• To Reduce Crime, Joe Biden Wants to Fund Local Communities—and the Police

    Susan Walsh/AP

    Addressing the nation Wednesday afternoon, President Biden unveiled a multifaceted plan to curb gun violence, following a 30 percent increase in homicide rates in 2020. Biden promised to crack down on firearms dealers, expand community-based programs, and work to provide jobs and housing for formerly incarcerated people.

    Despite the announcement’s progressive tilt, the announcement makes clear that Biden wants to increase funds for the police.

    To “help address violent crime,” the plan notes, the Treasury Department allows for the $350 billion in state and local funding in the American Rescue Plan to be used on cops. Local officials can hire more police officers, prosecute gun crime, and invest in technology that aids in policing. A fact sheet for Biden’s violence reduction plan states that “this strategy will use the Rescue Plan’s historic funding levels and clear guidance to help state, local, territorial, and tribal governments get the money they need to put more police officers on the beat.”

    “This is not a time to turn our backs on law enforcement or our communities,” Biden said in his presser.

    This approach concerns some activists. While many praise the community-based aspects of Biden’s plan, they worry that adding “more police officers on the beat” could result in disproportionate arrests in communities of color. The rise in mass incarceration was directly tied to tough-on-crime policies, which were often framed as a solution to rising violence.

    “We have concerns about elements of the plan that could very well lead to the further criminalization of communities of color,” Udi Ofer, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Justice Division, said in a statement. Ofer lauds Biden’s emphasis on funding community programs to address the root causes of gun violence, but he points out that government efforts targeting drug and weapons traffickers often result in the overpolicing of low-income communities of color. Take, for example, Washington, DC, where a 2019 plan to crack down on gun violence was selectively enforced in three predominantly Black neighborhoods, rather than citywide.

    As my colleague Samantha Michaels wrote last year, increased policing isn’t the only way to effectively crack down on gun violence. Oakland has seen success in reducing shootings through a program, Operation Ceasefire, that identifies those most at risk of committing violent crimes and offering them “access to housing, jobs, medical care, and life coaches, plus a monthly stipend if they accomplish goals like signing up for health insurance, opening a savings account, and staying in touch with probation officers.”

    “Moments like these have fueled our nation’s mass incarceration crisis,” Ofer writes. “This time around, we should be guided by evidence of what works, and not let the politics of fear drive our nation’s criminal justice policies.”

    A previous version of this article misstated the amount of funding available. It is $350 billion, not $350 million.

  • India Walton, Socialist and Former Nurse, Is Set to Become Buffalo’s First Female Mayor

    India Walton Campaign

    In what’s shaping up to be a stunning upset, India Walton, a socialist candidate running her first political campaign in Buffalo, New York, appears set to defeat four-term incumbent Byron Brown in the city’s Democratic mayoral primary. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Walton has a lead of 1,507 votes.

    The 38-year-old progressive challenger is now on track to become the city’s first female mayor and the country’s only socialist mayor of a major US city.

    As my colleague Andrea Guzman wrote ahead of the race, Walton, who counts Missouri Democratic Rep. Cori Bush as a role mode, is a lifelong Buffalo resident, a former nurse, and the founding executive director of a local land trust: 

    In her first 100 days, Walton has promised to sign a tenant’s bill of rights that would install a tenant advocate and institute rent control. She wants to remove police from responding to most mental health calls. She plans to declare Buffalo a sanctuary city. She would be the first woman to be Buffalo’s mayor. While there are other radical mayors in the United States, Walton would be the only socialist mayor in a major city.

    Walton was spotted celebrating as her campaign declared victory late Tuesday. “I won! Mommy, I’m the mayor of Buffalo!” she told her mother in a conversation captured on video and posted to Twitter. On social media, notable progressives including Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York City socialist, congratulated Walton on her likely win.

    Brown, who refused even to debate Walton ahead of Tuesday’s election, has yet to concede. For more on the country’s (likely) next socialist mayor, be sure to read Andrea’s insightful piece here.

  • “Impeachment or Death”: Scenes From Brazil’s Massive Protests Against Bolsonaro

    Protesters remember the 500,000 death from Covid-19 in Brazil.Isabela Dias

    On the day Brazil recorded its 500,000th death from COVID-19, thousands of Brazilians took to the streets to protest the government’s disastrous response to the pandemic. This is the second round of large nationwide demonstrations in 20 days calling for the impeachment of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and for better vaccine rollout. Protests organized by grassroots movements, political parties, and unions are scheduled to take place in at least 400 cities across the country. 

    In Rio de Janeiro, it was hard to spot a single protester not wearing a mask. The crowd gathered next to a monument remembering the anti-slavery resistance leader Zumbi dos Palmares and marched along one of the main avenues of Rio’s historic Downtown neighborhood all the way to the Candelaria Church, the site of a 1993 massacre of children by the police. Mothers and fathers with their children joined the chorus of “Bolsonaro genocide.” An estimated 70,000 people attended the protest in Rio on Saturday.

    A group of vaccinated octogenarians who fought against the military dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s once again hit the streets in the name of democracy. Student leaders held black and white pictures with the faces of people who disappeared during those years of repression. Bolsonaro, a former army captain who has appointed several military officers to key positions in his government, has repeatedly glorified the dictatorship and praised a notorious torturer from that era. Protesters also remembered Marielle Franco, a Black councilwoman and human rights activist from Rio de Janeiro whose murder in 2018 remains unsolved, and voiced support for former President Lula in a potential run for the presidency in 2022. 

    A man holds a flag in honor of Marielle Franco, a Rio de Janeiro councilwoman murdered in 2018.

    Several demonstrators carried handwritten signs blaming Bolsonaro for the half million deaths. Since the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, he has called the coronavirus a “little flu,” ignored public health measures, promoted disproven treatments, and turned down early vaccine deals. “If the people are protesting amidst a pandemic it’s because the government is more dangerous than the virus,” read one of the signs. One mother wrote: “I’m vaccinated, I don’t want to bury my children.” So far, less than 12 percent of Brazil’s population has been fully vaccinated.

    Milady Bonfim de Jesus, 63, said she campaigned hard against Bolsonaro during the 2018 elections and is concerned about the president’s efforts to discredit Brazil’s electronic voting system, which she helped develop as an IT analyst at the Federal Data Processing Service (SERPRO), ahead of next year’s vote. Bonfim de Jesus has received only her first shot of the Covid-19 vaccine. “I’m scared of the virus, but I’m here,” she said. “What about the 500,000 people who died? I’ve lost friends and neighbors of 30 years. If there are other protests, I’ll be back.” 

    Holding a sign with the words “impeachment or death,” the teacher Helena Hawad, 58, described feeling angry, tired, sad, and fearful. “There’s too much symbolic violence,” she said. “It’s unbearable. We can’t wait any longer. It’s too dangerous.” 

    Milady Bonfim de Jesus with a sign blaming Bolsonaro for 500,000 deaths.


    Woman in shackles carries sign saying: “I don’t want to become a death statistic. The shackles belong to you.”


    Demonstration against Brazil's government in Rio de Janeiro.
     

    “No bullet, no hunger, no COVID. Bolsonaro out!”

    A crowd of protesters walk in Downtown Rio de Janeiro.

    Protesters demand Bolsonaro be ousted.


    “Food on the plate, vaccine in the arm, genocide in the Hague Tribunal.”

     

  • The House Voted to Finally Overturn the 2002 Iraq War Authorization

    Doug Mills/New York Times/Getty

    Congress gave George W. Bush approval to invade Iraq in 2002 and, for the better part of two decades, lawmakers have shown little interest in repealing it, even as presidents from both parties widen the scope of that approval far beyond Iraq’s borders. Presidents now regularly initiate conflict without congressional approval and legislation like the 2002 AUMF—or “authorization for use of military force”—is a major reason why. 

    But Democrats in Congress hope to put the genie back in the bottle. The House voted Thursday 268-161 to repeal the 2002 declaration, sending the matter to the Senate, where it faces its best chance of success in years. All but one Democrat supported the measure, and 49 Republicans voted in favor.

    “Congress has for so long failed to do its most basic functions of oversight and responsibility in exercising its war powers,” says Stephen Miles, executive director of Win Without War, an advocacy group that supports the repeal effort. “Anytime it’s doing something in that vein, it should be commended.”

    Lawmakers like Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) have long pushed to roll back the president’s war powers, but rarely have these efforts gathered much support in Congress. Part of the problem was the tendency for presidents from both parties to lean on the legislation as an ostensible legal justification for initiating conflict in the Middle East. 

    The United States declared the Iraq War over in 2011, but the AUMF lived on, serving as a legal rationale for Barack Obama’s campaign against the Islamic State and Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate a top Iranian general. Trump’s presidency lit a fire under Democrats, who voted twice to repeal the 2002 AUMF in the House, but those measures failed to clear the Republican-controlled Senate. 

    This year, Lee and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) spearheaded a parallel effort to finally put the 2002 AUMF to bed. Its chances of passing the 50-50 Senate are not extraordinary, but House Democrats are confident enough in its success that, for the first time, they are unveiling the declaration as a standalone bill, instead of an amendment to the annual defense policy bill.

    “In Washington, the 2002 AUMF has become somewhat of a zombie—an authorization that has long outlived its purpose yet still lurks among U.S. laws and poses a danger to the country’s interests,” Lee and Kaine wrote in a joint op-ed for Foreign Policy. “We owe it to U.S. troops to ensure military action is in the national interest before Congress continues to send them into harm’s way using outdated justification.”

    One element working in favor of the repeal effort is—surprisingly—the Biden administration. A White House statement said the repeal “would likely have minimal impact on current military operations,” a statement that gives Senate Democrats room to support the bill while also indicating the volume of options available to a modern president to conduct war without oversight.

    Another benefit: the bill’s potential to attract Republican support. It’s already been approved by 49 House Republicans, and in the Senate Kaine’s effort is supported by Republicans such as Todd Young (Ind.), Chuck Grassley (Ia.), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Mike Lee (Utah). Conservative groups like the Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity have rallied their political network to the cause alongside left-leaning groups like Win Without War. 

    A successful repeal would signal a bipartisan commitment to reining in presidential war powers, but the effect would still be mostly symbolic. When Biden ordered airstrikes on an Iran-backed militia in Syria, the White House justified his actions as an extension of his constitutional authority as commander in chief. He didn’t feel the need to reference a congressional authorization, but if he did, he could just have easily leaned on the 2001 AUMF, which the Trump administration believed would justify an attack against Iran, despite the legislation referring obliquely to al-Qaeda and Taliban.

    Presidents have a menu of options to pursue conflicts abroad without running it by Congress first. But even if this repeal effort won’t substantively change that state of affairs, it is—as Miles put it—a “no brainer” first step. 

  • Why Are Moderate Democrats Channeling the Ghost of Paul Ryan?

    Rep. Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden at their vice presidential debate in 2012. David Goldman/AP

    In 2011, Ayn Rand acolyte, amateur weightlifter, and then House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan proposed cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. One year later, former Bain Capital CEO Mitt Romney pledged to do the same while running for president—and then picked Ryan as his running mate. Nearly a decade and one massive Trump tax cut later, President Joe Biden wants to raise corporate taxes from 21 percent to 28 percent.

    The problem is that moderate Democrats have another number in mind: 25 percent.

    The 25 percenters include the usual suspects of moderate Democrats—Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—plus Sens. Mark Warner and Jon Tester. And the president appears ready to go along with them, saying last month that he’d take a corporate tax rate as low as 25 percent. It’s a victory for a Romney-Ryan agenda that should have been further discredited by yet another decade of exploding inequality. 

    In 2017, I covered the tax bill that Republicans pushed through Congress without any Democratic support. Trump’s bill reduced the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, while doing almost nothing to make up for the lost revenue by closing loopholes. Republicans also let many business owners deduct 20 percent of their business income when they pay individual taxes instead of corporate taxes. More than 60 percent of the benefits of the so-called pass through deduction will go to those in the top 1 percent, according to the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Only 4 percent will end up in the pockets of the bottom-two thirds of Americans. Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation projected that the corporate tax cuts plus the pass-through deduction will cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years. 

    On the individual side, the law was loaded up with handouts to the ultra-rich like a provision that doubled the estate tax exemption level from $11 million per couple to $22.4 million per couple. According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the end result is that the law will give people in the top 1 percent a $61,090 tax cut in 2025, which works out to a 2.9 percent increase in after-tax income. Average Americans can expect to get $910, a 1.3 percent income boost. 

    After the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act became law, the Congressional Budget Office projected that it would cost $1.9 trillion over ten years—even more than the $1.5 trillion anticipated while the bill was being debated. The full cost will likely be even higher. In a shrewd piece of legislative maneuvering, Republicans made the corporate tax cuts permanent but allowed the individual cuts to expire after 2025. Congress will face tremendous pressure to renew them since not doing so will be framed as a Democratic tax hike.

    The budget the White House unveiled last month leaves much of the Republican tax cut intact for now. It doesn’t touch the estate tax change or the pass-through deduction, opting instead to let them expire after 2025. Biden did call for making it harder for companies to shelter profits in tax havens and raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, the same rate Barack Obama proposed during the 2012 campaign as part of a plan that would have also closed corporate tax loopholes. Those and other corporate tax changes Biden is proposing would raise more than $2 trillion over 10 years, according to the White House budget. 

    There are many reasons for pushing corporate taxes back up. First, the costs will be disproportionately borne by wealthy Americans who’ve seen their wealth skyrocket during the pandemic. Meanwhile, corporate profits are at record highs and still climbing. The many loopholes companies use to avoid paying today’s already low rate is a whole other issue. 

    But even Biden’s modest bump is aspirational. Before the White House budget was released, Manchin said he and other moderate Democrats feel “very strongly” about making sure the corporate tax rate doesn’t go above 25 percent. Biden, who has no Democratic votes to spare in the Senate, has now said he’s willing to accept that level. 

    It gives us what we’ve got today. Historically low corporate taxes make it easier for companies to book record profits. Then much of those profits are passed on to the top 1 percent of Americans through increased stock values and dividends. As ProPublica revealed last week, the Bezoes and Musks of the world manage to pay almost no taxes on their windfalls. 

    Faced with this reality, moderate Democrats have decided the corporate tax rate should stay where Republicans wanted it a decade ago. Congratulations Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney. You might have lost the White House, but you won the ideological battle.

  • Facebook Makes an Awkward Legal Argument in Dispute With Muslim Advocacy Group

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday October 23, 2019 Washington, D.C. Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

    In April, the civil rights group Muslim Advocates sued Facebook and four of its top executives for failing to implement the company’s pledge to remove hate groups from the platform. Now, Facebook is looking to get the case tossed out, with its team of superstar lawyers making boundary-testing legal arguments about the breadth of the social media company’s legal immunity.

    The allegation against Facebook is essentially fraud. In 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress that “if there’s a group that—their primary purpose or—or a large part of what they do is spreading hate, we will ban them from the platform.” Not long before, Muslim Advocates had sent the company a list of 26 anti-Muslim groups on Facebook. As Zuckerberg made his promise, 23 remained active. Specifically, the group argues that Zuckerberg and other executives deceived Congress under oath by claiming the company removes hate groups from the platform when they learn about them.

    Here’s the crux of the case, as Mother Jones reported in April:

    In a complaint filed in DC Superior Court with the civil rights firm Gupta Wessler, Muslim Advocates lays out numerous instances where Facebook was alerted to anti-Muslim content that violates the platform’s rules but failed to remove it. The complaint contrasts these incidents with statements from CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other top officials promising—including in sworn testimony to Congress—that when Facebook becomes aware of content that violates its policies, it takes it down… 

    That gulf between promises and practices, the suit alleges, is illegal under the District of Columbia’s expansive consumer protection statute. “Facebook’s executives might believe that they are legally entitled to operate a social media platform that acts as a cesspool for hate,” the complaint states. “But what its executives certainly cannot do is misrepresent to Congress, national civil rights leaders, and its users in the District of Columbia that Facebook does, in fact, remove or take down content that violates its own standards and policies while routinely refusing to do so. Facebook has no free license to make false or deceptive statements.” 

    Facebook denies any wrongdoing and is asking the court to toss out the case. Representing the tech company are two giants of the legal world. The lead counsel is Donald Verrilli, the former US Solicitor General under President Barack Obama, whose clever arguments before the Supreme Court saved the Affordable Care Act. After serving at the “mountaintop” of American law, he joined a law firm that often represents Facebook. 

    Also representing Facebook is former prosecutor Jonathan Kravis, who recently made headlines for his successful prosecution of Donald Trump ally Roger Stone. Kravis resigned from the Justice Department after then–Attorney General William Barr undercut career prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation for Stone. Trump later pardoned Stone.

    Defending Facebook, Verrilli and Kravis have brought a possibly winning but definitely awkward argument to the fore. It hinges on a broad interpretation of the hotly debated Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This section of the 1996 law—which members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are currently interested in revising—protects internet companies from liability for third-party content published on their websites. Verrilli and Kravis argue that because Muslim Advocates’s claim involves Facebook’s handling of third-party content, the company is immune. 

    “Plaintiff attempts to avoid the CDA by asserting misrepresentation claims based on statements that Plaintiff alleges are false and misleading because of Facebook’s purported failure to ‘remove hateful and harmful content’ from its platform,” Verrilli, Kravis, and a third attorney write in their motion to dismiss. “Courts have consistently rejected such artful pleading where, as here, plaintiff’s theory of liability turns on decisions by the defendant regarding third-party content, and therefore treats the defendant as the publisher of that content.” 

    Essentially, Facebook is arguing that it can’t be held liable in court for misrepresenting to Congress how it handles third-party content. This is an inopportune argument to make when both Republicans and Democrats want to reform Section 230 and rein in the power of Big Tech. Just this week, the Senate confirmed Lina Khan, a progressive critic of big tech, to the Federal Trade Commission on a broad bipartisan vote. If Verrilli and Kravis are right that Congress created a law that allows internet companies to misrepresent themselves to lawmakers, then they might be more inclined to change the law.

    This argument is particularly notable coming from Kravis. In 2019, he secured Stone’s conviction for lying to Congress. Now, he’s arguing that, under certain circumstances, his new client can get away with just that.

  • Cops Tased and Tackled Black Teenagers Just Because They Were Holding Vapes

    Ocean City Boardwalk in 2020Caroline Brehman/Congressional Quarterly/Zuma

    This weekend, police officers enforcing a vaping ban violently arrested four Black teens in Ocean City, Maryland. 

    Police tackled and repeatedly kneed a 19-year-old on Saturday while arresting him for “failure to provide necessary identification” after allegedly vaping tobacco on the Ocean City boardwalk. Video shows police yelling at the man to “stop resisting” even as he lay restrained on the ground by at least two other officers. Police then arrested two other teens for disorderly conduct and one for “standing on private property next to two ‘no trespassing signs.'”

     

    Videos of the police tasing and kicking the teens have gone viral on social media, leaving many to ask whether the use of force was an appropriate response to one person’s alleged vaping. Ocean City cops defended their actions in a press release, saying, “Our officers are permitted to use force, per their training, to overcome exhibited resistance.”

    In May, the Ocean City Council banned smoking and vaping marijuana products in public places, in addition to its existing ban on tobacco use. Ocean City has billed itself as a “family-friendly resort town”—this is another way of saying that Ocean City is 95 percent white—and has taken to passing ordinances against things like vaping to uphold its self-image, as if vaping were more of a civic blight than cops manhandling teenagers. The city is home to many restrictive ordinances, including a ban on skateboarding, cycling, or rollerskating on the boardwalk outside of specific time slots in the summer.

    When the city first put in place smoking restrictions on the boardwalk in 2015, the city manager said that police wouldn’t “haul people off to jail for smoking on the Boardwalk.” It seems times have changed.

  • Marco Rubio Will Defer Your Student Loans, But Only if You Survive a Terrorist Attack

    Michael Brochstein/Zuma

    Who needs student loan forgiveness when you can have your payments deferred for one year, with no decrease in total debt, so long as you’ve survived a terrorist attack?

    Today, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) reintroduced legislation, called the Terrorism Survivors Student Loan Deferment Act, which would do just that. He said in a press release, “Giving survivors some time to regroup by delaying their student loan payments is just commonsense.” It’s also the bare minimum.

    As my colleague Hannah Levintova wrote yesterday, canceling student debt is one broad policy that won’t disproportionately benefit wealthy households. Just the opposite: The authors of a new study “found that at each proposed level of cancellation—$10,000, $50,000, or the $75,000 proposed last year by the Roosevelt Institute—those with the least net worth would see the biggest benefit.”

    In case you were wondering, per the proposed legislation, “a victim of a terrorist attack is an individual who is designated as a victim of a terrorist attack by the head of the Federal agency that is handling the investigation of the attack.”

    The FBI defines terrorism as “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” In other words, if you survived a bombing or a mass shooting perpetrated by someone with no particular motive, well, tough luck.

  • Sorry Louie, We Can’t Alter the Earth’s Orbit to Fix Climate Change

    Caroline Brehman/Congressional Quarterly/Zuma

    Any armchair environmental scientist will tell you that the most crucial thing we humans can do to stave off the destruction of the planet is to stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But that hasn’t stopped people from hatching harebrained and entirely unfeasible schemes to reverse the damage we’ve done.

    Some say we should set up machines to suck carbon dioxide out of the air, a technology that is still in its infancy, and currently too expensive to be feasible on a large scale, among other drawbacks. Maybe, others suggest, we should undertake massive geoengineering projects, like spraying reflective particles into the atmosphere to block sunlight.

    Or maybe, as Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) suggests, we should simply alter the Earth’s orbit.

    During a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on Tuesday, Gohmert asked a National Forest Service representative, “Is there anything that the National Forest Service or BLM can do to change the course of the moon’s orbit or the Earth’s orbit around the sun?” He added, “Obviously, that would have profound effects on our climate.”

    Jennifer Eberlien, the Forest Service’s bewildered associate deputy chief, replied, “I would have to follow up with you on that one, Mr. Gohmert.”

    A 2001 article in The Guardian actually discusses the concept of harnessing the gravitational energy of an asteroid or comet to push the Earth a little farther a way from the sun. But there’s a reason this idea has rarely been discussed in the past 20 years: Any minor misstep by NASA—which, uh, never makes mistakes—could send the comet or asteroid hurtling into our planet. In a thorough analysis of the prospect, The Conversation suggests that it would be easier to colonize Mars.

    Or we could just stop burning fossil fuels.

  • “The Sights Were Unimaginable”: The Senate Releases a Sobering Report on the January 6 Insurrection

    Ardavan Roozbeh/ZUMA

    Two Senate committees have released their long-awaited, bipartisan report investigating the January 6 attack on Congress by Trump supporters over the certification of the 2020 presidential election. The report, as expected, includes a list of recommendations for boosting security and intelligence-sharing practices after the insurrection at the Capitol more than five months ago. It also reveals that federal agencies had intelligence about plans to attack the Capitol and their “potential for violence” well in advance of January 6.

    “According to information provided to the Committees, officers received little-to-no communication from senior officers during the attack,” the review read, adding that, “For hours the screams on the radio were horrific, the sights were unimaginable, and there was a complete loss of control…For hours NO Chief or above took command and control.”

    It’s important to note that the investigations by the Senate Rules committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee are different, and much more limited in scope, than the proposed independent bipartisan 1/6 commission that Mitch McConnell and fellow Senate Republicans filibustered last month.

    While we comb through the key takeaways from today’s report, you can take a look at the full findings below:

  • The Supreme Court Just Made It Much Harder for Certain Immigrants to Get Green Cards

    Protesters march from New York City to Washington DC, to the US Supreme Court.Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty

    In a unanimous decision on Monday, the Supreme Court eliminated one of the few paths to a green card for immigrants with Temporary Protected Status who entered the United States unlawfully. TPS offers humanitarian relief against deportation and provides work authorization for about 400,000 citizens from 12 designated countries—including Haiti, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Burma—that have been impacted by extraordinary circumstances such as armed conflicts or environmental disasters.

    In Sanchez v. Mayorkas, the justices upheld the decision from a lower court regarding two El Salvadoran nationals, Jose Sanchez and his wife Sonia Gonzalez, who came to the United States in the late 1990s. They have held TPS status since 2001, when the US government included the country in the program following a series of catastrophic earthquakes, and they have a US citizen son. But when they applied for a green card in 2014 that would have granted them permanent residency, it was denied based on their unlawful entry. “Because a grant of TPS does not come with a ticket of admission,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote, “it does not eliminate the disqualifying effect of an unlawful entry.” 

    The decision came as blow to immigrant rights activists and attorneys who say tens of thousands of people who have lived and worked in the United States for decades now will be left in limbo. Immigrants with TPS who entered legally on a student or tourist visa, for instance, are still eligible to apply for a green card in the United States if they have a qualifying sponsor like a family member or an employer. 

     

    The decision attempted to resolve a disparity within the various circuits of the US Court of Appeals. When Sanchez challenged the denial of their petition for a green card, a District Court in New Jersey sided with them and found that TPS recipients should be considered as having been “inspected and admitted” lawfully into the country. But the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the favorable decision holding that “a grant of TPS does not constitute an ‘admission’ into the United States.” It further stated that “as its name suggests, this protection is meant to be temporary.” But up until now, TPS holders in states like Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, and California, among others under the jurisdiction of the 6th, 8th, and 9th circuits, have been considered to be eligible for permanent residency from within the United States without having to apply for re-entry through consular processing abroad—even though they may have entered unlawfully. 

    As Justice Kanagan noted in the opinion, legislation pending in Congress could resolve the issue for the TPS holders who were affected by this decision. Under the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, non-citizens with TPS or those who are eligible for it on or after September 2017 and meet certain requirements would be allowed to apply for a green card. The standalone bill passed the House in March, but faces an uphill battle in the Senate. 

    “Although this is a huge blow for one of the only available avenues for our families to adjust their status, this will not deter our struggle for obtaining green cards for all TPS holders,” Claudia Lainez, a TPS holder from El Salvador and regional organizer for the National TPS Alliance said in a statement. “This news only emphasizes the fact that Congress must act now to guarantee permanent protections and for President Biden to expand the TPS status to everyone who deserves it.” 

  • Investigation: Wait, Who Are the “Internet Stars” at This White House Social Media Briefing?

    SOPAImages/Getty

    When the White House tweeted last night about their “first-ever social media briefing” between Press Secretary Jen Psaki and 11 “internet stars,” the internet wrote back a resounding “who dis?”

    I, a reporter and youth, decided to investigate who I am being told is influencing me.

    It was an expedition into the unknown. Apart from the Property Brothers—whose faces I recognize solely because my parents love to watch couples bicker over houses until their eyes glaze over—I couldn’t name a single creator.

    I used advanced research tools (reading, Google) to produce this list:

    There’s more. Skinner, known as Benny Drama, produces satirical videos notably of Kim Kardashian. Stratton who Psaki calls “a member of the dad community” runs lifestyle site, for dads. Zilber a Georgetown freshman, has 2.3 million Instagram followers and is a UNICEF Young Ambassador. Nice. Good for them. But I don’t know these people.

    While waiting for the briefing on “jobs and the economy” to begin, I wondered to myself about which millennially-minded person within the Biden administration cobbled together this disparate group and what they might be able to illuminate about the country’s future. I, a millennial sun, Gen Z rising, am clearly not the target audience. Who is this for then?

    Over the course of the nearly one hour briefing, Psaki hosted a Q&A style discussion with the creators who asked about how Biden plans to help working families, students, Dreamers, and lower-income Americans. Psaki, who wellness entrepreneur Hannah Bronfman called a “boss lady,” answered each question by directing the creators to the President’s American Families Plan. Building on the American Rescue Plan, the AFP is Biden’s proposal to support families and students by making two years of community college free, ensuring universal pre-K education, and boosting paid family leave among other investments.

    Of course, it wasn’t just a proposal pitch; it was a chance for Psaki to show a little humor, proposing that we “bring back capes” and that she’s a “candy spirit animal.” During the briefing we learned that Jonathan Scott, one half of the Property Brothers known for dating Zooey Deschanel, believes himself to be the more attractive of the twins.

    At worst a bit of cringe, the briefing signals a larger shift within the Biden administration to invest in engagement with younger, online focused audiences about the President’s plans—even if that has nothing to do with what my hyper online peers engage with. But then again, I don’t know anyone besides myself tasked with this blog post, who willingly tuned in.

    The truth is that internet stars are just stars, full stop. Perhaps in the past, when the internet was for the select few (geeks) a million followers would mean something. But the divide is over. If you’re big, you’re big. The appeal of the summit is less about the internet as a demographic and more about trying to get into all the tiny crevices of fame possible.

    In late May, Biden appeared alongside Dr. Anthony Fauci to dispel COVID-19 vaccine rumors in a similar way, hoping on a show with YouTubers like beauty influencer Jackie Aina and Coyote Peterson, one of the hosts of Brave Wilderness and a wildlife educator who is known for willingly getting stung and bitten by poisonous species.

    It reminded me of the Obama era. He hosted similar briefings throughout his presidency with YouTubers (whose names I recognize) like Tyler Oakley and Hannah Hart. Two days after giving his 2015 State of the Union address, Obama met with four YouTubers to discuss free education, cancer research funding, and net neutrality. At the end of the interview, Steve Grove the director of Google News Lab thanked Obama, “We hope your successor follows in your footsteps and goes straight to the American people.”

    We all know how the other path ended: Trump’s vitriolic Social Media Summit featuring QAnoners and conservative influencers roving the halls of the White House.

    It’s kind of nice to return to this soft cringe.

  • Facebook Will Extend Trump Ban Until at Least 2023

    President Donald Trump gives a final wave as he boards Marine One before departing the White House for the last time on January 20. Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    Donald Trump will not be making a triumphant return to Facebook and Instagram anytime soon. Facebook announced Friday that Trump’s ban will last until at least January 2023. At that point, the company says, it will reassess whether to let the former president back onto its platform.

    The social media giant blocked Trump from posting to Facebook and Instagram indefinitely on January 7, after he used the platform to incite the January 6 US Capitol insurrection. It then referred that decision to its new Oversight Board, a panel of independent human rights experts, to decide Trump’s fate on the platform. But last month, the Oversight Board tossed the decision back to Facebook. 

    “At the end of this period, we will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president for global affairs, wrote in announcing the company’s decision. “We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest. If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded.”

    Pushing Trump’s possible return to January 2023 means that the former president will not be able to post to Facebook or Instagram during the 2022 midterm election cycle, likely blunting his ability to influence those elections.

  • Facebook Intends to Crack Down on Bullying Politicians: Report

    Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/Zuma

    Facebook intends to reverse the policy that exempts politicians from content moderation on its platform, the Verge reports. The social media giant’s decision comes weeks after its oversight board criticized the lack of standards guiding the company’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump.

    Facebook has avoided moderating the speech of elected officials, it argues, because their public statements are inherently newsworthy. The policy was criticized as giving politicians carte blanche to sow disinformation, especially in the wake of Trump’s false claims of election fraud and his alleged incitement of the January 6 MAGA mob in the nation’s Capitol.

    The new policy still won’t subject politicians’ posts to fact-check reviews, the Verge reports, but it will allow moderators to enforce Facebook’s rules against behavior such as bullying. Exactly how this will work in practice remains to be seen.

  • A Texas Valedictorian Spoke Out Against an Abortion Ban at Commencement

    Texans protest a restrictive abortion bill outside the State Capitol in Austin on May 29.Bob Daemmrich/Zuma

    Paxton Smith, the valedictorian of Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, scrapped her planned speech this weekend to give an impromptu address about the necessity of women’s autonomy over their own bodies.

    Smith criticized the six-week abortion ban that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month. The law, which does not include exceptions for rape or incest, is subject to litigation and likely will not take effect as written. Still, it’s part of a worrisome trend of states chipping away at abortion rights in attempts to challenge Roe v. Wade.

    “Before [women] have the chance to decide if they are emotionally, physically, and financially stable enough to carry out a full-term pregnancy—before they have the chance to decide if they can take on the responsibility of bringing another human being into the world—that decision is made for them by a stranger,” Smith said. “I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter.”

    “I cannot give up this platform to promote complacency and peace when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights,” she said, to cheers and applause, “a war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your daughters. We cannot stay silent.”

    Watch the video.

  • Wave Goodbye to Donald Trump’s Blog, Which Lasted One Month

    Trump waving goodbye, presumably to his blog

    Donald Trump waves goodbye to his website.Orit Ben-Ezzer/ZUMA Wire

    Last month, former President Donald Trump, who has been banned from both Twitter and Facebook, announced a major breakthrough in his fight against impulse control—a new website that could be continually updated throughout the day with short posts with his thoughts on the news. Many people at the time said this was “actually just a website” or, more specifically, “a blog” and not, in fact, a visionary disruption of internet publishing. But now they can no longer say either of those things, because www.DonaldJTrump.com/Desk is defunct.

    Per CNBC:

    The page, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” has been scrubbed from Trump’s website and “will not be returning,” his senior aide Jason Miller told CNBC.

    “It was just auxiliary to the broader efforts we have and are working on,” Miller said in email correspondence.

    I wouldn’t trust Miller to tell me what day of the week it was, so I had to see it with my own eyes. But I checked and it’s true—the innovative micro-blogging platform Donald-J-Trump-forward-slash-Desk is now gone. It’s been replaced by a signup form to receive updates from Trump’s political action committee.

    The through line of Donald Trump’s politics was pettiness and cruelty to those that he and his supporters considered insufficiently American. But the through line of Trump’s professional life is that he prefers the illusion of substance to the real thing. As a developer, many his signature properties were other people’s buildings. He was the winner of fictitious awards and the preservationist of a fictitious battle. His “university” was sued for fraud. He rode into office on the strength of his reputation as a businessman, even though it was mainly just a part he played on a slickly produced TV show. His net worth was reportedly smoke and mirrors. In office, he held elaborate signing ceremonies for meaningless orders and claimed others’ successes as his own. Of course the innovative new communications platform was just a blog, and of course the blog was hardly even that—it wouldn’t really be a Trump product if it were anything else.

    And of course Miller’s public line was eventually undercut by something perhaps a bit more real: Trump had ditched the website, a source told the Washington Post, because so many people had made fun of it and no one read it.

  • Benjamin Netanyahu Might Finally Lose

    Netanyahu

    Yonatan Sindel/Pool via AP

    After more than 12 consecutive years as prime minister, it looks like Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure as the head of Israel’s government may finally be coming to an end. On Sunday, Naftali Bennett announced that his right-wing Yamina Party would break ranks with Netanyahu’s Likud Party and would instead attempt to form a coalition government consisting of an array of parties from the political center, right, and left. And, for the first time in history, the government would likely be propped up by support from a party, Ra’am, that largely represents Arab citizens of Israel. If the effort is successful—it could still be scuttled by defections from a handful of members of Israel’s parliament—it would be nothing short of a political earthquake.

    Netanyahu was first elected in 1996, not long after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist. He was defeated in 1999, then returned to office a decade later. Since then, he has led the Israeli government through six elections, three wars in Gaza, and his own ongoing corruption trial. He has engaged in anti-Arab rhetoric, allied himself with overtly racist extremists, vocally opposed Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, and forged close ties with Donald Trump.

    The news comes barely a week after Netanyahu agreed to a cease fire with Hamas following the most recent war. As the Washington Post explains:

    Their announcement follows the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip this month, which some analysts speculated would help bolster the embattled Netanyahu. At the outset of the fighting, Bennett, a former Netanyahu protege who had been poised to join a unity government with Lapid, said the military operation, which killed more than 250 Palestinians and 12 Israelis, had ended his interest in joining with the anti-Netanyahu coalition, which has the support of left-leaning and Arab parties.

    But after an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire took hold May 21, criticism of Netanyahu surged again. Some 47 percent of Israelis said they opposed the cease-fire and 67 percent said they expected another round of fighting with Hamas within the next three years, according to opinion polls published last week by Israel’s Channel 12.

    Netanyahu’s rivals said the operation lacked a coherent or long-term strategy and that Netanyahu’s failure to stop Hamas rocket fire from raining down on Israel or secure the remains of Israeli soldiers was further proof of his need to leave office.

    “With the best intelligence and air force in the world, Netanyahu managed to extract from Hamas an ‘unconditional cease-fire.’ Embarrassing,” tweeted Gideon Saar, another former Netanyahu protege now with the change coalition.

    If Netanyahu’s opponents do manage to oust him later this week, Bennett would likely serve as prime minister for two years, after which he would be succeeded by Yair Lapid, a centrist. What exactly all this means for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unclear. Bennett is a former leader of Israel’s settler movement who opposes Palestinian statehood. On Sunday, he promised that the new government would be “more right-wing” than Netanyahu’s.

  • Vaccination Rates Are Going Back up Thanks to the Teens

    Justin Lemus, 15, posed for a photo with his vaccination sticker after being inoculated with the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Mount Sinai South Nassau Vaxmobile parked at the De La Salle School, Friday, May 14, 2021, in Freeport, N.Y. Mary Altaffer/AP

    After vaccination rates declined earlier this month, the United States’ campaign to get every American inoculated against COVID-19 got a much needed boost from the youths.

    According to the New York Times, 2.5 million children aged 12 to 15 have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine and 23 percent of kids aged 12 to 17 have received at least one dose. Earlier this month public health experts began fretting about declining vaccine rates as most of the adults who wanted a vaccine were able to access one. Now the concern is about how to get the message to anti-vaxxers and how to reached historically underserved communities.

    Vaccine rates began to climb again after Pfizer authorized children ages 12 and up to receive the shot and parents, eager for their children to enjoy some semblance of a summer vacation, quickly signed them up for their shots. Of course, some of that cohort have parents who have refused vaccination themselves and will not sign their kids up. However, other children are helping their peers navigate the waters of wanting to be vaccinated but unable to do so because of their parents’ misguided beliefs, by arming them with scientific and factual information to help sway their parents. Arin Parsa, the 13-year-old founder of Teens for Vaccines told NBC News that the group has been “in the trenches helping many teens who face vaccine-hesitancy as well as extreme anti-vax views in their families.”

    As a former teenager, I fully understand the importance of summer: Hanging out with your pals in an empty parking lot, endlessly annoying your family by blasting music from your bedroom, and that feeling you get when you’re developing a new crush. It’s unlikely that the pervasive misinformation about vaccines will go away anytime soon, and with thousands of new infections and hundreds of death each day, we’re not out of the woods yet, but the increase in vaccines among children is still great news. Get your kids vaccinated and let them have a magical summer. They deserve it. 

  • Republicans Are Passing Laws to Keep Teachers From Talking About Race

    Texas Gov. Greg AbbottBob Daemmrich/ZUMA

    The absurdity of the Republican Party’s culture wars has reached new heights. A slew of GOP-led state legislatures are enacting new laws that ban teaching “critical race theory” an academic framework that has become the latest conservative boogeyman.

    Do you want to learn about racism, discrimination and privilege? Well, Republicans are trying to make it really hard to do so with a slew of bills designed to muzzle educators. In Texas, House Bill 3979 would limit how teachers talk about current events and historic racism in their classrooms. It also bans schools from teaching the 1619 Project, a New York Times endeavor which investigates US history starting with the year the first slaves were brought to what would become the United States. After some political maneuvering, the controversial bill appears to be headed to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. 

    But in Oklahoma, where a critical race theory ban has  taken place, the effects have already been chilling. Melissa Smith, an adjunct professor at Oklahoma City Community College, recently learned her race and ethnicity course had been “paused” for the summer. “Our history of the United States is uncomfortable and it should make us uncomfortable and we should grow from that,” Smith said in an interview with the Washington Post. But the community college has stated that since the new law “essentially revokes any ability to teach critical race theory, including discussions of white privilege” Smith’s curriculum would need substantial changes. 

    Other Republican-run states like Tennessee and Idaho have enacted similar bans. The rush to ban schools from teaching students about the realities and horrors of how race functions in this country is a response to the major upheaval of last year. Not only did the murder of George Floyd spur massive racial justice protests across the street, Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election. These events were helped, in part, by a new understanding of racism and white supremacy in America, the very ideas the Republican Party is trying to ban. The GOP is handling defeat not by moderating its views or crafting concrete policy—instead, the so-called party of freedom is trying to silence speech. 

  • People Are Starting to Travel Again and They’re Acting Like Assholes

    Michael Wade/Icon SMI/ZUMA

    Southwest Airlines announced it would not resume alcohol service on its flights. The airline had stopped serving alcohol during the beginning of the pandemic, but was set to rescind that policy next month—until a passenger assaulted a flight attendant last week. The incident was just the latest in a disturbing rise of unruly and dangerous passengers on planes.

    According to the Port of San Diego Harbor police, a woman was arrested on felony assault charges after striking a flight attendant. “The passenger repeatedly ignored standard inflight instructions (tray table in upright position, seat belt, etc.) and became verbally and physically abusive upon landing,” a Southwest Airlines spokesperson said in a statement. The suspect has been banned from the airlines. Sonya Lacore, the airline’s head of in-flight operations, decided “based on the rise in passenger disruptions in flight, I’ve made the decision to re-evaluate the restart of alcohol service on board.”

    Southwest isn’t the only airline experiencing a rise in horrible customers. The Federal Aviation Administration announced that since January 1, the agency has received 2,500 reports of “unruly behavior” with 1,900 of those being passengers refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate. In a January incident, a passenger on an unidentified airline shoved a flight attendant who was walking down the aircraft’s aisle to ensure each passenger was complying with the mask mandate. The FAA has announced penalties as high as $15,000 for disruptive customers.

    As vaccine rates climb and local governments lift restrictions, more people are traveling. But that also means more people are engaging in troubling behavior. “We’ve never before seen aggression and violence on our planes like we have in the past five months,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said in a statement. “The constant combative attitude over wearing masks is exhausting and sometimes horrific for the people who have been on the front lines of this pandemic for over a year.” 

    It’s exhilarating to see public life resume in a quasi-normal way, after a year of being unable to see our family and friends. But in a classic case of This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, some people are choosing to treat the return to widespread travel as a chance to act like utter jerks. The coronavirus restrictions were tough, but at least it forced many of the nation’s assholes to stay home.