Sonali Kolhatkar – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sun, 12 Jun 2022 20:15:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.6 How Long Will We Sacrifice Our Kids to the Gun Lobby’s Paranoia? https://www.juancole.com/2022/06/sacrifice-lobbys-paranoia.html Mon, 13 Jun 2022 04:08:31 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=205184 ( Otherwords ) – Mass shootings are good for gun sales.

In the days following the horrific school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, firearm stocks rose. Gun buyers, conditioned to fear new restrictions, tend to run out and buy more weapons after shootings like this one.

A well-heeled lobby, a paranoid minority, and the GOP have made it all but impossible to regulate the leading cause of death for American kids.

They seem to believe that lawmakers will respond to mass shootings by making it harder to buy a gun. After all, when other consumer products are found to be a danger to humans, they’re regulated.

Last year, the federal government recalled 40,000 units from a line of children’s bunk beds whose defective ladder killed a 2-year-old in Ohio. And the U.S. Public Interest Research Group offers a lengthy list of toys the government has recalled because of choking hazards.

It makes sense to regulate harmful products, especially where children’s health and safety are concerned.

But thousands of children are victims of gun violence each year, yet weapons of war remain easily available for purchase. The Uvalde shooter bought two AR-15-style rifles legally from a federally licensed gun store just days before the massacre and used one of them to end 21 lives.

After Uvalde, a group of pediatricians published a plea for gun control in Scientific American. The doctors pointed out that gun violence is now the leading cause of death among people aged 1 to 19.

“The politicization of guns, they wrote, is “taking priority over public health.” How else to explain the endless proliferation of killing machines when we won’t even tolerate a faulty ladder?

Many factors drive this politicization.

For one thing, gun sales are big business — some manufacturers with federal contracts even use their profits to lobby against gun control. For another, the National Rifle Association holds great sway in Washington and drives large campaign donations to GOP politicians to ensure inaction.

But at heart, this is a cultural problem.

Hollywood, for example, glamorizes guns the way it once did smoking. Researchers Brad Bushman and Dan Romer found that “acts of gun violence in PG-13 movies nearly tripled” between 1985 and 2015.”

But even more dangerously, guns have become central to the right wing’s culture wars.

They’ve become synonymous with a perverse understanding of “freedom” and “defense” — a word that appears in the name of the manufacturer, Daniel Defense, whose rifle was used to kill children in Uvalde.

Defense from whom?

Violent crime and property crime rates nationwide have dramatically fallen since the 1990s. Studies show that guns are extremely rarely used in self-defense — they’re much more often involved in assaults, homicides, suicides, or accidental discharges.

“This is a charade,” says Tufts public health professor Michael Siegel of the self-defense trope.

Instead, the “freedom to defend” oneself has become a powerful cultural idea for a shrinking white population whose paranoia is being stoked incessantly by Fox News, the Republican Party, and gun manufacturers.

In one commercial, Daniel Defense founder Marty Daniel narrates: “There are two types of people in the world, good people and evil people. And just in case evil people get in charge, good people need to have the ability to fight back.”

This is “a racialized fear,” says Siegel. The far right’s mostly white, male gun owners are so convinced of this imagined threat from evil “others” that some openly speculated that the Uvalde shooter must have been an “illegal alien” or transgender woman. (He was neither.)

A majority of Americans support gun restrictions. But the GOP gerrymanders districts and relies on the undemocratic Senate and Supreme Court to keep this paranoid minority in power.

As a result, their hate-filled fantasies have made it all but impossible to regulate the leading cause of children’s deaths. Eventually, the pro-gun control majority must ask: How long will we pay for this system with the lives of our children?

Via Otherwords

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There’s No Better Time to Buy an Electric Car and Kick Our Oil Addiction https://www.juancole.com/2022/03/theres-electric-addiction.html Sun, 27 Mar 2022 04:06:38 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=203716

As gas prices rise, this highly profitable industry wants more drilling — not to save us money, but to profit at our expense.

( Otherwords.org ) – Long used to cheap gas at the pump, Americans are experiencing serious sticker shock these days.

News headlines link this sharp increase to Russia’s war on Ukraine. But that assumes oil companies have no control over the price of oil — that high prices stem “naturally” from things like the war in Ukraine, or the U.S. decision to halt oil and gas imports from Russia.

Collin Rees, senior campaigner with Oil Change International, told me in a recent interview that there is “a complex interplay” of forces that determine prices. Supply is only part of it.

“The U.S. doesn’t actually import that much Russian oil and gas,” he said — only about 8 percent of our imports, or a paltry 2 percent of our overall use. If the war’s had any effect, he explained, it’s “increased fear among investors.”

In other words, the price hike isn’t about supply — it’s about investors fearing they’ll lose out on profits.

For Americans struggling to make sense of what they’re seeing at the pump, prices actually began rising in 2021 as quarantines eased and Americans resumed commuting and travel. Gas prices rose by over $1 a gallon last year, reaching their highest nominal price since 2014.

Oil prices and gas prices aren’t always directly correlated. Oil prices have actually dropped since peaking after Russia’s invasion, but gas prices remain very high in most of the country.

Still, the fossil fuel industry is using the latest price spike to make the case for more oil and gas drilling — and they have prominent supporters. “In this moment of crisis, we need more supply,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said recently.

Yet only a few months ago, Granholm admitted that “the energy industry is making enormous profits. They’re back up… above where they were before the pandemic started.” Rees concurs, saying the industry is making “obscene amounts of money.”

Instead of lowering gas prices with this windfall, oil companies “are buying back their own shares, funneling dividends to their shareholders, and paying lobbyists to demand cheap new federal leases so they can stockpile them for future profit,” the organization Earthjustice reports.

Doing more favors for this industry won’t make life easier for consumers. It simply makes them more vulnerable to future price hikes — while polluting our planet and complicating international diplomacy efforts with oil politics when lives are at stake.

Instead, the Biden administration should follow its own promise to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels.

Even by the logic of capitalism, that’s the financially sensible thing to do. “Scientists and engineers have dropped the cost of solar and wind power by an order of magnitude,” notes 350.org founder Bill McKibben, “to the point where it is some of the cheapest power on Earth.”

Just as the fossil fuel industry and its political allies are using Russia’s war on Ukraine and high gas prices to justify increased dependence on oil, now is the time for advocates of sanity and safety to use this moment to pivot away from petroleum as fast as possible.

“It’s more critical than ever in these moments to recognize that this is a chance to free ourselves from that dependency,” Rees concludes. It’s an opportunity to end “that cycle of conflict and fossil-fueled harm and pain and death, and to build a better world.”

Via Otherwords.org

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If the US Gov’t Can Swing into Action on Covid, why Can’t it provide us Universal Health Care? https://www.juancole.com/2022/02/provide-universal-health.html Sat, 12 Feb 2022 05:06:57 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=202932

The government saved lives by covering COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatment. What if it treated other diseases this way?

( Othwerwords.org ) – There has been a Jekyll and Hyde quality to American health care over the past two years.

One the one hand, the federal government has been actively intervening to help people avoid COVID-19 or recover from it. On the other, it’s standing by as Americans struggle with other ailments, exposing the vast fissures of a broken system.

The government’s pandemic response has been imperfect but successful in many respects. Are there lessons for how we treat other diseases?

For example, the Biden administration is now taking action to ensure that Americans have access to rapid at-home test kits for COVID-19.

Acting quickly if belatedly, the government launched a centralized and straightforward website for people to order free antigen testing kits. The site is stunningly easy to use, does not require any other information besides a name and address, and relies on the U.S. Postal Service for distribution.

That effort came on the heels of an announcement that private health insurance companies would now be required to reimburse their patients for the cost of such tests purchased out of pocket.

The government is also finally providing free masks. With experts now saying reusable cloth masks aren’t sufficient against Omicron, the White House has announced a program to make 400 million N95 masks from the strategic national stockpile available to Americans for free.

Insurance companies even agreed to cover all COVID-19 treatment costs up until last fall, while the uninsured have been covered by the government itself.

Together, these policies signal that the federal government recognizes the prohibitive cost of protecting oneself from a rapidly mutating and increasingly transmissible virus. With vaccines, testing, and even treatment largely free of charge, policy makers have adopted a more interventionist posture on COVID-19 than any other health care issue.

This is commendable. But what about Americans with other conditions?

Cancer affects 1.6 million Americans each year and is the second leading cause of death in the nation. Cancer-related death rates are significantly higher for those who lack health insurance. Similar trends exist for the millions of Americans with heart disease, diabetes, and other common ailments.

What would it take to treat these diseases like we’ve treated COVID-19? In short: a centralized, universal health care system.

We’re the only large, wealthy country without one. Instead, we’ve joined extremely poor nations like Afghanistan and Yemen on the list of 10 notable countries without a universal government-run health care system.

It shows. According to the Federal Reserve, 17 percent of adults “had major, unexpected medical expenses” in 2020, while nearly a quarter of American adults “went without medical care due to an inability to pay.”

Medicare for All would save money and lives relative to relying on private insurers. It would have improved our pandemic response, too.

The rollout of vaccines and testing was often chaotic precisely because the federal government had to rely on a patchwork system of private and public health care, private for-profit drug store chains, and smaller nonprofit organizations.

According to Public Citizen, “countries with a more unified system are better able to roll out testing, track the spread, and intervene appropriately” because they aren’t forced to navigate around numerous private insurers or to “handle testing and treatment for the uninsured.”

The solution seems simple: Either expand the COVID-19 exception to cover all illnesses, or expand the Medicare program to cover all Americans. Either step would ensure that no Americans would forgo health care due to an inability to pay.

Via Othwerwords.org

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We Don’t Need Another Oil Pipeline https://www.juancole.com/2021/06/dont-another-pipeline.html Sun, 13 Jun 2021 04:01:01 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=198340

The fight over a northern Minnesota pipeline project could have global repercussions.

By Sonali Kolhatkar | –

( Otherwords.org ) – A decades-old pipeline called Line 3, run by the Canadian company Enbridge, is in the midst of a controversial upgrade. That has sparked fierce resistance from Indigenous communities living along the route.

Line 3 is being replaced to transport nearly 800,000 barrels of dirty tar sands crude oil per day from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. The pipeline cuts across northern Minnesota, where the Anishinaabe people have treaty rights to hunt, fish, and harvest wild rice and maple syrup.

The United States has more pipelines, both existing and planned, than any other nation on earth. Some of these — like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines — have become major sources of protest.

Indigenous leaders are now calling on all Americans to demand an end to the Line 3 project as well. One of them is Nancy Beaulieu, co-founder of the Resilient Indigenous Sisters Engaging (RISE) Coalition, and the northern Minnesota organizer for 350.org.

“As Indigenous people, we have the inherent responsibility to protect the waters and all that is sacred,” she told me. And as settlers — people who signed those treaties with our ancestors — [other Americans] have an obligation to uphold those treaties.”

According to Beaulieu, President Biden could cancel the Line 3 project with “the stroke of a pen” — and she’s perplexed why he hasn’t. Biden has pledged to slash U.S. emissions by 50 percent in less than a decade. Canceling Line 3 would help meet that ambitious goal.

In the past, Enbridge has responded to attempts at regulation with shocking contempt.

Last year in Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer demanded the closure of another decades-old pipeline run by Enbridge called Line 5. That pipeline, first built in 1953, carries more than half a million barrels of crude oil per day under the Great Lakes. It’s had dozens of leaks over the years, spilling more than a million barrels of oil.

The Great Lakes hold more than a fifth of the entire world’s fresh surface water, which remains in jeopardy as long as the aging Line 5 pipeline continues to operate. Yet rather than comply with Whitmer’s order, Enbridge simply refused to shut it down.

Enbridge is taking a similarly defiant position in northern Minnesota. The company is even paying local Minnesota law enforcement for costs related to policing the resistance. The Canadian fossil fuel corporation is essentially hiring U.S. public servants to protect their private financial interests — against the public.

Indigenous leaders like Beaulieu say Line 3 threatens their treaty rights to pristine land and water. The facts are on their side.

According to Greenpeace, Enbridge’s pipelines have leaked hundreds of times, spilling millions of gallons of hazardous material and contaminating water in at least 30 cases. The original Line 3 project caused the largest inland oil spill in the nation’s history in Minnesota in 1991. And Line 5 dumped hundreds of thousands of barrels of tar sands into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010.

Meanwhile, fossil fuel companies have been laughing all the way to the bank. Since 1990, the world’s top four oil and gas companies have accumulated nearly $2 trillion in profits.

However, the climate justice movement is slowly turning the tide.

A Dutch court recently ordered Shell — one of those top four — to slash its emissions by 45 percent by 2030 in a historic case that could inspire similar legal challenges. Another, ExxonMobil, is being challenged internally by a shareholder who ousted at least three board members over the company’s climate policies.

Joining such efforts are on-the-ground movements like the one opposing the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota.

“We are going to peacefully resist this pipeline, and we’re calling on all our allies across Turtle Island to come here to northern Minnesota,” Beaulieu said, using a Native American term for North America. “Treaties don’t only protect us as Native people. They protect those people that signed the treaties as well.”

Sonali Kolhatkar is the host of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. This commentary was produced by the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and adapted by OtherWords.org.

Via Otherwords.org

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

PBS Newshour: “Pipeline battle brews in Minnesota between Indigenous tribes and a major oil company

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Defund the Pentagon, Too https://www.juancole.com/2020/06/defund-the-pentagon.html Sat, 27 Jun 2020 04:02:05 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=191744

Over-funding police has terrorized people of color and left communities less secure. Can the same not be said of the Pentagon?

(Foreign Policy in Focus) – When Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced a resolution recently to cut $350 billion from the Defense budget, the only media outlets that covered her bill were independent progressive ones.

In a statement on her website Lee said, “For years, our government has failed to invest in programs that actually keep our country safe and healthy. The prioritization of defense spending and the underinvestment in public health has led to 10 times more deaths from COVID-19 than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Corporate news outlets such as CNN or the New York Times, which have been extensively covering the national uprising against police brutality, simply ignored this story — just as they ignored police brutality for so long — and failed to connect Lee’s idea to slash the military budget to the prevailing demand to “Defund the Police.”

But the analogies between our domestic law enforcement and our military are glaringly obvious. Just as cities around the country have diverted obscene percentages of their budget into keeping their local police departments flush with cash while starving school districts and public services, the federal government has poured ever-increasing amounts of our tax dollars into the Pentagon.

When President Donald Trump came to power, one of his first announcements was to demand cuts to education, environmental programs, scientific research, and other social services that benefit Americans — and divert $54 billion more into the already-bloated U.S. military budget. By 2018, Trump had succeeded in increasing the military budget by $165 billion over two years with both parties in Congress eager to throw even more money into the United States’ war-fighting machine than the president had asked for.

The funding was so ridiculous that by the end of 2018, the military was scrambling to spend all of its money.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit earlier this year, the consequences of years of military spending at the expense of social spending became staggeringly apparent. All the talk of military readiness as justification for appropriating hundreds of billions of tax dollars meant nothing in the face of an invisible virus. Our military may have been ready for a traditional invasion, but our nation was woefully unprepared for a pandemic (earlier administrations had foreseen such a scenario and been better prepared than the Trump administration).

Today, with tens of millions of unemployed Americans, many of them now without health care, unable to pay rent, barely helped by the $1,200 stimulus checks that Congress and Trump approved, the consequences of overfunding the U.S. military and overfunding police departments have come home to roost.

The United States may have the best military in the world, but it also has the highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths, and a health care system that is frighteningly unprepared to cope with the crisis compared to other nations. American cities may have police officers that are equipped with the most sophisticated protective riot gear, but its nurses and doctors struggle to obtain the bare minimum of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to fight the coronavirus.

The contrast was so outrageous that even a fashion magazine pointed out how “One Police Officer’s Riot Gear Could’ve Bought PPE for 31 Nurses,” and wryly commented, “When it comes to spending, the U.S. has made its priorities clear.”

When George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked a massive national uprising against racist police violence, the overfunding of police departments became starkly obvious to Americans.

Not only did cities increase their reliance on well-armed and unaccountable law enforcement officers for all manner of emergencies, but they also deployed what amounted to a domestic army against the very people whose taxes pay for police. Scenes of violence from city after city have shocked Americans about the brutality that police casually inflicted upon unarmed Americans, leaving death and serious injuries in their wake. Nearly 100 cities used tear gas—banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention—against protesters.

The overfunding of both police and military collided in the worst way on the streets of Washington, D.C., when Trump brought in the armed forces to supplement local law enforcement against peaceful protesters, and Senator Tom Cotton made a call, amplified by the New York Times (in a move the paper now regrets) to “Send in the Troops.”

Every month, working Americans watch as a chunk of their paychecks is diverted to state and federal treasuries, and once a year Americans dutifully fill out tax forms and reconcile their tax bills. It is the American citizenry that provides the dollars to outfit the U.S. military and local police departments with weapons of war and pay the salaries of troops and officers. That same population lives hand-to-mouth in a nation with no universal health care system and with poorly funded school districts, whose nurses and teachers are constantly desperate for resources while soldiers and police officers enjoy expensive equipment.

As we rightly demand that cities defund their police departments and divert that funding into social services, shouldn’t we also make a similar demand to defund the U.S. military and divert its funding into federal programs that actually help Americans?

Perhaps the reluctance to take on military spending comes from a misplaced sense of nationalism, stoked for years by pro-military propaganda that equates love of country with love of the military. After all, when the pandemic first hit the United States, bringing with it a wave of despair, a bizarre show of military strength in the form of fighter jets saluting health care workers was supposed to comfort us.

Few Americans saw the gesture as a symbol of misplaced priorities. The U.S. military is so well-funded that it could afford to waste time, effort, energy, and equipment to distract terrified Americans from the mass deaths that were projected. But that hideous death toll (that is well on its way to fulfilling the grim predictions) is directly a result of our misplaced priorities in shoveling more and more money into the military. Yet there was hardly a peep of opposition to the brazen display.

Just as policing in America has historically targeted people of color and continues to do so, the U.S. military has historically been used to wage war on non-white nations, and continues to do so from Vietnam to Iraq. Both forces are instruments of control, domination, violence, and destruction, and both are overfunded at the expense of programs that nurture, heal, educate, and increase equity.

For years, Americans placed great faith in law enforcement (more so white Americans than black Americans). Pro-police propaganda in the form of TV shows like (the now canceled) “Cops” has been widely popular. But just as opinions dramatically shifted on police in a matter of weeks, the same can happen with the U.S. military. Indeed, there are already conversations around our definition of “national security” and how our overreliance on the military left us unprepared for the pandemic.

Just as Black Lives Matter activists put forward what they called “People’s Budgets” that prioritize public services over policing, activist groups like the Poor People’s Campaign have put forward a “Moral Budget” that diverts funding from the military toward constructive services such as education and clean water. From the city level to the federal government, the analogy between defunding the police and defunding the military is apparent — if we are willing to see it.

Originally published in Monthly Review Online.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the host and producer of Uprising, a popular, daily, drive-time program on KPFK, Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Featured photo: Jim Mattis / Flickr

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