Just hours after a 24-story London apartment building went up in flames on June 14, Faiza Shaheen appeared on Britain's Sky TV to connect the dots between this horrific tragedy and the city's rank as one of the world's most unequal.
Inequality.org co-editor Chuck Collins and I sat down with Shaheen the following day, as the death toll, now estimated at 79, continued to rise. We talked about the public anger over the fire and what she sees as the related outcry for economic and racial equity that resulted in an unexpectedly strong showing for the UK Labour Party in the country's June 8 election. Shaheen directs the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class), a London-based think tank.
Inequality.org: What's the connection between the Grenfell Tower fire and London's extremely high levels of inequality?
Faiza Shaheen: The neighborhood surrounding the tower has the biggest gap between rich and poor of any in the country. It's a very wealthy area, but the people living in this particular tower were mostly working class ethnic minorities. Also, in terms of voice, you see the disparities. People living in this building had clearly spoken out about the problems with safety -- you can find their blogs online. But they also said they knew nothing would be done until there's a catastrophe. Well, now that's happened and we need to make sure the authorities can't just brush this away anymore.
How much was the recent election about inequality?
I would say inequality was fundamental to understanding the narrative of this election. When it was first announced, people thought it would be about Brexit again. But the Labour Party very effectively pivoted away from that. Their language was about the elites and about the rest of us not getting salary increases and facing cuts to public services.
We've had these cuts for the past seven years, but people were far more aware of them in this election than in the last one. We heard about parents getting letters from their children's teachers saying they didn't have money because of the budget cuts and asking for donations. With the terror attacks in London and Manchester, there was a lot of talk about the culling of police officers and how that had affected community policing.
The conservatives thought we could have a conversation about being strong and stable. But as a country it's very obvious that we're not strong and stable right now.
Didn't Prime Minister Theresa May initially make some proposals to reduce inequality?
When she first became prime minister less than a year ago, she spoke in quite strong terms about inequality. But in this election she didn't appeal to that language very much. And on some things, she reversed her position. For example, at one point she called for requiring large corporations to have worker representatives on their boards. Then later she said this could be voluntary and the "workers" could be managers. So it's completely meaningless. Conservatives showed themselves to be very out of touch by sticking with the status quo.
In the end, the Labour Party did gain 30 seats and the Conservative Party lost their majority, but Prime Minister May is still hanging on to power by pursuing a coalition with a small Northern Ireland party. Where do you see things going in the next year?
Most people think they'll be going into election before the end of the five-year term because the Conservatives are really weakened. To build support, they'll need to put more money into education and the National Health Service. They came across as quite mean in the campaign. When nurses asked ministers why they haven't had a pay raise, they were told very dismissively that there isn't a "magic money tree." We've got nurses going to food banks. That really connects with people emotionally.
Brexit negotiations began on June 19. How might this affect inequality?
The decision to withdraw from the European Union has already weakened the pound, making inflation worse. Because they don't know what will happen, businesses are holding back on investments that could boost productivity. And while wages don't always rise with productivity, this means we're likely to continue to have stagnation in most sectors. Combined with automation and the lack of strong trade union rights, this could mean even worse inequality under Brexit.
Where's the movement energy now for tackling inequality?
With Labour doing so well, we feel there's a mandate now to lift the pay cap on public service workers. We also feel May will have to abandon her plans to expand grammar schools, which are free schools that are academically selective. The evidence shows they don't help with social mobility and they tear the school system apart. That can't happen now.
We also think we can take advantage of the Conservative Party's statements about addressing excessive pay at the top. They pledged to require corporations that receive public contracts to report their CEO-worker pay ratio. And even May's weak current position on worker representation on boards gives something to push for that could affect executive pay. From the experiences in Germany and elsewhere we've seen that executives don't want to talk about giving themselves bonuses with workers at the table.
Labour proposed to tax the top 5 percent much more and leave bottom 95 percent as is. That drew a lot of support but the Conservatives are very unlikely to support that.
Like Bernie Sanders, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn did very well among young voters. Do you think this block will continue to be mobilized?
It was amazing to see tons of people coming out to volunteer for the campaign for the first time and really passionate about what Labour was calling for, especially young people. There was an app so that you could find your nearest marginal neighborhood, where it could go one way or another, and you could just turn up and help knock on doors. But they had so many volunteers they had to turn many away.
Labour had much less money than the Conservatives, but they really won the branding war. Corbyn definitely came out as cooler. There was even #Grime4Corbyn. People made videos with grime music mixed with Corbyn speeches, which worked well to encourage turnout by young people and ethnic minorities.
We're in a political quagmire now in terms of the makeup of parliament. In terms of the movement, people are really enthused and passionate. Horrible things keep happening but they are a reminder that we need to keep fighting. It will be really important to keep the pressure up and find ways to campaign -- it might be single issues, it might be Grenfell Tower and how we get justice there. Some of it will happen naturally because people have made friends through their political work.
We're in permanent campaign mode now.
Disposable Americans shows the impact of extreme capitalism on children; on the poor and the sick and the elderly; on people of color; on women; on workers, especially young Americans; and on all average Americans, including the middle-class and those just above and below, who make up 90 percent of us, and who have become increasingly disposable to the minority at the top of the wealth distribution.
A Ford Fusion modified by Uber for autonomous use on the streets of Pittsburgh ahead of the launch of its driverless system, September 8, 2016. (Photo: Jeff Swensen / The New York Times)
To be a "winner" in capitalism requires an endless supply of disposable people. As inequality in the United States has widened, more and more Americans are dismissed as disposable "losers." But there are policies that can reverse this pernicious trend, as Paul Buchheit shows in his new book, Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income. Order your copy today by making a donation to Truthout!
In the following lightly edited excerpt from Disposable Americans, Paul Buchheit examines the factors that have led to lower wages and less job security for most workers in the US, and the terrible material consequences that have resulted.
Our jobs are disappearing. In the not-too-distant future we might wait around for a package delivery, hurry off to class, grab a taxi downtown, consult with a financial advisor, meet the family for dinner, and then take the train home. All without being served by a single human being. No delivery person, no teacher, no cab driver, no financial advisor, no food server, no train conductor.
That may be disputed by free-market defenders, but even today many of our traditional mid-level jobs are being handled by fewer human beings, as our workload is gradually surrendered to our own innovative technologies. The World Economic Forum says "we are on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution in which ‘smart systems’ in our homes, factories, farms, and entire cities will help get our work done."
A variety of new jobs -- and the dropping out of discouraged job-seekers -- have padded the recent unemployment figures, but in large part today's work opportunities are lower-wage and less secure forms of employment. The jobs that made the middle class prosperous -- manufacturing, education, construction, social services, customer service, transportation, administrative support -- have dramatically declined since the recession. Globalization is a big part of it. A National Bureau of Economic Research study found that the job loss from foreign import competition is not being replaced by jobs in other industries.
Another major factor is the rapid rise of alternative work arrangements in the "1099 economy" -- contract and 'gig' jobs -- which are impacting, according to a recent Harvard/Princeton study, "previously lagging sectors including transportation and warehousing, information and communications, education and health care, and public administration."
For all the above reasons, traditional employer/employee relationships are fading away. High-level positions in engineering, project management, and finance are still in demand. But nine of the ten fastest growing occupations don't require a college degree.
Yet our nation keeps making money. The 14 richest Americans made enough money from their investments in one year to hire two million pre-school teachers, about four times the number of pre-school teachers who currently have jobs in the United States. Total US wealth increased by a stunning 60 percent between 2009 and 2015, from $54 trillion to $86 trillion, but 3/4 of that massive increase went to the richest 10 percent of Americans.
The health of Americans is tied to our nation's extreme inequality. The lowest-income people live up to 15 years less than those at the high-income end. As a result of their low pay and almost nonexistent savings, almost half of Americans would be unable to afford a $400 emergency room visit without borrowing money or selling personal items. The resulting stress leads to mental and physical illness, and perhaps worse. The Centers of Disease Control reported a 24 percent increase in suicides in the first 15 years of this century.
The correlations may not be entirely certain, but the evidence is accumulating. Our system of poorly regulated capitalism is causing destruction in American lives. As Thomas Piketty made clear in his book Capital in the 21st Century, the growth of capital has outpaced that of productive labor, to the point that our economy is driven more and more by the creation of financial instruments rather than real goods. Hence the redistribution of national wealth from preschoolers to billionaires.
Disposable Americans shows the impact of extreme capitalism on children; on the poor and the sick and the elderly; on minorities; on women; on workers, especially young Americans; on soldiers; and on all average Americans, including the middle-class and those just above and below, who make up approximately 90 percent of us, and who have become, as aptly expressed by Henry Giroux, increasingly disposable to the fortunate minority at the top of the wealth distribution.
The book describes a process of "Americide," the gradual killing off of the once-vibrant middle class of our society. The violence begins with economic oppression. But the resulting disparities in wealth and income have increasingly caused physical damage, both in the health of the American people and in the surge in violence in our poverty-stricken urban communities.Truthout Progressive Pick
"As eloquent as it is convincing. Buy this book and give copies to everyone you know." -- Henry A. GirouxClick here now to get the book!
I begin discussions of disposable Americans by telling stories from the past, at a time when prospects may have seemed dim for a vulnerable class of people, yet were in reality teeming with hopefulness, as new technologies were beginning to create living-wage jobs, and as social dependencies were being strengthened in the waging or aftermath of war. Those moments from the past are in stark contrast to the present day, in which technology generates low-income jobs, while globalization allows multinational companies to seek the cheapest labor in all corners of the world. These rapidly occurring changes have been exacerbated by the rise of an economic system -- starting in the era of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman and Reaganomics -- based on individual gain rather than on social interdependencies. And by the rise of a financial industry that has transformed the widespread fruits of productive labor into fees and interest and investment returns. The result has been extreme and ever-worsening inequality.
In an important sense, little has changed from past to present. Minorities and children and soldiers and workers and seniors are on one end. On the other is unimaginable wealth, for a relatively few people. Our nation started with dreams of equal opportunity. Then came deregulated capitalism. That brought opportunities for individuals who knew how to manipulate the markets, who had friends in high places, and who frequented the revolving door between business and politics. The wealth of John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie, and then Vanderbilt and Astor, was comparable to the modern fortunes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and the Waltons and the Kochs. The inequality we see today has a long history.
Yet there is hope. ... But that hopefulness, if it is to bear fruit, will require society to begin catching up to technology, to recognize the changing paradigm of human involvement in the nation's (and the world's) progress, and to reevaluate the meaning of "progress." All Americans, through their own efforts and that of their ancestors, have contributed to the dramatically productive society that has compensated fewer and fewer people over time. Everyone deserves a guaranteed living income. How that is to be accomplished -- in a way that appeals to Republicans and Democrats, liberals and neoliberals, conservatives and progressives -- is one of the objectives of the chapters in this book.
Copyright (2017) by Taylor & Francis. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, Routledge.
The seven climate activists convicted in district courts this month were not allowed to present a "climate necessity" defense for their acts of civil disobedience. But the growing movement of climate activism against the fossil fuel industry and its political enablers is determined to keep the fight going in the courts until "climate necessity" becomes an acceptable defense.
(Photo: Gil Megidish; Edited: LW / TO)
This month a group of climate activists were convicted in district courts in Mount Vernon, Washington, and Wawayanda, New York, for committing acts of civil disobedience against fossil fuel infrastructure. Each defendant (one in Washington and six in New York) had attempted to present a "climate necessity defense," arguing that their nominally illegal actions were justified by the threat of climate catastrophe -- in other words, that the real crime is continuing to pollute the atmosphere, not interfering with corporate property. The courts weren't having it: The activists were convicted on June 7 on charges of varying seriousness, although they anticipate appealing their rulings.
The activists aren't hanging their heads, though. Instead, they're doubling down on their civil resistance mode of political activism. In doing so, they're joining a growing movement of direct action climate dissidents across the country who have taken to the streets, the pipelines and the coal trains to do what the government won't: confront an industry that poses an existential threat to human civilization.
The Washington trial began with an October 2016 protest in which Ken Ward -- a long-time environmental leader who pursued conventional climate policy avenues for decades before turning to civil disobedience in recent years -- entered a Kinder Morgan pipeline facility in Anacortes, Washington, and turned a valve to cut off the flow of tar sands oil entering from Canada. His action was coordinated with other "Shut It Down" activists in Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, who were responding to a call for action from the Standing Rock encampment, and together succeeded in temporarily halting the flow of all tar sands oil into the United States. At the time of his protest (which was preceded by a warning call to pipeline operators), Ward called upon President Obama to make this interruption of tar sands oil permanent, citing the fuel's particularly carbon-intensive nature and the need for much more aggressive federal action to curb emissions.
In the New York case, the six activists blocked a construction site for a Competitive Power Ventures natural gas-powered electricity plant. Plans for the plant have gone ahead despite ample evidence of inadequate environmental reviews and the plant's obvious detriment to the climate. In his decision finding the activists guilty, the judge acknowledged that "the pollution expected to be caused by this power plant once it is operational would be significant and contrary to New York State's policies on global warming."
Courtrooms Now Battlegrounds in Struggle Against Fossil Fuel Status Quo
These trials are part of a growing wave of climate protest cases in which activists have taken their on-the-ground resistance into the courtroom. Climate necessity defendants have made the justification argument in Utah, Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington, New York and Oklahoma, taking as target both the physical infrastructure of the fossil fuel system -- pipelines and coal trains -- and its legal infrastructure -- industry-friendly environmental agencies and criminal laws that protect polluters. In nearly all cases, judges have decided prior to trial that the defendants have no right to present their necessity evidence to the jury, perhaps fearing that, as often happens, juries will accept political necessity arguments. Being blocked from presenting the necessity evidence then results in nearly unavoidable guilty verdicts for activists who have admitted to the charged conduct.
There are two important contexts to consider when assessing the importance of these verdicts.
First, the criminal prosecution of nonviolent climate activists -- which, in the case of the Ward trial, featured felony charges that are rarely, if ever, used against protesters -- is part of a broader criminalization of dissent that has accelerated since the election of President Trump. Many states have recently passed reactionary laws restricting the right to protest, including some that specifically target opponents of the fossil fuel industry, and prosecutors in Washington, DC, are seeking unprecedented sentences against participants in the peaceful protests on Inauguration Day. This shared exposure to government repression will likely strengthen the bonds of solidarity between climate activists and other social movements, and will underscore the point that climate change is as much a political issue as it is a scientific one.
Second, although the Shut It Down and Wawayanda protests took place when Obama was president and the prosecutions were commenced months ago, it's significant that their outcomes were decided just days after President Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris accords. As bad as the withdrawal was as a symbolic rebuke to the idea of coordinated international action to cap emissions, it was also a clarifying moment, a clear signal to anyone still in doubt that the federal government generally works at the behest of the fossil fuel industry and that climate action must be undertaken against, rather than within, the system. (Ward penned a recent analysis making this point.)
So just what is that "system," at least insofar as it involves climate change? Climate necessity activism -- the combination of direct action against fossil fuel infrastructure with a legal argument that such action is not only justified but necessary -- helps to answer that question.
Activism Offers Radical Critique of Conditions That Created Climate CrisisClimate necessity activists have pushed their cause away from wonky, inside-baseball environmentalism and toward grassroots, social justice insurgency.
For one thing, the "system" is simply the body of government policy that stands in the way of effective climate action and the powerful interests that preserve this policy. The idea that such a system should be challenged is actually relatively new for the climate movement, which for decades eschewed direct action and looked for salvation in mainstream policy solutions. By cribbing from the playbook of past social movements like the Vietnam War resistance and anti-nuclear power campaigns -- which used political necessity trials to educate the public and to ratify the idea that social progress required working outside of established channels -- climate necessity activists have pushed their cause away from wonky, inside-baseball environmentalism and toward grassroots, social justice insurgency.
Bad policy and self-interested policymakers aren't the fundamental problem, though -- it's the conditions that create and coddle them. With that in mind, climate necessity activism challenges the idea that we'll be able to effectively address climate change through technical fixes within our existing political and legal frameworks. One important lesson from the dismal track record of institutional efforts to tackle global warming -- failed carbon tax legislation, inadequate regulations, non-binding treaties -- is that we need a fundamental reworking of the basic structures in which the fossil fuel status quo operates, and that modest policy reform is insufficient. By directly targeting harmful fossil fuel infrastructure and challenging the legal prohibitions against such action, activists like Ward call into question the institution of private property, which allows oil companies to recklessly pollute the atmosphere as a matter of right, as well as our system of political representation, which encourages politicians to serve moneyed interests and short-term goals over the long-term interests of the public.
Climate necessity activism also forces a reevaluation of what's "legal" in the age of climate change. As it stands now, it's generally illegal to interfere with industry practices known to cause massive harm to the planet and its people, and judges read the Constitution as protecting the rights of corporations over individuals and natural entities. In his speech withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, President Trump summed up the status quo by framing government commitments to reduce emissions as a "massive legal liability" rather than as a desirable legal obligation on par with the commitment to due process or the guarantee of free speech. By flipping the script of who's acting illegally and seeking to reverse the targets of the law's protections and prohibitions, climate necessity activists are slowly steering the ship of the legal system away from the icebergs ahead and back toward calmer waters. (In this way, the climate necessity movement is linked to efforts to recognize an affirmative government duty to protect the climate and the push to ratify the rights of nature).
Finally, climate necessity activism forces an official reckoning with climate science, which is sadly still necessary at this advanced stage of the climate crisis. Even as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency denies that CO2 significantly contributes to global warming, protester defendants can use rules of criminal discovery and evidence to force courts to recognize that the burning of fossil fuels does in fact cause climate change and its resulting harms, moving climate science from the contested realm of political contention to the domain of legal objectivity. Immediately following his guilty verdict, Ward noted that "beyond advancing necessity defenses and other specific precedents that we're trying to achieve, it's very useful for us at this point to try to take climate change into the courts, because for all the downsides it's a fact-based venue. And that's a very valuable thing when facts are in jeopardy in the broader political sphere ... Americans understand that serious matters get dealt with in courtrooms, and so it's very important for us to be in here and testing these things in a variety of ways."Overturning legal precedent and settled institutional arrangements takes time and tenacity -- but when the levee breaks, it's usually all of a sudden.
It's important to focus on that experimental, "testing" nature of climate necessity activism. Overturning legal precedent and settled institutional arrangements takes time and tenacity -- but when the levee breaks, it's usually all of a sudden. The struggles for racial equality before the law and for gay people's access to marriage faced enormous public opposition until in rather rapid fashion mass public consciousness changed. Those changes were often significantly nudged along by courtroom experiments.When we are swiftly shuttling ourselves down the path of irreversible climate cataclysm, the only unreasonable option is to double down on the status quo.
In a time when our political orthodoxies are being scrambled and rearranged, when what seemed preposterous just months ago becomes terrifyingly real, and when we are swiftly shuttling ourselves down the path of irreversible climate cataclysm, the only unreasonable option is to stick with what we know, to double down on the status quo. Climate necessity activism is a rejection of such complacency. It's a wedge in the armor of the fossil fuel state, as well as the state of institutional and ideological affairs that insulates climate criminals from accountability.
In his speech announcing that the federal government had stuck its head in the climate sand, President Trump declared that he represented the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris. One need only glance at the composition of the president's cabinet to understand that this is malarkey. Lucky for us, then, that there are individuals out there willing to do the actual work of representing the public interest, of ignoring the strictures of short-term gain and encrusted doctrine to do what needs to be done.
It's an experiment. It's a test. But it's one that, in our current climate, can only result in something better than what we've got.
President Donald Trump has packed his administration with corporate executives, corporate lawyers, corporate lobbyists and corporate consultants, directly contradicting his pledge to upend the “failed and corrupt” political establishment, according to a new report issued today by Public Citizen.
The Public Citizen analysis of 115 sub-Cabinet officials nominated or announced by the White House reveals extensive ties to corporate America.
A permanently closed nuclear reactor in Florida that, documents show, likely has a manufactured weakness in a vital safety component produced by a controversial French forge that also supplied components to 17 still operating U.S. reactors, should be “autopsied,” says Beyond Nuclear, a leading national anti-nuclear watchdog group.
House Logging Bill (HR 2936) Guts Federal Environmental Laws, Literally Privatizes Public Lands, Creates Logging Free-for-All
Tomorrow, the U.S. House of Representatives begins its consideration of HR 2936, known as the Westerman Bill after its author, Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR). The bill contains a cornucopia of loopholes, exemptions and categorical exclusions for environmental, judicial, and public review; and, incredibly, gives away public lands to adjacent private landowners.
Trudeau Breaks Another Election Promise Leaving 99% of Lakes and Rivers Unprotected in Canada, says Council of Canadians
The small group of senators secretly crafting a bill to eliminate the Affordable Care Act collected an average of $214,000 in campaign contributions from health insurance and pharmaceutical industries between November 2010 and November 2016 - nearly double the amount received by colleagues excluded from the process, according to a MapLight analysis.
““Months ago, Food & Water Watch along with Oil & Water Don’t Mix (OWMD) raised questions to state officials, flagging the deeply entrenched conflict of interests at play in the Line 5 risk analysis. Attorney General Bill Schuette terminating DNV GL just one week before the risk analysis is due can mean only one thing: the state intends to utilize Line 5, despite the known and unknown risks, for at least one more year until a proper risk analysis study can be completed.
A report released today by Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Sierra Club and Oil Change International, in partnership with 28 organizations around the world, reveals that the world’s biggest banks are continuing to fuel climate change through the financing of extreme fossil fuels. The report finds that 2016 actually saw a steep fall in bank funding for extreme fossil fuels — however despite this overall reduction, banks are still funding extreme fossil fuel projects at a rate that will push us beyond the 1.5 degrees climate change limit determined by the Paris Climate Agreement.
Shareholder Resolution Calls on Kroger (NYSE: KR) to Appoint Independent Board Chair, Groups Also Urge Company to Eliminate Bee-Killing Pesticides
On Thursday, June 22, members of SumOfUs, Friends of the Earth, Pollinator Stewardship Council, and the Ohio Ecological Food & Farming Association, in collaboration with food, farming and environmental organizations, will host a press conference to discuss a widespread effort urging retail giant Kroger (NYSE: KR) to enact a policy that would help eliminate the use of pollinator-toxic pesticides, including neonicotinoids — a leading driver of decline in the bee population.
A week from today, 24 million people in this country may be looking at a future without access to affordable health care. The time for outrage is past -- now is the time to act, to let your Senators know exactly what you think of this blatant attempt to defraud the people of their fundamental human right. We have some suggestions for what you can do.
Sophie Miller sits with her 9-month-old daughter Sayeeda as Dr. Scott Ikeda gives her a checkup at the New York Children's Health Project mobile medical clinic in New York, November 15, 2016. (Photo: Hiroko Masuike / The New York Times)
When Trump took the presidency, decent people across the country vowed to fight. If you were one of those people, take note: We have less than a week to stop the Republicans from taking health care away from 24 million people. This is not a drill, and there is no time left to wait and see. This is happening, and if we don't do everything in our power to stop it, a lot of people are going to suffer and die.
No one gets to sit this one out.
I'm not going to outline the horrible mechanics of this bill, or to denounce the secretive manner in which the Republicans are crafting it. Others have done that just fine and will continue to do so. I am writing to ask you to revive the energy you felt just after Trump was elected, when you marched in those first months, or when you took to the airports to oppose the Muslim ban. Amid the mess of Trump's repeated failures, public scandals and ongoing normalization, an energy that at first seemed to draw millions into the struggle dissipated. Unity amongst those resisting Trump's agenda may well be a pipedream in the rearview mirror, but what I'm asking for doesn't require unity, or even a united front.
I am asking you to act. Today, tomorrow, the next day, repeatedly, until this thing is dead. I am asking you to raise the alarm, call your senators and take direct action as though you are standing between 24 million people and a force of imminent destruction, because that's what this fight has come to. It is not enough, in this moment, to be informed, or even reiterate what you know to others. It is not enough to be a voter who believes in your civic duty. Forces that would kill disabled people, defund medical services for children, and rip health care away from the sick and dying are knocking at our door, and we have to push back.
As a writer, an organizer and a human being, I want to remind everyone who gives a damn that if we lose this one, we are going to want to be able to tell ourselves, and those we love, that we did all we could to prevent this. I know we are swimming in emergencies right now, but this is a crucial hour, and we have an obligation to help save each other's lives. As someone who has long organized against state violence, I can say this is one of the most sweeping acts of state violence I have ever witnessed. This bill is nothing short of a tidal wave threatening to consume more lives than any natural disaster this country ever has.
Most of us love someone who will suffer or die, or both, if this bill passes. When I began to address this issue, some months back, I did not know if my own health coverage would be impacted by the final version of this bill, but I now have every reason to believe that I, like so many others, will face a bleak fate if this bill is passed. I am frightened, for myself and for us all. I am frightened not only of the effect this bill will have on our lives, but of the darkening future these events foreshadow.
Here are some resources to help you join the struggle:
- This tool kit that will aid you in calling, faxing or leaving a voice message for your senator, and help you quickly determine whether any of your friends live in key states, so you can reach out accordingly.
- If you have no idea what states are crucial, check out this link.
- If you're not sure what to say when you call, you can use a call script written by one of the grassroots advocacy groups organizing against this bill. The Indivisible Project is currently offering call scripts for people living in key states, and for people who live elsewhere.
- If your senator is a Democrat, hit them up anyway and demand that they use every tactic at their disposal to stop this bill. There are call scripts available for these conversations as well, if you need them.
Deploy your efforts strategically. Don't, for example, jam the phone lines of other people's senators. They will only be swayed by the people who can vote them out, so mobilizing those people to call is the best way to impact those districts.
This is one of those moments when we have to prove that we are who we say we are. Win, lose or draw, let's not lose sight of that. And don't forget the power of direct action. There's nothing more frightening to a politician than entire movements aiming to bring them down. We can flex that power because it's always with us. When rage meets creativity, we can move the earth. So, let's remind those who would kill us that we won't go out without a fight.
At Truthout, we never shy away from holding corporate and political forces to account -- but this kind of journalism is only made possible by readers like you. If you like what you're reading, make a donation!
(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)
At this moment of crisis, with the health care of 24 million people on the line, we at Truthout know that we're all in this together. With less than a week to halt the bill that Republican senators are duplicitously developing in Washington, we know this is a critical time for our readers' communities, movements and families. Like many of you, we could very well lose friends, family members and even staff members if this bill comes to pass.
At Truthout, we pride ourselves on creating an accessible workplace for our chronically ill and disabled staff members. We see what they and others are already up against in this society, and we are determined to do everything in our power to fuel efforts to protect them and other at-risk individuals from this act of state violence.
We are writing today to let you know that you are not alone in this fight. Journalists working on this front of struggle support you, and your efforts to make change. We prioritize stories that we believe will help sustain and uplift movements, and we know that the wellbeing and lives of millions are presently on the line. We will do all we can to deliver stories that will aid this struggle during the next week, and we intend to continue to speak to the truth of this moment: that all people are entitled to health care, and that any attempt to strip our communities of what care they have is a fundamental violation of their human rights.
The Truthout Team
A new piece in The New Yorker titled "Fighting for the Immigrants of Little Pakistan" looks at how a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in Brooklyn is coping with the presidency of Donald Trump, who, just seven days after taking office, issued a controversial travel ban targeting predominantly Muslim countries. Trump's presidency also ushered in a rise in immigrant deportations and arrests. We speak with the author of the piece, Jennifer Gonnerman, who looks in part at the story of Shahid Ali Khan and his family, who are facing possible deportation. We also speak with Mohammad Razvi, founding executive director of Council of Peoples Organization (COPO), a community group serving Muslims, Arabs and South Asians.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. Can the Brooklyn neighborhood of Little Pakistan survive the presidency of Donald Trump? That's the question posed by a new piece in The New Yorker magazine. Writer Jennifer Gonnerman looks, in part, at the story of Shahid Ali Khan and his family, who are facing possible deportation. For years, they successfully received stays of removal, but this year appears to be different. On July 6, they have a meeting scheduled at the ICE enforcement and removal field office. That meeting could determine if the family can stay in the United States.
We're joined now by two guests. Mohammad Razvi is founding executive director of Council of Peoples Organization. And we're joined by Jennifer Gonnerman, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, who's written the piece, "Fighting for the Immigrants of Little Pakistan."
Jennifer, talk about this extremely poignant story of this family, who came to this country to save the life of their baby boy.
JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Right, they're an -- it's an extraordinary story. The Khans came in 1997, two parents and a baby, who was not yet two. The father was a bank manager in Pakistan. He gave up everything, because his son was born with a heart defect and needed surgery that couldn't be gotten in Pakistan. He looked into various countries to come to, ultimately got a visa to come to the United States, came to Brooklyn, went from one hospital to another, ultimately ends up at Mount Sinai. And when his son is two years old, he gets open-heart surgery there.
AMY GOODMAN: Here in New York City, Mount Sinai.
JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Exactly, exactly. And then, as a consequence of that surgery, the son ends up suffering a very rare movement disorder, which he is unable to control his limbs, can't eat, can't feed himself, can't walk, needs a feeding tube, wheelchair. And the family has no choice but to stay. So even after their visa runs out, they try to get, you know, an extension, and they stay here and continue to get medical treatment for their son. And over the next years, the son makes terrific progress. He's now walking, though not too steadily. He talks a little bit, not too easy to understand. But his progress has been tremendous. And the family continues to get treated at Mount Sinai and elsewhere.
AMY GOODMAN: And they say he will not be able to proceed like this or progress, if he is forced out.
JENNIFER GONNERMAN: His doctors say that the treatment he needs -- he's got a number of very complicated and unusual medical conditions, and the support system that he has here, he will not have if he's sent back to Pakistan. I had heard about the family because it's somebody that Mr. Razvi had helped in the past, post-9/11, and somebody he was very proud of helping and being able to stop their deportation many years into the past. And then I happened to be in his office -- it was about a week or two ago -- finishing up this story for The New Yorker, and suddenly here comes Mr. Khan, completely despondent, straight from the ICE office and coming to Mr. Razvi's office for help, and told us that he was at risk of deportation.
AMY GOODMAN: So this is a story, Mohammad Razvi, you've been dealing with for many years. In fact, you have the picture of the little boy when he was very young thanking you for stopping his dad's deportation years ago.
MOHAMMAD RAZVI: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I still remember that day. You know, his son and he came in, and he said, "You know, Mohammad, this is what my son made for you." And he brings in his -- this card, and it says, "Thank you. Thank you for bringing my dad back." And, you know, at that time, he graduated from elementary school, and, you know, he really wasn't able to speak as much, as Jennifer was saying, but it was just, you know, heart-filling that we were able to save this person.
AMY GOODMAN: So what are the chances now? You represent so many in the Pakistani community who come to you for help. July 6 is the day they have to go into the ICE office. Is it the whole family or just Shahid Ali Khan, the father?
MOHAMMAD RAZVI: No, it's the whole family.
AMY GOODMAN: Could be deported.
MOHAMMAD RAZVI: Could be deported.
AMY GOODMAN: After decades here.
MOHAMMAD RAZVI: After decades of being here. And it is very fearful. We are very concerned. We are working with the attorney. And we're also going to be reaching out to Senator Schumer's office and also Congresswoman Yvette Clarke's office to have their assistance, as well. That's what we did in the past, to get the elected officials to also weigh in for this family.
AMY GOODMAN: Is the Pakistani community particularly afraid now? I mean, is this as bad as the period after 9/11?
MOHAMMAD RAZVI: This is bad, and it's actually worse at this moment, because the child and the mother were not in deportation proceedings previously. Now they are put into deportation proceedings, as well. And it's happening to many families, who have been doing routine checks with the immigration officers. And all of a sudden, now they're being put into deportation proceedings.
AMY GOODMAN: We're going to continue this discussion, post it online at democracynow.org. Mohammad Razvi, founding executive director of Council of Peoples Organization, a community group serving Muslims, Arabs and South Asians, as well as Jen Gonnerman. We'll link to your piece in The New Yorkermagazine, "Fighting for the Immigrants of Little Pakistan."
In the most expensive congressional race in history, Republican Karen Handel has defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff in a special election in Georgia. We go to Atlanta for response and look at the role of gerrymandering in shaping the outcome of the race. We speak to Georgia state Senator Nan Orrock and Rev. Raphael Warnock, the chair of the New Georgia Project, which conducts voter registration and outreach to the state's growing population of color. He is also the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, which was the spiritual home of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show in Georgia, where the Republicans have pulled off a victory in the most expensive congressional race in history. In a special election in Georgia's 6th District, Republican Karen Handel won nearly 53 percent of the vote, defeating her challenger, Democrat Jon Ossoff, to be -- to fill the seat left vacant after Tom Price resigned to become secretary of health and human services. The candidates and outside groups spent more than $55 million on the race, a record-shattering amount. While the seat has been held by a Republican for decades, Democrats were hoping to pull off an upset in the suburban Atlanta district where President Trump's approval rating is just 35 percent. This marks the fourth congressional race Democrats have lost since the election of Trump. Speaking Tuesday night, Handel thanked President Trump.
REP.-ELECT KAREN HANDEL: I need to also thank Speaker Ryan and the House leadership and so many of the members across this country who also united to help us hold the 6th. And a special thanks to the president of the United States.
HANDEL SUPPORTERS: Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!
AMY GOODMAN: Karen Handel is the former secretary of state of Georgia. She made national headlines in 2012 when she led an effort at the breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. She later resigned from the organization, after the board voted to restore the money following public outcry. On Tuesday night, Handel's challenger, 30-year-old Democrat Jon Ossoff, also addressed supporters.
JON OSSOFF: And we showed the world that in places where no one thought it was even possible to fight, we could fight. We showed them what courage and kindness and humility are capable of. We showed them that we can still build coalitions of people who may not see eye to eye on everything, but rather than demonizing each other, we find common ground to move forward. And that's the only way this country will move forward.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Atlanta, where we're joined by two guests. The Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock is senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, which was the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He's also the chair of the New Georgia Project. Nan Orrock is also with us, a Democratic state senator in Georgia. Her Senate District 36 includes downtown Atlanta.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let's begin with Dr. Raphael Warnock. What happened in Atlanta? It was very close, but in the end the Republican pulled it out, and Karen Handel, in her acceptance speech, in her victory speech last night, thanked President Trump as people chanted "Trump! Trump!"
REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Well, good to be here with you, Amy, even on a day like this. We have to play for the long game. We were very focused on this election. Indeed, the whole country has been focused on this special election here in Georgia. I do think we have to keep in mind that this has been a solid Republican district for a very long time, for about four decades. So this was an uphill journey from the beginning. The fact that this was actually a real race, that this was -- that there was serious movement on the left, can only be accounted for with reference to Donald Trump. So, there is deep unrest in the country. His approval rating is very low, even in that district. I found it very interesting and curious that Karen Handel virtually ran away from the president during the campaign and ran toward him last night during her victory speech.
So, we'll continue to make the case. As chair of the New Georgia Project, we're very focused on expanding the electorate. I believe that our social vision will be as narrow as the electorate is. And what we've witnessed over the last few years, especially after the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, is the effort of Republican legislatures all across the country to make it very difficult for black, brown, poor people, old people, young people to register and to vote. And that's the work of the New Georgia Project, and that's the work we'll continue to do in the next several months, even the next few years. We've registered 215,000 new voters since 2014. We hope to register about a million by the end of the decade.
AMY GOODMAN: Nan Orrock, your response to what took place in this staggeringly, staggeringly expensive congressional race, the most expensive race in the history -- congressional race in the history of this country?
SEN. NAN ORROCK: We are, of course, disappointed, but at the same time very mindful, as Pastor Warnock said, that this has been a deep red district since 1979. And for Jon Ossoff to even attempt to score in this congressional district is remarkable, and his performance is remarkable. The activity that we saw on the ground, the outpouring, it awakened the electorate in the Congressional District 6 that thought it had nowhere to go. The diversity of his support and the intensity and enthusiasm -- I can't remember when I've seen such an enthusiastic, sustained effort here in this state.
And the way I look at it, Amy, is that, no, we didn't take the seat last night. We worked in a way, and Jon Ossoff presented a candidacy, that demanded that the Republicans go all out, leave no -- no holds barred, to take the seat, as they did last night with a very flawed candidate, frankly, Karen Handel, who, as secretary of state, presided over blocking people from voting. She had the Justice Department reprimanding her for her attempt to eliminate voters from the rolls. And I have to say, we've had a battle here in Georgia around access to the ballot. We were one of the first states. In 2005, the Republican-controlled Legislature, with a Republican governor, Sonny Perdue, put into law a voter ID that was just onerous. We've sued. We've fought about it. It did have the effect of waking people up, to say, "They're not going to take my right to vote." And it's -- we're continuing to battle to bring out the electorate here that's going to turn this state blue.
And I see last night -- I see this prolonged, months-long battle over this, of trying to flip the 6th, as a real laying the groundwork for, as a ladies out there in Cobb are saying, the Democratic women that have organized themselves into Pave It Blue, we're going to pave it blue. And you're going to see, right in this congressional district, winning seats. We're going to take seats from Republicans in elections for next year's General Assembly seats, Senate and House, because of the energy, the infrastructure and the hope that has been restored in that district that there's somebody else out there besides this deep red GOP, anti-people sort of agenda.
AMY GOODMAN: This was the district of Newt Gingrich, before Dr. Price, and he won by what? Something like 23 percent --
SEN. NAN ORROCK: That's right.
AMY GOODMAN: -- when he won, but then he resigned to become the secretary of health and human services. Romney won by something like that, you know, percentage, 23 percent more. But Trump, in 2016, won by something like 1 -- just over 1 percent.
SEN. NAN ORROCK: That's right. That's right.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet you have Karen Handel thanking Trump and the crowd chanting "Trump!" Has there been a change in these few months?
SEN. NAN ORROCK: I think the Republicans are embattled. This is -- the administration that we've witnessed over these last months, I mean, everybody in Washington in the administration is lawyering up right now. And I think that in the deep red Trump supporter base, they're rallying around him, but that base is shrinking. That's what the numbers tell us. That base is shrinking.
REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Well, and I think we have to keep in mind that part of what Karen Handel won for herself last night is the opportunity to have to run again in the fall of 2018. I'm not about to predict what will happen for that race. That's a long time off. But her thanking Donald Trump might be the basis of an interesting commercial in 2018, as we witness the scandals of the Trump administration unfold. And we'll see where that goes. But she might live to regret those words.
AMY GOODMAN: But in terms of what took place, Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, the issue of gerrymandering, can you talk about what's happening in Atlanta, in Georgia?
REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Yeah. Well, as the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court a few summers ago, many of us have been really having to fight the good fight on the ground. As Senator Orrock pointed out, even before that happened, in 2005, Georgia has the distinction of leading the pack with making it hard for people to vote. So we've been fighting this issue for a long time.
You know that about a month ago the Supreme Court ruled that racial gerrymandering in the case of North Carolina was unconstitutional. Ironically, it was Clarence Thomas who cast the deciding vote, decided with the majority. But this is going to be a real fight in the days ahead. You don't get people really excited talking about gerrymandering. It's not the sexiest issue. But it is one of the most consequential issues facing our democracy.
There is a way in which we have got to get the people's voice back. A lot of us are very focused and concerned about this administration and asking the question, "Have we turned into a kleptocracy?" But beyond the kind of crude way in which -- you know, we're not sure what the Trump administration is up to and what kinds of resources that they may be trying to extract from our democracy. In a real sense, the people's voices have been stolen a long time ago. We're living in a kind of kleptocracy.
I don't -- I'm not excited about the fact that this was the most expensive congressional race in history. There's a disconnect between what the people want and what we get. How is it that most Americans want reasonable gun reform, but we can't get reasonable gun reform legislation in our country? It is because of the outsize voice of corporatist interests, the gun lobby, too much money in our elections, racial gerrymandering. All of these issues, we'll have to fight. And the way we're fighting it in the New Georgia Project is to register as many people as we can. We think that part of the answer to voter suppression is massive voter mobilization and registration, while also addressing these other public policy issues, at the state Capitol and otherwise.
AMY GOODMAN: Karen Handel is known around the country not so much as secretary of state, the past secretary state of Georgia, Nan Orrock, but as the woman who tried to stop the funding of Planned Parenthood when she was at Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. There was a massive outcry across the country. She was tossed out. But how does this -- what kind of omen is this for Planned Parenthood? Because right now you have the Senate healthcare plan that's supposedly going to be released on Thursday morning. Interestingly, McConnell only announced this after the results were in, in Georgia, leading many to believe he understood this is quite controversial. And, of course, a part of that is the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood. What kind of message does this send?
SEN. NAN ORROCK: Well, you know, it's very interesting. I was with the Center for Reproductive Rights last week in Washington with women legislators and activists from around the country. And the polling numbers are very startling. Over 40 percent of Republicans support the right to abortion and maintaining Roe v. Wade. And the numbers are astronomical among Democrats. It's another example, as Pastor Warnock said, of where the mass of people are on one side of this issue, and yet you have this narrow, reactionary, anti-people agenda that's being driven by the GOP.
And they have been well served by gerrymandering. We really launched and mobilized against them in the session here this -- several months ago here in the General Assembly to smash their bill to reapportion. You know, they go around now, and they're not satisfied with reapportioning every 10 years after the census. Whenever one of their people are in trouble, they go in and want to tweak the district and move African-American voters, move Democratic voters out of that district. And they tried that with a bill this session. They called a surprise meeting at 8:00 in the morning with not even 24 hours' notice. And do you know? We packed that room. Almost 200 people packed into that room. And they folded their tents, and that bill did not become law. But so, there's more attention being paid now to this outlandish gerrymandering and the way that they are controlling seats. And, as has been demonstrated, it makes for polarized politics, when people don't have to come together in the middle to look for solutions.
REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Racial gerrymandering, placing polling stations in police stations, the kinds of abuse we witnessed in Quitman County -- I would encourage your viewers to google "Quitman County" and "voting rights." If you read that story, it will read like something out of the 1950s. And this was literally just a couple years ago here in Georgia, as the NAACP and other grassroots organizers simply focused on registering people to vote -- in some cases, their own family members. One woman spoke and signed for her father, who was unable to sign the application. I believe he was blind or something. But, literally, people facing criminal charges --
SEN. NAN ORROCK: That's right.
REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: -- for trying to give voice to ordinary people. So we've got to build a big tent, a broad coalition --
SEN. NAN ORROCK: Yeah.
REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: -- of women, poor people, minorities --
AMY GOODMAN: On that issue --
REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: -- young people. Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: On that issue of a broad tent, do you think, Dr. Raphael Warnock, that Ossoff represented -- I mean, is this not just a battle between Republicans and Democrats, but the heart of the Democratic Party? Right now, massive issue in the country is the issue of healthcare. He was opposed to single-payer healthcare. Many felt he was running away from a progressive Democratic platform, as he ran against the Republican candidate. Do you think this is a message to the Democratic Party, almost like the Hillary-Bernie Sanders divide, that they're going in the wrong direction?
REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Well, I'll let the politicians get into the mix of how to, you know, win an election. I'm a progressive. These are the issues that I'll continue to fight for. I believe that it's a shame that in the richest country in the world, we don't have universal healthcare. But it's not just a moral issue. It's really impractical. We continue to try in the United States to pull something off that hasn't worked anywhere, and that is this idea that you take healthcare and throw it into the marketplace. I think the market is good for some things, but this idea that the market is a panacea, a cure-all for all ills, is a kind of religious doctrine and fanaticism that I don't embrace as a person of faith. I mean, we bring a critical eye even to our faith. But there are some folk who seem to think that the market is the answer to everything. And yet, in order to get here, we drove through streets that all of us pay for. We turn on our water fountain, and we were assured that that water was protected, because there are some things that we have to do together. And healthcare is something that we ought to make sure that everybody has access to.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, finally, let me put that question to Nan Orrock, Democratic state senator in Georgia representing downtown Atlanta. Politico is saying the biggest beneficiary of the progressive resistance opposes a push for single-payer healthcare or hiking income taxes. What about this? What about people saying that the Democrat ran away from core Democratic values and that this isn't really a referendum on where the Democrats could be in this country?
SEN. NAN ORROCK: Well, I am not going to Monday morning quarterback on Jon Ossoff's race, which was a remarkable race, an incredible gain from where the last Republican that ran was 22 points up, and we were two points lower than 50 percent, in a race that was not supposed to ever even be feasible. He had to win Republican votes. He won, I believe, one out of 10 Republican votes, took the undecideds, you know, the independents -- at least split them -- and fought to expand the Democratic electorate. I talked last night, Amy, with a young Latina woman who was -- actually had fought every day in this campaign, and she was in no way downcast. She said, "We did incredible grassroots organizing, and we did special teams out to different communities and seeking out the different ethnicities that are in this very district, that's very diverse." Now, let me say this: Georgia is over 30 percent African-American citizenship. This district is 25 percent people of color.
REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Right. Right.
SEN. NAN ORROCK: Twenty-five, 75, and we did that kind of performance there. Things are on the move. Things are changing. I was speaking last night with our candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams, who's going to mount a remarkable campaign, is already out there on the campaign trail. And we're going to see history made in Georgia.
The other thing is that Georgia used to be totally in the backwater when it came to national politics. We didn't have Obama money in this state, we didn't have any Clinton money to speak of in this state, in these last two big presidential contests. But yet and still, we were one of the most purple of the red states. This campaign has continued the trajectory of waking up the nation about coming to Georgia and working here to turn this state around. We're in a state where the governor didn't expand Medicare. We have -- Medicaid expansion was never done here. We have a huge number, one of the top numbers, of uninsured people in this state. And I think the future is bright. The future is blue in Georgia, at the risk of sounding like a bumper sticker.
But what I saw in this campaign -- and I had close family members that worked in it every day, got up and went out and knocked on doors all day long -- the enthusiasm, the layers of people. If you could have been at that hotel last night, you couldn't get in. The cars were backed up. I mean, you never would have expected that in that district. And so, people are awake in Georgia, and we're moving in the right direction. And we're going to see that in next year's statewide elections for these top offices.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Nan Orrock, Democratic state senator in Georgia, and Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock of the Ebenezer Baptist Church.
SEN. NAN ORROCK: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! Thank you so much for being there. When we come back, Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher of The Nation, on what this race means and broader issues around the country. As the Republicans secretly craft a healthcare bill in the Senate -- it will be revealed in the next few days -- what does this mean for this country? And other issues. Stay with us.
Increased funding, targeted prevention efforts and better treatment have helped to slow down the HIV epidemic in the United States. The number of new HIV-positive cases has decreased significantly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with the number of new HIV diagnoses declining by 19 percent from 2005 to 2014.
This is not the case in many parts of the country, however. As AIDS and public health researchers, we are among those who are alarmed by areas in the southern United States where the numbers of cases have not declined and even more by the areas in which increases have occurred.
In particular, we have seen some disturbing trends in Prince George's County, Maryland, where we do research on AIDS and health disparities. These are similar to trends in other nonurban settings in the southern United States where a majority of African-Americans live.
Southern Nonurban Black Communities in Crisis
In Prince George's County, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC, the number of new HIV infections has increased from 2014 to 2015, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In fact, Prince George's County leads the state in the number of new HIV diagnoses, having surpassed Baltimore City in 2013.
With rates that are 20 times higher than those of whites in 2015, African-Americans are disproportionately impacted by HIV in Prince George's County. In 2015, African-Americans constituted 86 percent of all new HIV diagnoses and 85 percent of the total population living with HIV.
Moreover, engagement in HIV care remains at critically low levels among those living in Prince George's County. Only 49 percent of people living with HIV are retained in care and 37 percent have achieved viral suppression, when a person's HIV viral load is undetectable or is very low, considerably reducing the risk of transmission.
This public health crisis in Prince George's County reflects a much broader trend in the United States, where the disproportionate burden of HIV is increasingly found in the US South, including Washington, DC, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. In many areas, HIV is concentrated in urban areas.
But in the South, larger proportions of those diagnosed with HIV are living in smaller metropolitan, suburban and rural areas -- places like Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; Columbia, South Carolina; and Lowndes County, Alabama.
Southern states have the highest rates of new HIV-positive diagnoses, the highest percentage of people living with HIV and the lowest rates of survival for those who are HIV-positive. Nearly 52 percent of all new diagnoses of HIV in 2015 occurred in southern states, even though only 37 percent of the US population lives in the South.
In 2015, African-Americans accounted for 45 percent of HIV diagnoses in the United States overall, though they comprise 13 percent of the total population. But in the South, this percentage is much higher, with African-Americans accounting for 54 percent of new HIV diagnoses in 2014.
Black men who have sex with men have a disproportionate burden of disease, accounting for 59 percent of all HIV diagnoses among African-Americans in the South. Black women also face an unequal burden, comprising 69 percent of all HIV diagnoses among women in the South. Black transgender communities in the South are also heavily impacted. Half of all transgender persons who are diagnosed with HIV are black. Around half of transgender people who received an HIV diagnosis between 2009-2014 lived in the South.
Root Causes of the Enduring HIV Epidemic in the South
The South suffers from disproportionate rates of concentrated poverty -- the clustering of poor populations in very poor communities -- that increasingly exists in smaller cities, suburban areas and rural counties.
In 2010, 41 percent of poor Americans lived in the South, according to the Pew Research Center. Research has shown that in these areas of concentrated poverty, poor families are saddled with additional burdens, beyond what the families' own individual circumstances would dictate, including inadequate access to quality health care and poor health outcomes.
The Conversation, CC-BY-ND. (Source: Pew Research.)
Abstinence-based sex education and criminalization of HIV-related risk behaviors, rooted in perceptions that HIV is associated with immoral and deviant behavior, has resulted in increased stigma and discrimination toward those living with HIV in the South. This can lead to people being afraid to get tested or seek treatment for fear that someone may find out they have HIV.
Stigma and discrimination are also found in many middle-class and wealthy African-American communities in the South, like those in Prince George's County, where black respectability politics -- the notion that by adopting certain cultural norms of the white mainstream, black people can protect themselves from discrimination -- has contributed to a silencing of the HIV epidemic among the African-American poor and the blaming of victims for their illness.
Finally, health care and funding disparities have long plagued the South and have contributed to the rising rates of HIV in the region. Federal government funding still lags behind for southern states. For example, 33 percent of federal funding was distributed to the South, despite the region having 52 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in the country.
The CDC has increased funding to the South to directly reflect the impact of HIV in the region, with an increase of 22 percent or US$36 million from 2010 to 2015. However, many community-based organizations doing frontline HIV prevention work are ineligible for funding because they are not located within major metropolitan centers. The most recent CDC funding announcement for community-based organizations, for instance, focuses on people at high risk of contracting HIV only in metropolitan areas hit hardest by HIV and AIDS.
Additionally, southern states also have some of the strictest eligibility requirements and least expansive Medicaid programs. Many southern states rejected Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which extended health care to millions of uninsured Americans. Such health care policies, along with poor health care infrastructure, lack of qualified health professionals and geographic isolation, have resulted in substandard or nonexistent health services and treatment for those most in need.
The proposed American Health Care Act will further limit the expansion of Medicaid, which would disproportionately affect the poor and may not provide insurance for those with preexisting conditions, including HIV.
Transformative actions need to occur in order to make a positive impact on the devastating effects HIV has had among African-Americans in the South. Funding needs to be reallocated to the region, especially to frontline providers and organizations doing HIV prevention work. Political pressure to expand Medicaid and to increase funding for HIV prevention and treatment is necessary to stem the tide of the epidemic.
People should advocate to change laws and policies, particularly around sex education and criminalization of HIV-related behaviors. Increasing opportunities for employment, housing and education can also improve HIV prevention in the South.
In order to make progress, southern states must make difficult structural changes such as increasing funding, health care access and treatment. They also need to directly confront the inadequate living and working conditions that put poor African-American youth and adults at heightened risk for HIV.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke prepares to take the stage to speak at the Department of Transportation in Washington, June 9, 2017. (Photo: Al Drago / The New York Times)
The man charged with stewarding the nation's public lands was called before a Senate panel on Tuesday, where he attempted to defend the Trump administration's call for massive cuts to his own Interior Department, particularly programs for Native Americans.
Secretary Ryan Zinke went to the mat for the White House's austerity blueprint, despite receiving a stream of criticism from members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, over how the blueprint hits indigenous Americans particularly hard.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Mastro (D-Nev.) grilled the Secretary over a proposed 12 percent cut to the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and an additional $23.3 million taken out of social service and welfare programs for Native Americans.
"Clearly, when it comes to the Bureau of Indian Education," Sec. Zinke said in response, "I think we failed."
Aside from withholding massive amounts of funding from the agency, the Secretary admitted, however, he was at a loss for ideas to improve Native American education.
"More money may not produce a better solution," he claimed. "Something is not right."
The BIE oversees education facilities serving roughly 50,000 Native American students.
Federal watchdogs, including the Government Accountability Office (GAO), frequently knock the BIE for managing sub-par schools. A 2016 GAO report, for example, concluded that the BIE doesn't have a sufficient inspection regimen in place to "determine the magnitude and severity of safety and health deficiencies at schools."
The Secretary claimed that he was open to working with Congress on a better solution.
The proposed budget cuts to BIE are in tune with the austerity imposed on the entire Native American community in the Trump Interior budget.
Hundreds of millions of dollars would be reduced from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) budget. The agency is tasked with managing social services and land protection for nearly two million indigenous Americans across the country.
During Tuesday's hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn) asked the Secretary how the President's proposed cuts support Native American sovereignty. "How can you build trust in Indian country when you present a budget like this?" the senator asked.
"This is what a balanced budget looks like," Sec. Zinke responded, repeating a mantra he used throughout the hearing to justify his department's drastically reduced proposed budget, which would allocate $1.6 billion less in annual funding -- a 12 percent cut.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs alone would shoulder $371 million in reductions.
"There are others way to balance budgets, and on the backs of the tribes is not a way to do it," Sen. Franken told the Secretary.
Like Valerie Castile, I'm mad as hell.
Following the acquittal of her son Philando Castile's killer -- Jeronimo Yanez, who was a policer officer in a Minnesota suburb when he shot into the vehicle where Castile was a passenger -- posts trending "The system continues to fail Black people" saturated social media.
It's not just Black people whom The System is failing. White people, The System is also failing you.
It is a fact that Black and Brown people are herded through the prison system at higher rates, are killed by police officers at higher rates, and are not allowed the same privileges in this country as most of you, especially when it comes to receiving justice. That is the reality the country has been built on. People who are not White are treated as less than human because The System was designed by and for White people.
Everyone in this country has been socialized for generations that Whiteness is central and supreme. That Brown and Black are worth less.
So how does a system designed to benefit Whites also exploit and fail them?To protect the White supremacy narrative, you all have been duped.
By deception. You have been lied to. The education you have received, that we all have received, omits the contributions of Black and Brown people. It teaches that these people are slaves, vagrants, animals, invaluable, and not worthy of compassion. These lies have been reinforced in all of our institutions -- schools, legislatures, corporate industry -- and courts and policing.
To protect the White supremacy narrative, you all have been duped. When you make excuses for the racial injustices or rationalize them -- or, worse, cannot see them -- you too have been failed by The System.
When you say "all lives matter" to silence the wail of those declaring that Black and Brown lives matter too, The System has failed you.
When you say you don't see color but cannot empathize with the pain of a mother and father, sister, brother, cousin who's lost their loved one to someone's "fear of the other," you have been failed by The System.
The onus is not on Black people to fix The System.
Black people have been marching since slavery. They marched off plantations risking their lives for freedom, they marched into the houses of justice during reconstruction to gain respect and make better lives for their people, they marched during Jim Crow, and the civil rights and black power movements against the oppression that has held them down. And they're still marching, for the same recognition that you all have benefited from and take for granted.
We are tired of marching.
We are tired of chanting the names of our dead.
We are tired of saying that we matter.
We are tired of our pain going unrecognized and our cries unheard.
Just tired. And we -- in the words of Fannie Lou Hamer -- are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
I'm not asking for more White people to march with us -- many of you already do.
I'm challenging you to stand up and to stand out, to be heard in your own community, calling for justice. Channel that anger you must feel at being lied to about justice and liberty for all, about your White supremacy. Call your local politicians, state legislators, congressional representatives to demand accountability of law enforcement agencies. When you're sitting on juries, don't be afraid to stand apart from your peers in calling for justice.
I'm challenging you to stand up for justice. Martin Luther King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
You may think you are safe being White, protected in your own communities. But it's only a matter of time before the "injustice anywhere" taking place in Black and Brown communities and toward Black and Brown people comes knocking on your door. This is not a threat; it is a reality.
Black, Brown, White, whatever. We should not wait until our own sons bleed to death. We are all Valerie Castile. And we all should be angry. Angry that The System fails everyone. And angry enough to do something about it.