In my mind, it's one of our proudest achievements as a society. In addition, I think we need to end the right to buy. They've done it in Scotland, they've done it in Wales, and I think we need to probably have rent controls as well. 

REPORTER, CHANNEL 4: With the housing crisis in need of major intervention, Barber's work is a small part of the story, and only available in some pockets of London. 

PETER BARBER: It does feel like a drop in the ocean, and it does feel like a band aid on the [00:58:00] problem really. Ultimately, you know, politicians have to commit a lot more money to social housing. 

REPORTER, CHANNEL 4: Barber is slowly making waves in the architecture world. But as he admits himself, there's still a very long way to go.

Final comments on why North America Can't Build Nice Apartments

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with Future Hindsight, describing the housing crisis. Notes from America featured a personal story about how public housing can provide stability. The Majority Report put the housing crisis in the broader context of current economics and interest rates. Future Hindsight looked at the moral issue of housing and its connection to democracy. Notes from America explored one effort to improve public housing through privatization. The Majority Report looked into publicly owned housing. Future Hindsight discussed how the political landscape may be ripe for transformational change on housing. And the Thom Hartmann Program compared the French housing plan with the US. That's what everybody heard, but members also heard a bonus clips from Notes from America discussing various ideas, [00:59:00] including public housing residents getting a vote in their own futures. And the Channel 4 News in the UK did a report on one social housing effort. 

To hear that and have all of our bonus contents delivered seamlessly to the new members only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support. Remember that during December, we're offering 20% off on memberships for yourself, or as a gift. So, definitely take advantage of that while you can, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information. 

For more on housing in America, I have a couple of our episodes to recommend. #1496, "Home is where the hardship is", was published back in June 2022, which discussed the growing crisis, including the fact that corporations buying up houses is a big part of the problem of the housing shortage. And 1565, "Co-housing builds community and [01:00:00] fights loneliness" is just from June of this year, 2023, and looks at a non-traditional form of housing that increases housing density and helps form community at the same time. So, check those out again. Those were episodes 1496 and 1565 in your podcast feed. 

Now to wrap up, I just want to add a point about housing regulation or maybe regulation more broadly. I came across this yesterday. A YouTuber was making a point about how a relatively small regulation on fire safety has had a massive impact on housing in North America. So, let's just walk through the highlights real quick.

NARRATOR: This type of apartment building is called the Point Access Block. Its defining feature is that all its units share one staircase and elevator to the ground floor, which allows for a smaller, skinnier apartment. And these buildings are a common element in some of the most desirable neighborhoods in the world.

So, why don't we build these apartments here in North America? [01:01:00] Well, in Canada and the U. S., all apartments above two or three stories need to give their units access to two separate staircases. We're some of the only countries across the world that are this strict about this requirement. In most other places, it only kicks in after six or more stories.

And this one rule has huge implications. Staircases take up a lot of space, and fitting two of them in a small building means that there's much less usable floor space on every floor. As a result, developers here construct much larger buildings so that the staircases and hallways take up a much smaller proportion of the overall building.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: So American apartment buildings into being big and bulky, which means they're harder and more expensive to build.

NARRATOR: Single staircase buildings, on the other hand, can be much smaller, which means you can often build them on just one property. I think that makes these buildings an important solution right now, because cities today are increasingly looking to add more housing into their single family neighborhoods.

Properties in [01:02:00] these areas are already small to begin with and I think it'd be very difficult to add more housing at scale without single staircase buildings. 

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Another weird problem is that double stair apartment buildings end up only having apartments with windows on one side. So like corner units are pretty rare and windows on opposite walls that maximize breathe-through air ventilation, it's nearly non-existent in the US. And then on top of the window problem, which, you know, if you think about windows are nice, nice to have more windows, so Americans get fewer windows, but the window's problem actually compounds because it makes it difficult to build apartment layouts with more than one or maybe two bedrooms. So, three bedroom apartments are also extremely rare. This is more clear if you can see the visuals in the video.

NARRATOR: This is a problem because our cities are facing a major shortage of apartments with three or more bedrooms, the kinds of spaces that are better suited for families. In Metro Vancouver, three bedroom apartments make up [01:03:00] 2 percent of units in the region's rental market, while studios and one bedroom apartments make up almost 75%. And this shortage of family friendly apartments is where I really see the potential of point access block buildings. When you have one staircase, you don't need a hallway, which means that units can wrap around the staircase in all sorts of different ways. That makes it easier to have more walls with windows, which allows for apartment layouts with more than one bedroom. Check out this apartment layout from France. You can see that the single staircase allows for a 3-bedroom unit, two 2-bedrooms, and two 1-bedrooms. 

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Now, I don't know about you, but for me, it's easy to never think about how three bedroom apartments basically don't exist in the US, or to just assume that well, yeah, there's no room for that many bedrooms in an apartment. Everyone knows that, apartments just aren't that big. And what logically follows is that if you need more than two bedrooms, like if you want a bedroom, a kid's room and a home office, which of course lots more people do now after the [01:04:00] pandemic, then the only option is to move to the suburbs and buy a bigger, detached, less efficient house than you would have otherwise, if only three bedroom apartments had existed. Now, the two staircase rule was put in place with very good intentions. It's all about giving people escape routes in case of fire. And that rule is more strict in North America because more of our buildings are made of wood than in Europe. And that role definitely saved lives over the past, you know, a hundred or however many years. But now the question is whether we actually still need it.

NARRATOR: As you can see on this chart, the US and Canada don't have the fewest fire deaths per capita. Not by a long shot. It turns out, there are so many other factors that contribute towards fire safety. In fact, it seems like the real success story of our building codes hasn't been so much about helping people escape fires, but preventing them in the first place.

For example, regulating the materials buildings are made out of, [01:05:00] requiring fire doors, pressurized staircases, sprinklers, fire alarm systems, and fire extinguishers. Today, almost every aspect of your home has been vetted for fire safety. Even your mattress is required by law to be made out of fire resistant materials.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: So my takeaway from all this is about the potential benefits of reviewing old regulations to make sure they're still accomplishing what we need them to. There are a couple of old anecdotes that come to mind in cases like this. 

The first is a story about an NPR engineer who asked about very slightly changing the format of the show he was working on and was told, No, we can't do that because there's an NPR rule about show structure and that change would go against the role. So, the engineer looked into the rule and found that it dated back to when they had to design the show format in a way that would give editors enough time to physically cut audio tape and put it together between segments, obviously [01:06:00] something that's not needed anymore. 

Another story is about a family recipe that had been handed down and included some odd directions that no one could really understand the benefit of, but people followed the instruction specifically. It goes, you know, that's how grandma did it. Don't ask questions. And I think that eventually someone asks, Hey, grandma, these instructions are in this recipe. Why do you have to do it this way? And grandma explained, Oh, well that was just to accommodate the extremely small oven I had back in the day. You know, it required some creative thinking to get everything to come out right with such a constrained space. So, you know, we wrote the recipe for that reason alone. But like, no, of course you don't have to do it that way now. We have bigger kitchens, bigger ovens, the whole thing, right? 

So, this certainly isn't a lesson about how regulation is bad across the board, right? The narrator from the video didn't even want to abolish the ruling entirely, just tweak it so that it only applied to taller buildings where it made more sense and [01:07:00] not apply to shorter apartment buildings under six stories. Where it was just not as necessary. 

So, old rules rarely need to be entirely thrown out, but they may need some reviewing and some tweaking from time to time. The double staircase rule in North American apartment buildings seems to be a pretty good example of this, but there are undoubtedly others and in a crisis, like the housing crisis we are in, we should be looking at every option available. And besides, European-style apartments sound much nicer to live in, and are much more efficient than having families being forced out into the suburbs, into their own single family homes. So, the benefits to revising old rules may often compound in the positive direction, just as the drawbacks to those rules can sometimes compound in the negative. 

That is going to be it for today. As always keep the comments coming in. I would love to hear your thoughts or questions about this or anything else. You can leave us a voicemail or [01:08:00] send us a text to 202-999-3991 or simply email me to [email protected]. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our Transcriptionist Trio, Ken, Brian, and Ben, who's making his triumphant return to the volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and a bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who already support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support. You'll find that link in the show notes, along with a link to join our Discord community, where you can continue the discussion. 

So, coming to from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com. 

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#1599 Taming the Beast: AI Regulation Before Human Relegation (Transcript)

Air Date 12/20/2023

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award winning Best of the Left podcast in which we shall look at why AI needs to be regulated by governments, even though politicians don't understand computers, just as the government regulates the manufacturer and operation of aircraft, even though your average politician doesn't know their ass from an aileron. Sources today include In Focus, Your Undivided Attention, Democracy Now!, DW News, Today Explained, and a TED Talk, with additional members-only clips from the Thom Hartmann Program and In Focus.

How are governments approaching AI regulation - In Focus by The Hindu - Air Date 11-16-23

G. SAMPATH - HOST, IN FOCUS: So to start with, I was wondering if you can give us a brief idea of what are the real concerns about AI that are animating, that are driving the legislative efforts of governments around the world? What are the core concerns? 

DR. MATTI POHJONEN: Yeah, sure. So it's actually a very interesting debate. And as somebody who has been following the debate far before it became very publicly heated alongside JATCPT and some of the new models, is [00:01:00] that there has been a very kind of a mesh of different topics and themes that have been involved or underpinning lying some of the debates around how to best regulate and legislate artificial intelligence.

So I think a good way to start looking at this is that we start off with the kind of a negation or try to articulate or think about what potentially, or what has been one of the drivers of the debate that might not be the key thing to discuss in this podcast or in this conversation.

So there is a very popular kind of public conversation that has been going on around the image of machines, Terminators, artificial intelligence, as these machines take on the world. So there has been a very powerful debate around the kind of existential risk of AI, which has been driving some of the debates.

And once we start going into regulatory aspects of it, we can start seeing that there are various diverse interests that are actually underpinning the contemporary debates that are going on. So part of this what we call an existential AI narrative, there has been a lot of work that has been done around [00:02:00] what happens if AI becomes super, super intelligent and takes over and becomes this massive force that by the pure force of intelligence drives humans into extinction or into kind of a subservient position or what have you.

So there has been a counter-narrative that has been emerging in many, many kinds of different respects to this popular culture or this kind of narrative of AI as an existential threat is that one of the things that is often being hidden from the fact when we think about these very large questions around artificial intelligence is that what do these systems actually do, and how are they being concretely implemented in different aspects of society.

So there's a couple of versions of this kind of more critical narrative that has been advanced more in the attempts of trying to regulate different AI developments and companies. 

So one of them is that -- and you can see we can start sketching out some of these debates as they're taking place on the public conversations and starting taking place also in the kind of online conversation that are going on -- but the core idea behind that is that when we move away from this grand narrative of somehow AI [00:03:00] becoming super intelligence and being able to pose a certain existential threat to humanity or to the ones who develop it, there has been various pressures of what are the actual concerns that now the systems are becoming very advanced, developed, and the progress of development is going at a very fast rate. So there's been pressure from society, societal pressure from civil society activism, to think about what aspects of AI should be regulated in terms of questions around bias in the systems. Questions about privacy have been a very big issue around things like facial recognition technology and their practical uses. Increasingly, there has been talk about what happens with especially generative AI of the types of fake or artificial or synthetic content that can be generated. There's also been one big debate that has been also underlying some of these things. So what are the consequences of the use of automated AI systems, and especially security and especially in weapons and autonomous weapons? And there's been a big debate around what happens [00:04:00] when AI becomes embedded into weapons systems and what are the limits and what kind of rules and regulations should we have then? And as we have been seeing in Ukraine and Gaza, this is already a concern that many of the systems are, in one form or another, using different AI models to drive or augment the systems that are being used.

So again, many of these kind of different interests have been meshing for a couple of years, and now they're starting to concretely find form or manifest in various regulations that are being proposed. And I think in that context, there's been two of the key legislative things that have been done, there was the EU AI Act that you mentioned, which was in 2021, where some of these principles were starting to be sketched out into something practical, or what would it mean in practice, and then Biden executed the order. And in a way, the EU AI Act is the next step is going to be, they're trying to move that into a very concrete legislation that then would provide guidelines and rules for this.

So in a way, the environment seems to be right through this various influences [00:05:00] for now to be the moment that some preliminary and legislatively binding legislations will emerge that we look at these various debates. Again, we can start sketching out some of the more detailed nuances out of this, but it's interesting now, especially with the Biden legislation or executive order, how these things are being increasingly pushed from governments and different actors.

So yeah, that's the kind of very broad environment in which many of these various, often conflicting and diverse debates have been finding form in the last two, three years. 

A First Step Toward AI Regulation with Tom Wheeler - Your Undivided Attention - Air Date 11-2-23

TRISTAN HARRIS - HOST, YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION: So this 111-page executive order is a sweeping announcement that imposes guardrails on many aspects of the new AI models. 

AZA RASKIN - CO-HOST, YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION: One of the remarkable things about this executive order is that it really takes seriously the full scale of impacts AI has in society, and that's why it's so broad. So it mandates that companies share internal testing data, and very importantly, that companies must notify the government when they are training new Frontier Foundation models -- that is, models that go beyond 10 to the 26 flops, [00:06:00] which is a fancy way of saying things that are of scale GPT 5 and beyond, as well as anything that poses serious national security, economic security, or public health threats. 

The executive order also goes after the intersection of AI and biology by making federal funding for life sciences dependent on using higher standards around gene synthesis and the kinds of things that can be used to do nasty things with AI and biology.

The order also addressed the new development of cutting edge privacy tools and the mitigation of algorithmic bias and discrimination and the implementation of a pilot National AI Research Resource, or NAIR, which will fund AI research related to issues like health care and climate change. 

And finally, the executive order tries to solve the deficit of AI talent in the US government itself. They are launching an AI talent search on AI.gov. 

TRISTAN HARRIS - HOST, YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION: I think what's most impressive about this order is just that it reflects the many different areas of society that AI touches, that it's not shying away from the multiple horizons of harm -- [00:07:00] privacy, bias and discrimination, job automation, AI expertise, biological weapons. Instead of saying these are way too many issues for the government to tackle, this executive order has bullet points for how it's going to try to signal a first step towards each of these areas. 

AZA RASKIN - CO-HOST, YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION: So, I actually was in the room as the president was signing the executive order. It was a privilege, really, to be there in this historic moment, and I was chatting with one of the White House lawyers, and he used a phrase that I thought was exactly right. He said, "This is the end of the beginning." 

I remember Tristan, you and I, back in March, really realizing that we're going to have to have something like an executive order. We did the AI Dilemma, and while, of course, it's not us pushing for an executive order that made it happen, we've now sort of completed this process where in March, this was not an issue. The executive order was signed. 

And so we're going to be discussing that today with Tom Wheeler. Tom Wheeler knows the tech industry from both [00:08:00] government and business perspectives. He was a venture capitalist in the cable and telecommunications industry, and he was chairman of the Federal Communication Commission, the FCC, from 2013 to 2017. These days, he is a Visiting Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, where he's been researching 21st-century tech regulation for his new book, Tech Clash: Who Makes the Rules in the Digital Gilded Age. Tom, welcome.

TOM WHEELER: Aza, thank you. It's great to be with you guys.

AZA RASKIN - CO-HOST, YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION: Well, and to the storytelling of one of the first times we visited Washington DC, trying to meet the various institutions in DC, Tom, we were actually at a meeting, I think was that at the United Nations, or it was held by Dick Gephardt and some other groups, to try to figure out how are we going to get our hands wrapped around this? And I'm so curious, given your very, very deep expertise in government and in Washington, what is your overall take on the executive order?

TOM WHEELER: Well, let me back up first of all to both of you have been engaged in a missionary effort [00:09:00] that has been really important. And I think you ought to feel good about the fact that the President of the United States has stepped up as he did. You know, it's been interesting to watch as Congress talked, the administration moved forward and they move forward in an evolutionary process, if you will, the first thing out of the box was the AI Bill of Rights, which was kind of aspirational. And then came the NIST standards for management and mitigation, which are terrific, but without any enforcement. Then came the voluntary commitments of the major AI model companies that again were well intended, but so general as to almost be unenforceable. And now what President Biden signed in the executive order -- I mean, 111-page executive order -- I was [00:10:00] struck by his use of the Defense Production Act and its enforceability, mandatory nature to require certain things.

But the problem with executive action is that most of the other things are guidance and are not enforceable. We need enforceable oversight of the digital activities and that, absent action by Congress, we're not going to get there because of the fact that we're still operating under industrial-era rules and industrial-era statutes and industrial-era assumptions.

So, bottom line on the executive order, hooray, great leadership throughout this entire process. But we really need an enforceable strategy that only the Congress can create.[00:11:00] 

You know, I often consider AI to be like the mythological Greek monster Hydra, the multi-headed monster. And, as I looked at the executive order, I think the president took a swing at every head he could find on the Hydra-headed AI monster. And that's terrific.

AZA RASKIN - CO-HOST, YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION: In terms of just signaling power, and it wasn't lost on any of us that the UK AI summit was happening directly after this announcement. And so there's a signaling value in saying the US is going to do something, or rather, that the US is taking it really seriously. And in the sense that we all have to do what we can do, I viewed this as incredibly good.

TRISTAN HARRIS - HOST, YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION: This was sort of the maximum that Biden, or really the executive branch, could do. And so before we go into how might we fix the limits of our medieval or maybe industrial revolution-era [00:12:00] institutions, I do think it's important to walk through at least a little bit of what's in this executive order, especially around the use of the Defense Production Act to force government in the loop for frontier models and things like that.

And then let's step back to this larger question of structurally how might we redo governance to match the times? 

TOM WHEELER: Sure. Back to the question of enforceability and the Defense Production Act and the requirement that certain of the companies, and I guess it is yet undefined, but certain of the companies that are building foundation models need to inform the government as to what the training is going on, need to be running some red team activities to try and identify vulnerabilities and share that information, because it has national security and economic security implications, therefore there can be mandatory [00:13:00] requirements. Those are all good and those are important steps and we need to understand what's in the black boxes and have an ability to, based on that understanding, deal with whatever reality is created. I think it falls short of the Food and Drug Administration, for instance, we will run government tests on every new pharmaceutical and determine whether or not it can be released to the market, but it's a move in that direction.

And it's a mandatory requirement that the government is at least aware of what is going on. 

Now, the interesting thing, and we can get to this later, but the interesting thing is, I didn't see in the order specifically who was covered. And one of the fascinating things is, okay, how do we deal with open source models -- that is coming definitely from people [00:14:00] who we know are not covered by this.

Artificial Intelligence Godfathers Call for Regulation as Rights Groups Warn AI Encodes Oppression - Democracy Now! - Air Date 6-1-23

AMY GOODMAN: Tawana Petty, welcome to Democracy Now! You are not only warning people about the future; you’re talking about the uses of AI right now and how they can be racially discriminatory. Can you explain?

TAWANA PETTY: Yes. Thank you for having me, Amy. Absolutely. I must say that the contradictions have been heightened with the godfather of AI and others speaking out and authoring these particular letters that are talking about these futuristic potential harms. However, many women have been warning about the existing harms of artificial intelligence many years prior to now — Timnit Gebru, Dr. Joy Buolamwini and so many others, Safiya Noble, Ruha Benjamin, and so — and Dr. Alondra Nelson, what you just mentioned, [00:15:00] the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, which is asking for five core principles: safe and effective systems, algorithmic discrimination protections, data privacy, notice and explanation, and human alternatives, consideration, and fallback.

And so, at the Algorithmic Justice League, we have been responding to existing harms of algorithmic discrimination that date back many years prior to this almost robust narrative-reshaping conversation that has been happening over the last several months with artificial general intelligence. So, we’re already seeing harms with algorithmic discrimination in medicine. We’re seeing the pervasive surveillance that is happening with law enforcement using face detection system to target community members during protests, squashing not only our civil liberties and rights to organize and protest, but also the [00:16:00] misidentifications that are happening with regard to false arrests, that we’ve seen two very prominent cases started off in Detroit.

And so, there are many examples of existing harms that it would have been really great to have these voices of mostly White men who are in the tech industry, who did not pay attention to the voices of all those women who were lifting up these issues many years ago. And they’re talking about these futuristic possible risks, when we have so many risks that are happening today.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Professor Max Tegmark, if you could respond to what Tawana Petty said, and the fact that others have also said that the risks have been vastly overstated in that letter, and, more importantly, given what Tawana has said, that it distracts from already-existing effects of artificial intelligence that are widely in use already?

MAX TEGMARK: [00:17:00] I think this is a really important question here. There are people who say that one of these kinds of risks distracts from the other. I strongly support everything we heard here from Tawana. I think these are all very important problems, examples of how we’re giving too much control already to machines. But I strongly disagree that we should have to choose about worrying about one kind of risk or the other. That’s like saying we should stop working on cancer prevention because it distracts from stroke prevention.

These are all incredibly important risks. I have spoken up a lot on social justice risks, as well, and threats. And, you know, it just plays into the hands of the tech lobbyists, if they can — if it looks like there’s infighting between people who are trying to rein in Big Tech for one reason and people who are trying to rein in Big Tech for other reasons. Let’s all work together and [00:18:00] realize that society — just like society can work on both cancer prevention and stroke prevention. We have the resources for this. We should be able to deal with all the crucial social justice issues and also make sure that we don’t go extinct.

Extinction is not something in the very distant future, as we heard from Yoshua Bengio. We might be losing total control of our society relatively soon. It can happen in the next few years. It could happen in a decade. And once we’re all extinct, you know, all these other issues cease to even matter. Let’s work together, tackle all the issues, so that we can actually have a good future for everybody.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Tawana Petty, and then I want to bring back in Yoshua Bengio — Tawana Petty, what needs to happen at the national level, you know, U.S. regulation? And then I want to compare what’s happening here, what’s happening in Canadian regulation, the [00:19:00] EU - European Union - which seems like it’s about to put in the first comprehensive set of regulations, Tawana.

TAWANA PETTY: Right, absolutely. So, the Blueprint was a good model to start with, that we’re seeing some states adopt and try to roll out their versions of an AI Bill of Rights. The president issued an executive order to strengthen racial equity and support underserved communities across the federal government, which is addressing specifically algorithmic discrimination. You have the National Institute of Standards and Technology that issued an AI risk management framework, that breaks down the various types of biases that we find within algorithmic systems, like computational, systemic, statistical and human cognitive. And there are so many other legislative opportunities that are happening on the federal level. You see the FTC speaking up, the Federal Trade Commission, on algorithmic discrimination. You have the [00:20:00] Equal Employment Opportunity Corporation that has issued statements. You have the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who has been adamant about the impact that algorithmic systems have on us when data brokers are amassing these mass amounts of data that have been extracted from community members.

So, I agree that there needs to be some collaboration and cooperation, but we’ve seen situations like Dr. Timnit Gebru was terminated from Google for warning us before ChatGPT was launched upon the millions of people as a large language model. And so, cooperation has not been lacking on the side of the folks who work in ethics. To the contrary, these companies have terminated their ethics departments and people who have been warning about existing harms.

The EU agrees on AI regulations - What will it mean for people and businesses in the EU - DW News - Air Date 12-9-23

ANCHOR, DW NEWS: Now, the European Union has agreed on legislation to govern the use of artificial intelligence. The deal includes limits on facial recognition technology and [00:21:00] restrictions on using AI to manipulate human behavior. The EU says the future legal framework for AI will include tough penalties for companies breaking the rules but will not stifle development of the industry in Europe. It follows years of discussions among member states and lawmakers in the European Parliament. 

BRANDON BENIFEI: We had one objective: to deliver a legislation that would ensure that the ecosystem of AI in Europe would develop with a human-centric approach, respecting fundamental rights and the European values. 

THIERRY BRETON: This is really something that is much more, I believe, than a rule book. It's a launchpad for the European startups and also researchers to lead the global race for what our fellow citizens want, a trustworthy AI. 

ANCHOR, DW NEWS: For more on this, let's bring in our correspondent in Brussels, Bernd Riegert. Hello Bernd, uh, why did the EU decide that this law was needed? 

BERND RIEGERT: Well, the [00:22:00] EU felt it is about high time to regulate, and the EU wants to be the first in the world, the first big regional business area to regulate artificial intelligence. Neither the U. S. nor Asian markets have this regulation, and in this way the EU wants to set the world's standards for the whole industry, and the EU also felt that it is a high time to do this now because there are some dangers deriving from artificial intelligence and the EU sees itself as at the forefront of a revolution, actually, in business because AI will have impact on every field of daily life in the future.

ANCHOR, DW NEWS: The future is quite tricky when you think about AI, isn't it? Walk us through some of the measures that will be put in place and what they will mean for people and companies in the EU. 

BERND RIEGERT: The EU will divide AI applications into four risk classes. Some of them will be completely forbidden, like facial [00:23:00] recognition on a mass scale. There are some exemptions for military and law enforcement. And also behavioral control and the control of your thoughts, that will be also banned. But high risk applications, for example, in self-driving cars, will be allowed in the EU, but they have to be certified, the technique has to be open so that everybody can see how that works, and normal AI, I would call it like ChatGPT, on a medium risk level, that can be in the EU without any restrictions, but it has to be documented how this thing works, and everybody has to know that he is dealing with AI, that he's not talking to a human.

This is one of the essential measures in the whole legislations. You as a consumer shall always decide, Do I want to talk to a machine? I have to know that it's not human. This is the basic principle, but there are also some AI applications that will be not regulated. For [00:24:00] example, audio and video altering programs that make these well known deep fakes. These are not regulated. They don't pose a higher risk in the view of the EU. 

ANCHOR, DW NEWS: Okay, what has the reaction been so far? I assume quite mixed, right? 

BERND RIEGERT: Well, there are positive and negative reactions on both sides of the aisle, if you will. The business lobby is saying this is far too much. It's too far because, uh, it's over-regulation, it will hamper competition, it will prevent startups from coming up with new solutions. Some companies might even leave Europe to go to the United States or Asia to develop their applications there. On the other hand consumer protection groups say this is not far enough because the data are not protected very well. And there are some AI applications, for example, in toys that are not regulated, that could attack the thoughts and the behavior of our [00:25:00] kids. So both sides are not really satisfied that shows that they somehow reached a balance. 

EU vs. AI - Today, Explained - Air Date 12-18-23

ANU BRADFORD: So I would go back to early 1990s. That's when the U. S. really stepped back from regulation. 

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Because the Internet has such explosive potential for prosperity, it should be a global free-trade zone. 

ANU BRADFORD: Up until then, the U. S. had often been setting the rules that had global impact, but then the U. S. really adopted this market-driven dogma that was very anti-regulation. So the U. S. took the lead in promoting this deregulation agenda. 

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: It should be a place where government makes every effort first, as the vice president said, not to stand in the way.

ANU BRADFORD: And the EU stepped in and filled the vacuum because at that very point, the EU was ramping [00:26:00] up its own efforts to integrate the common European market. And that meant it needed to harmonize regulations so that we remove the barriers from within the member states for trading within the EU. So, the EU started proactively building a regulatory state, not for the purpose of ruling the world, but for the purpose of making Europe an integrated, strong trading area.

JACQUES DELORS: We will strengthen the impact of this community through the ongoing implementation of common foreign and security policies. 

ANU BRADFORD: So then the EU started focusing its regulatory efforts on digital economy. 

NEWS COMMENTATOR: The European Union has approved rules to force big technology firms such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter to remove illegal content... the European Union has hit tech giant Meta with a record breaking fine of over a billion dollars for defying privacy rules. 

ANU BRADFORD: And the gap between what the EU was producing and what the U. S. was failing to do in the regulatory space just became [00:27:00] larger and larger. But initially, it was really the U.S.'s decision to say that, Look, we trust the markets and the EU making philosophically a very different rule. And I think the inadvertent effect, the unintended consequence, was that the U. S. basically ceded this whole governance base to the EU. 

SEAN RAMESWARAM - CO-HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: And what has it accomplished? Give us some of the greatest hits. 

ANU BRADFORD: Well, I would say the GDPR is by far the most famous hit. 

NEWS COMMENTATOR: The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation, known to friends as GDPR, goes into effect tomorrow....

ANU BRADFORD: So, that was enacted in 2016. And that is a very significant regulation in shaping the entire global data privacy conversation and legislative frameworks. 

Then also antitrust. So, the Europeans are very concerned about the abuse of market power by dominant tech companies. 

MARGRETHE VESTAGER: You have to recognize [00:28:00] that you have powers beyond anyone else's and with that comes the responsibility. 

ANU BRADFORD: So, there have been four antitrust lawsuits against Google that have been successfully concluded in the EU and that have resulted in around 10 billion dollars in fines. 

And then there is the content moderation space. So, the Europeans are very concerned about disinformation, they're very concerned about hate speech, and the toxic environment surrounding Internet users when they are using the platforms. 

MARGRETHE VESTAGER: And we need to say to some of these service providers, you have a responsibility for the way you do business to make sure that people feel as comfortable when they are online as well as when they are offline.

ANU BRADFORD: So, the Europeans have moved to limit hate speech and limit disinformation, even though they remain committed to freedom of expression. There is just a sense that that important commitment to free speech is balanced against some other fundamental rights, [00:29:00] including a right to dignity. 

SEAN RAMESWARAM - CO-HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: And a hard pivot away from dignity to your phone chargers, maybe the most tangible of all these Brussels effects. 

NEWS COMMENTATOR: There are USB-A chargers. There are USB- B chargers. There are USB-C chargers There are micro USB chargers. There are mini USB chargers... 

ANU BRADFORD: The EU also regulates consumer electronics. So there's an environmental concern surrounding consumer waste. And then another concern, just the consumer convenience, if you like, the idea that we do not want the consumers to have to buy different cords for all the different devices and all the different jurisdictions where they are using them.

So, uh, the EU standardized the common charger, which then led Apple to also switched its own charging port and extend that change, not just to Apple in Europe, but also outside of the EU.

NILAY PATEL: [00:30:00] You know, the word from Apple basically is like, 'the Europeans made us do it. But it’s time, and we don’t think people will freak out’. 

SEAN RAMESWARAM - CO-HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: Now, in a case like that, with the Apple USB-C charger situation, where literally everyone around the world who has this device will have their tech now changed because of this EU regulation, why does it make more sense for a tech company like Apple to change this charging port for the whole world instead of just for the European market. Tell us how the Brussels effect makes sense for a business. 

ANU BRADFORD: So, often for these tech companies, it's just a matter of efficiency and a cost calculus. So it is not efficient to run multiple different production lines. There are scale economies in uniform production. So they don't want to be producing different variations for different markets. And same applies for companies [00:31:00] like Meta's Facebook. They pride themselves of having one global Facebook. So if you and me are having a conversation and I'm in Europe and you are in the United States, they don't want there to be a different speech rules that apply to the conversation whereby I would not be seeing a part of the conversation that you are able to see because there are different content moderation rules that would make it really difficult to have effective cross border conversations. But I would say, Sean, that the most common reason is just simply it is just too expensive to have many varieties off the same product.

A First Step Toward AI Regulation with Tom Wheeler Part 2 - Your Undivided Attention - Air Date 11-2-23

AZA RASKIN - CO-HOST, YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION: One thing I wanted to ask you about, Tom, for people who are not really familiar about this, one of the levers that the executive order uses is federal funding conditions. So basically in a few different places, the government's saying in this executive order as a condition, for example, life sciences funding, to get that funding from the government, you have to do these new and improved practices. So, for [00:32:00] example, one of the things executive order covers in the hydra -- which I think is a great term, it covers the many horizons of harm, to use our internal phrase here at CHT, that because AI affects bias, discrimination, jobs, labor, biological weapons, risks of doom scenarios, sci-fi scenarios, all the way up to the long term when something affects all those different horizons of harm at the same time, that's the hydra that you're speaking to. And I think again, applaud the people who are working extremely hard at this at the White House, Ben Buchanan, Bruce Reed, the whole teams that have been working very, very hard on this, and done in record time, I think six months, unprecedented. It's the most aggressive action that they could have taken. And one of the areas that they covered in that hydra is actually the intersection of AI and biology, and them mandating that there needs to be new and improved genetic synthesis screening so that labs have tighter controls on the kind of materials that one would use with AI to do nasty stuff with biology.

Can you speak to any of the history of this, the power of this lever? Because obviously this is only going to affect places that are affected by federal funding, but I think you have some background here. [00:33:00] 

TOM WHEELER: There are two principal ways in which the government affects the marketplace. One is through direct regulation, and the other is through its role as typically the largest consumer. And that's what this second part that you've been talking about is doing. And again, it's terribly important. 

I just have to pause here for a second. I agree with everything you just said about the incredible effort, speed, and dedication that went into doing this. I don't want to have that as somehow being Eeyore and complaining about the significance of this effort. But one of the drawbacks, one of the shortcomings of relying simply on government procurement or government funding is that it only goes to those who are procuring or being funded. And again, as you guys have been so terrific in your missionary work in pointing [00:34:00] out, this is much more expansive than that.

So huzzah, yes, use every tool at your disposal, but we also need new tools. 

AZA RASKIN - CO-HOST, YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION: I Think another thing that this executive order does is it lets us see when the tech companies are speaking out of both the left side and the right side of their mouth. It forces that hand. Because I remember, Tristan and I were at the Schumer AI Insight Forum and there was the moment that I think Schumer really wanted, when he asked, who here thinks the federal government will need to regulate AI and should regulate? And every single CEO, from Sam Altman to Mark Zuckerberg to Satya Nadella, from all the major companies, raised their hand. Right? And that led to headlines like "Tech industry leaders endorse regulating artificial intelligence." And "The rare summit in Washington."

And then right after the executive order comes out, NetChoice, which is funded by a lot of those same organizations, releases their quote, which is "Biden's new executive [00:35:00] order is a backdoor regulatory scheme for the wider economy, which uses AI concerns as an excuse to expand the president's power over the economy."

So here we go, right? They're saying like, yes, please regulate us. Just not that one. And they're with one hand they're saying yes, and the other hand they're saying no. So I would love for you to talk a little bit about that dynamic. 

TOM WHEELER: So Aza, as a recovering regulator, this is like the line in Casablanca, where Claude Rains says "There's gambling going on here?" This is a classic move in these kinds of environments that yes, I am all for puppies and apple pie and the flag. And now let's talk about what the specifics of that means. Oh, golly, we can't go there. This would be terrible. This would be awful. And against innovation and, then all come out all the detailed imaginary horribles. One should not be surprised. One of the things I'm proudest of is my term as chairman of the FCC was net [00:36:00] neutrality. I would meet with industry executives or listen to them make their speeches or testify. And we're all for net neutrality, but let's define net neutrality my way, which is it's only about blocking and throttling. 

This is why the job of policymaking is so damn difficult. I'd come home from work when I was chairman and I'd sit there at the dinner table with my wife and I would say, the public interest is fungible. There is nothing clear cut about "this is the public interest." There's this aspect of the public interest, and that aspect of the public interest, and the job of the policymaker is to sift through all of that and figure out what is the fungible answer to address the public interest. 

AZA RASKIN - CO-HOST, YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION: You're saying, in the end, you have to choose a process that does good like sense [00:37:00] in decision making. It's not gonna be something just static in time. And one of the parts of the EO is this personnel as policy thing. Right now there's a dearth of knowledge of expertise about AI in the government. And so there's a huge hiring spree. There's going to be a head or chief of AI, I think in now every federal agency. And I think the White House is creating a White House AI Council, which will coordinate all the federal government's AI activities, staff from every major federal agency. 

So I'm curious then, in the frame of "the end of the beginning," what happens next? Is the AI Council the right way to think about it? And, of course, back to your fundamental question of how do we have governance keep up with the increasing pace of AI? 

TOM WHEELER: First of all, Bruce Reed, who's the Deputy Chief of Staff at the White House and is going to head the AI Council, is a really good guy who understands these [00:38:00] kinds of issues. But his job will be to be the maestro, if you will.

I think, at the end of the day, what we need is a new federal agency that is focused on the realities that digital has brought to a previously industrial economy and society and government. And that there has to be that kind of hands-on authority. At the end of the day, you're gonna need somebody with rule making authority to come in and say, "Okay, these are the decisions that we made; back to the question of what's in the public interest. Here's how we've put those various forces together." 

But let me pick up on one other thing that I was thinking as you were saying that. I watched Eric Schmidt on Meet the Press a month, six weeks ago, whatever it was, when they were interviewing him about AI, and he said, Oh, you gotta let the companies make the rules here [00:39:00] because there's nobody in government that can understand this. And I got infuriated because we used to hear that in the early days of the digital platforms. Oh, these digital platforms are so complex and if you touch it, you'll break the magic kind of a thing. And it seems to be the same kind of playbook, which is, well, let's let the company just go ahead and make the rules because they are really the only ones that understand.

And, I just kept saying to myself, well, wait a minute. We split the atom. We sent men to and from the moon safely in a government program. And sure, there is not the kind of in-depth knowledge widespread. But you know what? I bet that there are very few members of Congress who can explain jet propulsion or Bernoulli's principle that keeps airplanes in the air, but we sure do regulate the manufacture and operation of aircraft. 

How to Keep AI Under Control Max Tegmark - TED - Air Date 11-2-23

MAX TEGMARK: The [00:40:00] real problem is that we lack a convincing plan for AI safety. People are working hard on evals, looking for risky AI behavior, and that's good, but clearly not good enough. They're basically training AI to not say bad things, rather than not do bad things. Moreover, evals and debugging are really just necessary, not sufficient conditions for safety. In other words, they can prove the presence of risk, not the absence of risk. So, let's up our game, alright? Try to see how we can make provably safe AI that we can control. 

Guardrails try to physically limit harm. But if your adversary is super intelligent or a human using super intelligence against you, trying is just not enough. You need to succeed. Harm needs to [00:41:00] be impossible. So we need provably safe systems. Provable, not in the weak sense of convincing some judge, but in the strong sense of there being something that's impossible according to the laws of physics. Because no matter how smart an AI is, it can't violate the laws of physics and do what's provably impossible. Steve Omohundro and I wrote a paper about this, and we're optimistic that this vision can really work. So let me tell you a little bit about how. 

There's a venerable field called formal verification, which proves stuff about code. And I'm optimistic that AI will revolutionize automatic proving business. And also revolutionize program synthesis, the ability to automatically write really good code. So here is how our vision works. You, the human, write a specification that your AI tool must obey. That it's impossible to log in to your [00:42:00] laptop without the correct password. Or that a DNA printer cannot synthesize dangerous viruses. Then a very powerful AI creates both your AI tool and a proof that your tool meets your spec. Machine learning is uniquely good at learning algorithms, but once the algorithm has been learned, you can re-implement it in a different computational architecture that's easier to verify. 

Now you might worry, how on Earth am I gonna, like, understand this powerful AI and the powerful AI tool it built and the proof, if they're all too complicated for any human to grasp. Here is the really great news, you don't have to understand any of that stuff. 'Cause it's much easier to verify a proof than to discover it. So you only have to understand or trust your proof checking code, which could be just a few hundred lines long. And, uh, Steve and I envision [00:43:00] that such proof checkers get built into all our compute hardware, so it just becomes impossible to run very unsafe code. 

What if the AI though isn't able to write that AI tool for you? Then there's another possibility. You train an AI to first just learn to do what you want, and then you use a different AI to extract out the learned algorithm and knowledge for you, like an AI neuroscientist. This is in the spirit of the field of mechanistic interpretability, which is making really impressive rapid progress. Provably safe systems are clearly not impossible. 

Let's look at a simple example of where we first machine learn an algorithm from data and then distill it out in the form of code that provably meets spec. Okay? Let's do it with an algorithm that you probably learned in first grade addition, [00:44:00] where you loop over the digits from right to left, and sometimes you do a carry. We'll do it in binary, as if you were counting on two fingers instead of ten. And we first train a recurrent neural network, never mind the details, to nail the task. So now you have this algorithm that you don't understand how it works, in a black box, defined by a bunch of tables of numbers that we in nerd speak call parameters. Then we use an AI tool we built to automatically distill out from this the learned algorithm in the form of a Python program. And then we use the formal verification tool known as Dafny to prove that this program correctly adds up any numbers, not just the numbers that were in your training data. 

So in summary, provably safe AI, I'm convinced, is possible. But it's going to take time and work. And in the [00:45:00] meantime, let's remember, all the AI benefits that most people are excited about actually don't require superintelligence. We can have a long and amazing future with AI. So, let's not pause AI. Let's just pause the reckless race to superintelligence. Let's stop obsessively training ever larger models that we don't understand. Let's heed the warning from ancient Greece and not get hubris like in the story of Icarus. Because artificial intelligence is giving us incredible intellectual wings with which we can do things beyond our wildest dreams, if we stop obsessively trying to fly to the sun. Thank you.

Anti-Democratic Tech Firm’s Secret Push For A.I. Deregulation w Lori Wallach - Thom Hartmann Program - Air Date 8-8-23

THOM HARTMANN - THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: I understand from the press release that I got from you a couple of days ago [00:46:00] that these big tech firms that want to basically own artificial intelligence and use it for their own purposes and whatnot, really don't want to be regulated and they're trying to use some of these international trade deals to prevent that regulation. Am I correctly understanding what you're writing about? 

LORI WALLACH: That's exactly right. It is happening. It's a play you have revealed from big corporations before. This time it's the big tech sector that wants to use its lobbyists, its money, to rig trade agreements, to basically handcuff Congress, so that, finally, as Congress and the Biden administration and the regulatory agencies realize they need to regulate these behaviors for their monopoly abuses, for their privacy abuses, for who knows what AI civil rights and civil liberties abuses will ensue, [00:47:00] just as that's starting, the companies realize, Wow, we're not going to win in front of Congress in public. Let's try the old Trojan horse. They're trying to put new rules that would basically forbid regulation in trade agreements even though they have nothing to do with trade.

THOM HARTMANN - THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: I get it. My understanding is that treaties actually supersede federal law. They become the kind of the supreme law of the land, short of the Constitution. But these are being done as trade agreements, not as treaties. They don't require Senate ratification, or am I wrong? What am I missing here? 

LORI WALLACH: So, these are what are called international executive agreements. They're not a full treaty, like the past trade agreements were not full treaties. And the great news is the Biden administration isn't doing the bad old trade deals like the NAFTAs. They're not doing the outsourcing incentives. They're not doing the bans on Buy America. They're not doing the corporate [00:48:00] tribunals, the big pharma giveaways. But buried in the guts of a couple different trade initiatives, these big tech lobbyists, put arcane, weasley language that to the average reader doesn't seem like anything so bad: take away the regulatory tools that are needed to get big tech unleashed. 

So here's just one example, Tom, and this is what you saw the news release. We just did a report. And folks can see these reports at rethinktrade.org. It's a study that shows the number one thing that Congress and the regulatory agencies need to regulate AI is transparency, they need to look at the algorithms in advance and make sure they're not racially biased or they're not invading our civil liberties. What the tech firms want is a new rule buried in the trade agreements [00:49:00] that forbid any government from requiring disclosure of even detailed descriptions of algorithms. And it's framed in language that makes you think it's, Oh, trade secrets must be good for business. But what it is is evading regulation and the companies want to put three or four of those kinds of rules buried in the hundreds of pages of trade language that, basically, they take away the ability of being held accountable.

THOM HARTMANN - THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: Now when I wrote this book, The Hidden History of Big Brother in America, I, you know, I wrote at some length about the algorithms that are driving social media, for example, and how black box they are. We have no idea why it is that, you know, conservatives do so well on Twitter and Facebook and liberals don't do so well. Um, but there are some indications that a lot of it has to do with how the algorithms are set up and they absolutely refuse to reveal these saying that they're trade secrets. [00:50:00] Are they taking the trade secret path on the AI algorithms too? 

LORI WALLACH: I mean, you have a right not to have your confidential business information disclosed to another company, but a trade secret protection is what you get when you are required to give your information to the government, for instance, to show a drug is safe and effective or that a pesticide is not going to give cancer. So, trade secrets protections is a different thing. That means like if I say, Tom, you've just created the best flavor of blah, blah, but the Food and Drug Administration needs to make sure it's safe, you send that to me. You have trade secret protection as the creator of that. That means, as the government, I can't show that to your competitor.

What this is, is a step beyond. This is saying the government can't see it. The government can't make sure it's safe and that's what they're... they already have trade secrets protections. That's already in the WTO. That's in the US law. [00:51:00] No one's giving the information away and in fact, interestingly, all the countries in the world have that WTO obligation not to do it. This is about, you can't regulate. Or here's another one that will just make your toes curl. They've got a rule that gives the company's apps guaranteed control over our data, and it literally says including personal data, as to where it can be stored, where it can be processed, can you get it deleted... it explicitly forbids the government from limiting the flows of data or limiting where it can be stored. And there's no,. Even an exception for like infrastructure where you'd want, you know, you'd want certainly sensitive data not to be susceptible to cybercrime. It's just given over so the government can't regulate. 

So these rules, they hope to slip into whatever trade negotiation gets done first. And they've been pushing this at the WTO, the big tech companies for some years. Now they start [00:52:00] trying to push it for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which is a commercial negotiation the Biden administration is doing. They're pushing it for a U. S. Taiwan commercial negotiation, they're trying to weasel it in there. It's like mushrooms after a rain. There's so many big tech lobbyists popping up with this nefarious language. 

But basically what we all need to do, this only works, this kind of Trojan horse strategy, only works if we're not aware. So we need to be running around with our mouths wide open, making sure our members of Congress, our local officials, because state law as well has privacy rules, we need to make sure everyone knows this stunt is afoot. They can't get away with it. 

How are governments approaching AI regulation Part 2 - In Focus by The Hindu - Air Date 11-16-23

G. SAMPATH - HOST, IN FOCUS: So I wanted to have a quick response from you on this, which is, this is one aspect, you mentioned it briefly just now, which is a big concern for anyone interested in AI regulation, which is the whole phenomenon of deep fakes. Hardly a week goes by without a deep fake controversy popping up on Twitter and Facebook.

[00:53:00] So are there any common approaches or safety guidelines that have been evolved or that are in the reckoning right now to check this phenomenon? 

DR. MATTI POHJONEN: There is a lot of stuff being done in terms of trying to develop these, but it's not very easy in terms of coming up with a very simple solution to various things.

And so some of the kind of things that you mentioned for instance, in the Slovenian elections that took place a couple of months ago, they had been demonstrating uses of, it's not a fake video, but it's the fake audio voice of some of the political candidates. And there has been debate, how much that influenced the final outcomes in a very tight election. And there has been, as I mentioned, there is a very growing concern or almost a panic about what's going to happen in the upcoming elections now that it's not only video, but you can also fake audio text and at a scale and speed that has not been happening before. 

So in terms of when you start looking at the way that people are thinking about mitigating this or trying to prepare for its risks, there's a various couple of different kind of initiatives being [00:54:00] done.

And so I've been following it. So Witness has been one organization that has been trying to establish some guidelines through which companies and policymakers should respond to trying to think about it in a more systematic way, what might be the risk of deepfakes. 

 And the thing is that at the same time, generative AI is being used for a lot of creative purposes. And the fact that it's being used for so-called inauthentic behavior or politically manipulated behavior, it's a very small component of it. So the balance is that how should we try to maintain the creative edge of it while dealing with this more nefarious purposes. UNESCO has a working group that they're trying to come up with some things.

There's a kind of arm's race in the computer science platform, social media platform of trying to find ways of trying to watermark them or creating ways that you could actually detect how things are fake. I'm a lecturer at the university. So why lecture at the university? So now the debate is that how much can students be using them and what are the ways of catching them?

So in a way, it's one of these things that has been going so quickly that the legislation, again, is trying to figure out what would [00:55:00] be the best balance to draw between the creative stuff, and then it's being used for political purposes. 

I just wanted to add very quickly, if you have time, one thing that there are two fundamentally different strategies that are now being competed, dealing with, especially the development of AI models. You have the proprietary models, such as Midjourney, and then you have ChatGPT and some other ones, which have quite strict control on the moderation of the content that can be produced by them because they have been receiving a lot of criticism.

But then there's a whole ecosystem of open source models that are then openly available that can be used for various purposes and have been already used for things like stable diffusion, for instance, was one of the big ones that was there. But it's even a more fundamental debate that because the foundation models, stable diffusion is no open source, but they basically open the model and people can fine tune them for further purposes. 

But there is now an interesting division rising both politically and within the corporate sphere between companies that want to keep [00:56:00] models private. So things like Google, some of them are open source, but they want to keep the foundational models private or not open source. And then companies like Meta and some other ones want to keep them open. And now the debate has been shifting all the way to regulation that should open source models should be regulated potentially for their ability to generate things that have not been as moderated as big companies are able to do. At the same time, the other side is saying is that you're actually by overtly regulating these models capability of doing things like also they're using as political disinformation.

If you regulate them too much, that means you're actually giving big companies support for their business. And you're getting rid of this more creative, small companies working with open source. And that's also becoming, so there's a lot of active lobbying going on behind the scenes where on the one hand you have some computer scientists like working for Meta who are saying open source ecosystem is better for development, it should be left open despite some of the concerns, whereas then there's other ones that we should regulate significantly so that the open source models [00:57:00] won't be given as much ability to cause damage.

So in a way, when you start looking at the kind of debate around regulation, it's also partially a debate around who gets to own the systems and the infrastructures for building new types of content. And so when you're looking at these proposals to regulate deepfakes, it builds into these various networks of different underlying debates that apply to more broadly also to like AI regulation that we have been discussing.

Final comments on the need to understand the benefits and downsides of new technology

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with InFocus explaining the public policy approach to AI. Your Undivided Attention broke down Biden's executive order on AI. Democracy Now! looked at the social justice threats from AI. DW News looked at the EU's approach to AI. Today, Explained explained the Brussels effect. Your Undivided Attention looked at more ways to inform policymakers about proper regulation. And a TEDTalk proposed a technical solution to creating safe AI. That's what everybody heard, but members also heard bonus clips from the Thom Hartmann Program, looking at how big [00:58:00] tech is trying to undermine regulation through trade agreements. And In Focus discussed the risk of deep fakes on elections and hurdles to regulation. 

To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support. During December, we are offering 20% off memberships for yourself or as gifts. So, definitely take advantage of that while you can, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information. 

Now to wrap up. I just wanted to reiterate an idea about new technology that I think can't be said enough because it helps to frame the discussion in an important way. The debate so often comes down to tech boosters versus the tech doubters, or the naysayers, or the ones pointing out that new tech based on old patterns will reinforce old systems of oppression like [00:59:00] racism, or otherwise, rather than remove it, and so on. So, my concern is that the average person listening to this debate - and is not like super well-informed - will just wonder, What, well, which is it?: Good or bad. Or even the people who are informed will feel the need to come down on one side or the other and proclaim that the new technology in question is either good or bad. But anyone who falls into that trap is going to be making a mistake and potentially blinding themselves to the perspectives of the other side. And that ends up getting us nowhere. 

The more accurate truth is to understand that new tech often ushers in simultaneous versions of both utopia and dystopia all at once. And I got this framing from Tristan Harris, who we heard from today on Your Undivided Attention. Years ago, he described this idea using ride hailing apps as the example. You know, the ability to [01:00:00] tap a button on your phone and have a car pick you up in a few minutes. And that's, like, a genuinely amazing thing. It's like sort of a techno utopia that that's possible now. But he also pointed to how that business model was looking to undermine the hard-fought benefits that cab driver unions had won. And, uh, you know, they were looking to reduce the pay and benefits earned by professional drivers, which is just the latest in the unbroken chain, going back all the way through capitalism, to attempt to pay labor as little as possible and maximize the profits for owners. And that is certainly not utopia. 

But it's important to understand both sides and appreciate why tech boosters believe in the benefits they trust the tech will bring. Genuinely good things come from technology all the time, from ride hailing apps to next generation vaccines. But similarly one must understand the current and potential [01:01:00] downsides that new tech has brought and will continue to bring. Otherwise these advocates on both sides will continue to just talk past each other. 

If you want to sing the praises of new technology, your entire framework must include safeguards, and not just against existential Terminator-type threats, but against everyday abuses and structural flaws that create oppression, as we heard about today. But if you are one of those, as I am, cautioning against the potential downsides of new tech, you also have to understand why people are so excited about the potential good that new tech like AI can bring, so that we're not equally dismissive of the upsides as the blind optimists tend to be of the downsides. 

Now one of my favorite phrases, that I only came across recently, is that you can't invent the ship without inventing the ship rack, which basically encapsulates this whole [01:02:00] idea. Because it highlights the in escape ability of downsides without making it sound like you shouldn't pursue the upsides. There are very few people, I would wager, who think that we shouldn't have invented ships because shipwrecks are so bad. But also it's really, really important to try to prevent wrecks as much as possible and to mitigate the harm they cause as much as possible when they do inevitably happen. As The Onion satirical newspaper wrote about the sinking of the Titanic, "World's Largest Metaphor Hits Iceberg. Titanic representation of man's hubris sinks in north Atlantic. 1500 dead in symbolic tragedy". 

So, the question is just whether we're going to introduce new tech with the hubris of the builders of the Titanic and not plan for any downside because we don't expect them to happen. [01:03:00] Or do we move ahead with the modesty and, yes, the regulation that has pushed modern ship builders to have to plan for the worst. 

That's going to be it for today. As always keep the comments coming in. I would love to hear your thoughts or questions about this or anything else. You can leave a voicemail or send us a text at 202-999-3991, or simply email me to [email protected]. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our Transcriptionist Trio, Ken, brian, and LaWendy for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and a bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who already support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support. You'll find that link in the show notes, along with a link to our Discord community, where you can also [01:04:00] continue the discussion. 

So, coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com. 

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