The Environment 2020 Elections Inequality

President Trump’s four year long war on science needs to come to an end

The past four years have been irreversibly affected by efforts from the Trump administration to limit the use of science in policy making. During this administration’s tenure all of the progressive climate reforms made by its predecessors have been reversed – the United States removed itself from The Paris Agreement and the wildfires raging across the West Coast have doubled in size causing the forced evacuations of more than 90,000 residents. To make matters worse, these fires show no sign of slowing down as increased emissions from heat-trapping gases have led to warmer and drier conditions in the area. The flames which have torn across the West Coast thus far in 2020 indicate the most active fire season on record. As the climate warms, the wildfires will continue to grow larger and more frequent. Still, President Trump denies the enormity of the threat presented by climate change. Our nation cannot afford another four years of his environmental inaction.

Both presidential debates last month included questions regarding climate change, prompting the candidates to speak on their plans to rectify the situation. But here’s the thing—there is no rectifying it. Global warming has worsened with every passing year since at least 1950. The only viable option left—apart from laying in the grave which has been dug for all living beings—is to try to slow down the progress of global warming and not allow the earth to become entirely unlivable for the future generations. Perhaps this is a classic case of too little, too late.

Since taking office President Trump has invalidated the well-known fact that carbon dioxide emissions are caused by human activities, labeling it “alarmist.” Instead, he has held onto the American coal industry as well as domestic oil production for dear life, therefore accelerating fossil fuel development. On the debate stage a few Thursday’s ago, the president proudly stuck up his faux green thumb and proclaimed that his fervent solution to save the environment is to plant more trees.

On the other hand, Joe Biden’s plan is only a little less ashy. His campaign promises a strict reduction of net carbon emissions through the creation of new energy-efficient homes and electric vehicle charging stations—but there is a big discrepancy. The former vice president cites support of the promotion of clean energy while simultaneously assuring voters that the jobs associated with natural gas production will remain secure. So, he must be lying to someone. A real transition from fossil fuels toward renewable energy will inevitably result in the elimination of the oil and coal industries. At the rate in which the world is warming, this elimination might need to come sooner than we’d expect, leaving millions of working class Americans out of work. But, at least it’s a step away from immediate and total destruction of the earth.

The hottest year ever recorded was in 2016, with 2019 coming in a close second place by less than one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit. Right now, there is an increased urgency to implement real change because doom is impending. Whoever winds up in the Oval Office next must plan for the economic pitfalls that will come along with such a change—but nonetheless ensure that the change happens, and fast. That is why it is imperative that all U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote do so today. In more ways than one, we hold the fate of the world in the palms of our hands. 


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USA Action Guide The World

Here’s what you need to know about the land back movement this Indigenous Day

For those of you, like me, who don’t live in the United States, here’s the background: Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer and navigator. In 1492, he arrived on the shores of what is now known as Puerto Rico where he was met by the Taino people.

Columbus recognized the prestige which he and his people had been given and took advantage of it. He kidnapped many people from the native tribe and sent them back to Europe to work as slaves. This began a period in history in which many people such as the Danish, British, French, and Spanish would stake their claim to the American continent through genocide, slavery, and colonialization. The Indigenous people who lived there suffered starvation, massacres, attempted assimilation, and abject poverty for most of their lives due to the inhumane treatment by these colonizing forces for so-called ‘development’.

So, fast forward and now we are in 2020. While the world is gripped in a pandemic, the USA has begun to unravel its history with race and society. From the Black Lives Matter protests to the handling of the pandemic by Donald Trump, the USA is finally realizing that there are serious problems within the foundation of its society. Representative Deb Haaland from New Mexico has put forward a bill named ‘The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy in the United States Act’. This is an effort to bring attention to the impact of the Boarding School system on Indigenous Communities in North America, and would be a historical bill that will finally force people to see the damage of America’s roots as opposed to complacency.

One of the largest movements currently is the 1492 Land Back Movement. The movement is advocating for the US government to return Indigenous land back to its rightful owners (owners is used as a very loose term as many people believe that one can never own the land as it is not anyone’s to own) especially those of sacred and historical significance. This movement has already begun to set precedents; the return of 3 million acres of land equating to half of Oklahoma was returned to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. This was a historic decision as the area also includes Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second-biggest city. In July 2020, the Esselen tribe of Northern California gained back 1,200 acres of land in yet another historical case.

It’s not a coincidence that this is happening. The people are finally standing up for their rights and beliefs like we have seen so many do before them. Looking back to this past 4th of July when the people of the Lakota Sioux stood in defiance of the President and protected the Black Hills from him and his supporters.

My people are still struggling with freedom. We are split across three states because of colonialization, with the Kohinoor diamond in Queen Elizabeth II’s crown.

Even though great strides have been made, there is a lot of work that has yet to be done. The Black Hills are still under the control of the US Government; a direct violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, and of the Supreme Court ruling in 1980.

So here’s what you can do to help:

Sign petitions:

This one focuses specifically on the return of the Black Hills.

Educate yourself!

It wasn’t until I completed my undergraduate degree that I realized how colonized my education was. So, I read as much as I could. I shared these books and articles with as many people as possible. Authors of color provide invaluable information that you can’t receive from white sources.

Share your resources!

I pass whatever I read to the people around me because everyone deserves access to this information. Like so many of us did during the peak of the BLM movement, it is time we read up Indigenous history. We can only be allies and supporters if we learn. So many of us outside of the US and Canada were not even aware that this was happening.

Donate to bailfunds!

I understand that this is not feasible for everyone but any steps you can take is enough:

O’odham water and land defenders arrested while halting border wall construction which was threatening sacred site.

NDN collective announces Black Hills bail and legal defense  fund following Mt. Rushmore arrests. 

There’s always something more we can learn about others. I am a firm believer that you cannot expect people to understand you if you aren’t willing to do the same. 2020 has been one of the most awful years, but its also been a year of amazing things.

Let’s make it the year to make a big movement towards decolonization.

Family Coronavirus Gender & Identity Life

This pandemic has robbed me of a sense of home

Four months ago, I left home with a promise to come back.

I left with masked tears, excitement for a new year marred by a prick of unease that never went away no matter how many times I had done the same thing. It is the same dance over and over again at the beginning of every semester, I would long to stay behind, have a little more time with my family, only to finally board the plane to the promise of new classes, better chances and busier days.

Two months ago, I left another place I called home, saying a forever goodbye.

My roommates had hastily moved out of our dorm, and I sat in an empty room with packed suitcases waiting for my ride. I stared at our bare walls. They were closing in on me, suffocating me until I forced my eyes away and glanced out of the window, feeling a bit like Rapunzel stuck in some tower waiting for an escape.

Two more destinations, a constant fear of ending up homeless, two overweight suitcases that now contain my entire life, and multiple teary sleepless nights later, I often wonder – where and what is my home?

People try to define “home” often. They do so in the form of cringy hallmark movies and romcoms, wall décor that you receive as housewarming gifts, and self-help books targeted at middle-aged white suburban moms. But I never really questioned it until I left my home – it suddenly feels like a label of false security.

Being able to call a place yours – whether that place is a country, building, a group of people, a community – is a privilege, and like every aspect of privilege, you never really know you had it until you lose it, or are confronted with the absence of it.

When I first came to the US as a college freshman and a new international student, I was constantly reminded that this was not my home. Every time I was asked where I am from, questioned about my accent or got my British spelling corrected, I was made aware that my home is elsewhere. But I didn’t mind. I had a home in Sri Lanka, a beautiful family, and supportive friends. It was a home where I did not have to explain myself every time I did something that is remotely “South Asian” or “non-American.” I did not have to mask my opinions with niceness, or constantly be aware of the color of my skin, the way my words sound and whether I call it the pavement or the sidewalk.

But when you live in a place long enough, it grows on you. It is like a vine that creeps up on you slowly and you never notice it until it has surrounded you and becomes a part of yourself. By the second year of college, I was not quite sure if my home was firmly in Sri Lanka anymore. Of course, I still had my life there, and whenever I went back, I had the comfort of walking around in flip flops under the scorching sun, familiarizing myself with the honking of the cars and casually slipping back to Tamil like I was speaking it every day while I was away. But I recognized that I missed Iowa. I missed the way people opened their doors for me, the cornfield jokes, the cheap pasta from downtown, and the rustic smell of fall. I had realized that while I had my home back in Sri Lanka, I had also made a home in Iowa, and while it felt strange – and a little scary – I understood that duality of my life, of what I call home.

Then the pandemic hit. When I got the official email from the university announcing that classes were going online and that the residence halls would be closing, I couldn’t think straight – I cried. Sri Lanka had gone into lockdown, and suddenly Iowa did not feel like a second home anymore. I thought I was going to be homeless. Kind friends in Iowa City, my savings, the stability of my on-campus job, and the sanity that online classes gave me kept me afloat.

I skipped houses, packed my entire life away in two suitcases and a hundred boxes that were all dispersed to four different locations, and stayed awake every night worried about the next day – of what I was going to do, what I was going to eat. For two weeks I lived alone, and one night I wondered if I did not wake up the next day, how long would it take anyone to notice?

Now I live in a room that is not mine, posters of people I do not care for adorn the walls. I’m afraid to mess up the order of things and living out of suitcases because I am scared to unpack, ready to be on the move once again if I need to. I feel like a vagrant, like a kite whose string has been cut adrift, lost in this liminal space of longing and waiting. I wonder if Iowa was ever my home – if that sense of comfort was so false that I had been betrayed into believing that I could make a home away from home in this country.

In late April, President Donald Trump announced the plan for an immigration suspension. There was a sense of panic among friends who had gone back home, of the uncertainty of not being able to come back. I stood in that threshold of being able to make a decision, when it was really a false sense of choice because my decisions were being made by governments and policies, while I sat like a puppet going back and forth between my desires, torn between two homes, questioning the security and longevity of both, the weight of the answer chasing me as the semester drew to a close.

Each day I feel like a clock is ticking, each morning I wake up to monotony. Groundhog Day suddenly feels like a horror movie. I pass my days and find solace in memes and Tik Tok videos that my friends send my way. I listen to the same songs over and over again and feel disgusted by the greasiness in my hair. I dream of Sri Lanka – of sunny beaches, sounds of traffic, and the heat of the sun. I wake up in a bed that is not mine, hurry up to check my phone to see if anything has changed and let a sense of disappointment and displacement wash over me, all over again.

USA Politics The World

Betsy DeVos’ new proposal will harm all future campus sexual assault investigations

The implementation of proper Title IX protocols has historically been a rocky road, but the new rules published this week by US Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, sets us back dramatically in terms of progress. Title IX is the clause which applies to both state and local educational institutions that receive federal financial assistance. Its intention is to protect students from discrimination on the basis of sex, including the handling of any sexual assault cases that fall into the school’s jurisdiction. Now, under the rewritten proposal, which was released on May 6th, the way that colleges respond to sexual cases will be inherently favorable to the accused, leaving survivors in the dust yet again. 

In 2011, the Obama administration released the “Dear Colleague” letter, which was their guidance on how schools should comply with Title IX. This suggested mainly that schools use a “preponderance of the evidence” burden of proof standard when deciding sexual harassment cases, which means that the accuser is responsible to provide evidence that indicates the high likelihood of the assault (as opposed to the much harder to prove “clear and convincing” evidence standard, which puts much weight on the accuser to show that the accused had committed misconduct). 

This letter was a hard-won acknowledgment of the severity of sexual misconduct in a campus setting and brought upon a more serious concern for sexual assault at the federal level. But we weren’t out of the woods yet. 

Men’s rights groups and other sympathizers for accused students argue that the main suggestions of the “Dear Colleague” letter denied the accused due process. They claim that victims of sexual assault and violence could be lying and are therefore the real perpetrators. What makes the opinions of these groups even more terrible is that they commonly are allied with people of importance and who are in high positions of power. 

To be clear, statistics show that among undergraduate students, “23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.” Of those survivors, more than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault. The notion that a large number of claims and complaints are false is highly skeptical, given that the National Sexual Violence Resource Center says that the prevalence of false reporting on sexual assault is between 2% and 10%. Which, the resource center also notes, is a conflated number due to inconsistencies in definitions and protocols. 

When Betsy DeVos assumed the position of Education Secretary in 2017 and held meetings to discuss Title IX, she was not committed at all to maintaining the protections from the “Dear Colleague” letter. In fact, she scoffed at them. Then, in 2018, the Trump administration unofficially announced that the Education Department would be pulling back from those Obama-era guidelines. DeVos praised the new rules which manipulate what is at the core of Title IX. She was convinced that the guidelines from the previous administration were a civil rights violation and favored false accusers, because, according to her, people often make false claims for popularity or to ruin the life of someone out of dislike, utterly disregarding the terror, trauma, or injustice that survivors endure.

Time and time again, this government has proved that it is uninterested in protecting and supporting vulnerable student survivors, or survivors of any kind. These regulations ignore psychology and fact, and contrary to conservative belief, survivors are more likely to feel shame or embarrassment after an assault, and are not immediately emboldened to report the incident. 

DeVos’ proposal received much pushback from survivors and advocacy groups like the #MeToo movement. These new rules will land unfairly and unjustly in favor of the accused to protect the institution from liability and would dissuade victims from coming forward with their accusations out of fear. 

Furthermore, the final official version that was released on May 6th came out at a time in which schools across the country are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. As a result of these widespread closures, universities don’t have any preparation time before the rule takes effect. It will be extremely difficult for all colleges to implement this rule without face-to-face contact and for students to express concern or find the necessary resources to understand and cope with these new developments. DeVos’ theory is that colleges should have seen this coming, given the original announcement in 2018. If restrictions on face-to-face contact continue, schools would be expected to conduct hearings and investigations remotely, which allows for a lot of bias and ignorance. 

These new regulations go into immediate effect on August 14 and are broadly un-different from the 2018 proposal. They effectively allow perpetrators and schools to flee from responsibility. At the same time, the rules also subject survivors to additional trauma and therefore make campuses feel unsafe for most women.

 To put it frankly, the regulations are incredibly silencing. 

For one, the legal definition that constituted harassment during the Obama-era was an “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.” DeVos’ is much more narrow, however, citing that harassment is an “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.” As if the literal assault wasn’t restricting enough for victims. 

DeVos is headstrong in her belief that her proposal restores balance and fairness in a system that is skewed in favor of the accusers. Apparently, to those who appear to only be able to muster up some empathy for the young, usually white, college-age boys who feel so entitled that they go around harassing women and impede years of trauma on them, her method will be more transparent. 

The new guidelines require colleges to respond to allegations in a more formal, court-like, setting where the accused is able to cross-examine the accuser. In addition, it is up to the discretion of the school to decide which burden of proof to rely on when judging complaints.

It gets even worse. The rule also makes sure that institutions are only legally required to investigate complaints if they are made to the proper authorities. Plus, much of the rule is left up to the interpretation of the school. So, any incident that takes place at a Greek-life or other school-sponsored event that happens to be off-campus would be subject to Title IX proceedings, but incidents that take place off-campus between two students on their own would not be considered for Title IX procedures. 

The new rules, in their very nature, ignore the emotional severity of a person coming forward with an allegation and refuse to hold the accused accountable for their actions. This is a regurgitation of power back into those who have always had it, and therefore works to reverse any progress towards equity that has already been made.

Coronavirus Race Inequality

America’s COVID-19 protests are a lesson in hypocrisy

On August 9th 2014, Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot an innocent, unarmed, black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, MO. For many in America, this terrifying incident was just a glimpse into the severe racial discrimination that black people regularly face in the hands of an oppressive system. I remember what happened afterwards, when that neighborhood rightly broke out into a protest that lasted for weeks, which prompted parallel spouts of #BlackLivesMatter activism in similar neighborhoods. I remember the tear gas and rubber bullets that the police, wearing riot gear, confronted protesters with, and I remember the military style tanks that were deployed by the Missouri National Guard to quell those protests. 

I watched again in 2016, when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem at games, opting to kneel instead, in protest of this country’s treatment of racial minorities. He is quoted by NFL Media to have said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people are getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Many other athletes followed suit. 

I remember President Trump fanning the flames of white supremacy when he said that Kaepernick should leave the United States and “find a country that works better for him.” From that moment on, Kaepernick was the one who was labeled by a large sanction of Americans as being unpatriotic and disgraceful. 

Then, in 2017, neo-Nazis gathered for the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA. Hundreds of white nationalists joined forces to protest the removal of Confederate monuments, bearing torches and shields. As the night progressed it turned bloody. One counter-protester and two police officers died, others were badly beaten. Two days later, during a press conference, President Trump said, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.” 

Fast forward to this week, and I have seen and continue to see thousands in states like Michigan, New York, California, Nevada, and Illinois rally against statewide stay-at-home orders amidst the coronavirus pandemic that has so far taken the lives of nearly 70,000 Americans. None of those among the “anti-lockdown” and #reopen protests are donning facemasks or practicing safe social distancing. 

This video is just one snippet from the protests this weekend, but it speaks volumes. None of these police officers are in riot gear, there appears to be no army tanks, and the protesters are not met with tear gas or rubber bullets. Those who are participating in the anti-lockdown demonstrations are aggressively close to officers and are even behaving viciously while putting their hands on them. But nothing happens to them. These protesters, who are historically the ones who respond with “just obey authority” when a black person is beaten or murdered at the hands of the police, are displaying their ignorance for world to see. The cops too are somewhat unable to see danger when it comes to white people, even when the danger is clear, because that is the narrative that has been ingrained into our society. Meanwhile, according to that same narrative, there is an ever present danger when it comes to black people, even when no danger exists.

This is hypocrisy in America.

In Michigan, angry protesters who want the stay-at-home order that has been in place since March 23 to end forced their way into the statehouse. Many were armed gunmen, carrying confederate flags, and wearing Trump/MAGA gear, while waving signs that read, “Give me liberty or give me COVID-19”. The crowd attempted to move up to the second floor of the Michigan Capitol building, where Governor Gretchen Whitmer was, but they were met by police blocking the door. 

The predominantly white demonstrators, though a minority opinion in their state, are mostly concerned about the economy. They are frustrated and feeling oppressedwhich is quite a conflationby the current lockdown order. They would like to see some normalcyOf the protests in Michigan, President Trump tweeted:

What about the families who have lost loved ones to this virus, don’t you think that they are very good people who want their lives back again? 

Or, better yet, what about the community in Ferguson who watched while Michael Brown’s body laid in the street for hours under the August heat after he was murdered in front of them. America should have given in a little. America should have put out the fire a long time ago. These are, indeed, very good people. They are the ones who are angry, every single day because of the reality they face. They want their lives back, safely. 

And, if we really wanted to talk about patriotism, the anti-lockdown protesters would, in a just world, be the folks that are at the brunt of those “find a country that works better” remarks. These unpatriotic and disrespectful demonstrations are being done at the expense of Americans who are working and risking their lives on the frontline. The protesters are effectively going against everything they ever claimed to have stood for except for one… racism.

USA Editor's Picks 2020 Elections Media Watch Politics The World

The media has the power to paint a narrative—even with a sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden

The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom. 

Only some media outlets and respective principled journalists dare to publish the stories that others would spike or hang low on. It has become more and more apparent to me that the news is an industry. Like any other business, news organizations cannot stay afloat without stable finances or ties to people with a great deal of power. This has become increasingly more clear in recent weeks. Alexandra Tara Reade is a former staffer from Joe Biden’s senate office who alleges that Biden sexually assaulted her at work in 1993. On March 24, 2020, The Intercept bravely published Reade’s story, stating that she had been vocal about her allegations months prior and had even lodged a complaint back in 1993. She has also mentioned that there were witnesses who can confirm her allegations. At the time, Reade felt she had no choice but to go quiet after intense pushback and pressure – much of Reade’s private life and finances have been scrutinized through the years. While Biden’s presidential campaign continued, she began to reconsider her silence, calling it her civic responsibility to share her story. 

Two days after the initial article was published, another journalist posted an hour long podcast interview with Tara Reade, where she discussed the event in its entirety. Since these were made public, mainstream media organizations have been remarkably slow on acknowledging her allegations. The New York Times finally broke its silence on April 12th, nearly 19 days after the story first entered the news cycle, and only at that point did other major news organizations follow suit. The paper claimed that they had been conducting in-depth reporting on the topic during that time interval. 

It is as if there is a vested political interest, or maybe some sort of internal strife, on the surface that is keeping the media far away from this story. While smaller, independent, publications have covered Reade’s story extensively since it first broke, none of the reportage around this story has mirrored that of the explosion of coverage around other prominent sexual assault allegations against political figures.

The article written by the The New York Times was particularly striking to me. The headline reads, “Examining Tara Reade’s Sexual Assault Allegation Against Joe Biden.”  Immediately, this insinuates some sort of skepticism. Most organizations appear to be hesitant to believe this particular survivor. 

There is no ethical standard for a newsroom to follow when covering stories like this, since every allegation is different and therefore is determined on a case by case basis, but I do believe that timing and verbiage is important. The press plays a huge role in enabling certain things to blow up while keeping others at bay, or within a certain lens, which holds true in this case, based off of the rhetoric used.

The day that the The New York Times published its article, April 12th, 2020, the paper also posted an accompanying thread of tweets on twitter that have since been deleted. One, that I found to be particularly telling, read, “No other allegation about sexual assault surfaced in the course of our reporting, nor did any former Biden staff corroborate Reade’s allegation. We found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Biden, beyond hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.” 

Other woman have been vocal about alleged inappropriate, sexual, interactions with Joe Biden. Most of their statements discuss unwanted kisses, hair smelling, and hand placement. They also talk about them feeling embarrassed, stating that his behavior towards them was just another example of that which makes many women feel uncomfortable and unequal in the workplace. Their names are Lucy Flores, Amy Lappos, D.J. Hill, Caitlyn Caruso, Ally Coll, Sofie Karasek, and Vail Kohnert-Yount. In April of 2019, Biden posted the below video on twitter in response to some of those allegations. To date, Biden’s campaign manager and communications director, Kate Bedingfield, has denied Tara Reade’s allegation saying, “he firmly believes that women have a right to be heard—and heard respectfully. Such claims should also be diligently reviewed by an independent press. What is clear about this claim: it is untrue. This absolutely did not happen.”

The New York Times forgot to mention in its article that those aforementioned instances of “hugs, kisses, and touching” that made women uncomfortable ARE patterns of sexual misconduct by Joe Biden. It is quite obvious that those kinds of acts are not ones of endearment, but rather they are assertions of power. Perhaps, during those 19 days that the paper spent conducting such intensive interviews, it could have spoken with some sort of trauma or women’s specialist. This person could have also provided the context necessary to establish why Tara would have been so hesitant to come forward with her allegations, especially with regard to the stigma that existed around such topics in 1993 and all that a person might endure when speaking up. More of the paper’s reluctance is shown through the quotations that have been selected for print. This includes the fact that the sources used to corroborate Reade’s allegation are people who have a clear loyalty or interest in Biden not only as an acquaintance, but also as a nominee.

It is not surprising that a newspaper like The New York Times would go to such lengths to attempt to ensure that Trump would not return to the presidency after 2020. Each individual newsroom is subject to its own collective judgement and decision making. But in all of the hodgepodge that goes into political reporting, and the walls that it brushes up against, one might actually be letting go of the morals that got them there in the first place. For me, it is a little disheartening that any newspaper—not just The New York Times—known for its worldview would be hesitant with coverage around a woman with a story like this one, regardless of the politics that they might be engulfed in. Reporters should avoid political activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or that may damage credibility, which includes this kind of apparent unbalanced coverage. If an equal platform is not given to survivors of sexual assault in the media, especially when the accused is a political figure who has substantial power over the public, news organizations are not serving the public the way they intend. 

It is no secret that some news organizations lean left and others lean right, but should that direct its reporting when the story is about sexual assault allegations? I don’t think so. 

World News The World

Brazil’s president just swept 20 years of human rights abuses under the rug – here’s what you need to know

From far away, the protest can’t be distinguished from an autumn concert at the park. Samba and chorinho float through the mid-afternoon air and mothers beckon their running children back to picnic blankets. Many of the attendants, with their silver hair and striped polo shirts, look like they could have retired in Florida decades ago.

But we are thousands of miles from Tampa in São Paulo’s famous Ibirapuera Park. The multitude grows, yet, to the casual onlooker, there are few hints that this is a manifestation against dictatorship. Within the outer layer of people, only one woman sits holding a yellow poster board.

“Mini-terrorists,” the sign reads, “Is this what Bolsonaro wants?”

Under the bolded words are black and white pictures of three children. These kids are three of hundreds of people, labeled terrorists and insurgents, who were tortured and killed during Brazil’s 21-year-long military dictatorship. Jair Bolsonaro, nicknamed “Tropical Trump”, condoned the commemoration of the anniversary of the rise of the authoritarian regime.

March 31st marked 55 years since President João Goulart was forced out of office by a coup d’etat. President Dilma Rousseff, who was tortured during the dictatorship, had banned the military from commemorating the anniversary for the previous 8 years. This year, Bolsonaro repealed this order. This is one of many instances in which Bolsonaro has used the supposed lewdness and danger of left-wing ideologies to uphold populist right-wing ideas.

Nearing the stage, more and more signs appear. Most are simply blown up passport photos of young adults that went missing during the dictatorship. Printed neatly on every picture is the name of the deceased. All the way at the front, past the dense layers of the crowd, the protest is in full bloom. Dozens of photographs lay on the ground, surrounded by roses. Signs saying, “Never forgotten” and “Dictatorship never more” are scattered around the pictures. Mothers and widows wear all black to signify their mourning.

Many of them hold photos of their loved ones.

“If they are alive, where are they?” The music stops to allow one such mother to speak. “If they are dead, where are their bodies?”

The dictatorship ended over 34 years ago, yet families are still looking for answers. The political tortures, killings, and kidnappings that occurred during the dictatorship are historical fact. However, for decades, a 1979 amnesty law protected those that committed the crimes from facing prosecution. It took until 1995 for a law to be passed allowing families and friends of victims to create the Special Commission on Political Deaths and Disappearances. Even so, the law only permitted truth-seeking and reparations, meaning the crimes of the dictatorship continue to go unpunished.

Bolsonaro’s attitude toward the dictatorship strikes a particular nerve in light of the suspected assassination of Marielle Franco in 2018. Formerly a councilwoman in Rio de Janeiro, Franco and her driver were shot and killed last March. Her death signified an enormous loss for many underrepresented communities in Brazil. She was a black, gay and leftist activist who grew up in one of Rio’s poorest neighborhoods, a favela called Maré. Given all of the barriers she faced and the lack of politicians in Brazil who are poor, POC or gay, her rise in politics represented the potential for monumental shifts towards equality. Her murder is still under investigation. The parallels between Franco’s death and the assassinations during the dictatorship are not lost on the crowd. Her picture floats on banners, amongst those of who were lost.

“Marielle vive.” Marielle lives is written in red letters.

Franco is gone, but many like her continue to live and work. An administration that does not condemn and, worse yet, condones an era when hundreds of leftist Brazilians were targeted simply for voicing their beliefs, causes deep concern. Emotions run high after the relatives of the deceased are done telling their stories. The crowd begins to chant, breaking the illusion that this is just another pleasant day in the park. Later on, there will be a silent walk, but right now, everyone releases personal and political pain openly and loudly. Amongst cries of “Out Bolsonaro!” and “No more dictatorship!” begins the chant “Lula livre!” Free Lula.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, or Lula, served as president of Brazil for seven years, before Dilma Rousseff took office in 2010. Per Brazilian law, a president can serve only two consecutive terms; however, there is no limit for non-consecutive terms and Lula was free to run again in 2018. Or at least he would have been, had the Supreme Court not ruled that he face 12 years in jail for charges of corruption and money-laundering.

“No proof, no crime,” Shouts the crowd.

While Lula’s innocence is not clear, the proceedings against him happened with extremely rare swiftness. Many politicians are implicated in the same crime, called Lava Jato, including the president before Bolsonaro, Michel Temer, who took office after Dilma was impeached. Some of these politicians have undergone half-hearted investigations, but Lula was accused, convicted and arrested in a little over two years. The Supreme Court ruled that Lula was ineligible to run for president in September of 2018, only one month before the elections that resulted in Bolsonaro’s presidency.

If the posters and vigil-like atmosphere weren’t enough to indicate the nature of the concert, paying close attention to the music would give it away. Although it is openly played during Carnival and other festivities today, samba was heavily controlled during the first dictatorship in the 1930s. During the second dictatorship, that lasted from 1964-1985, Brazilian artists used their lyrics as a discrete method of evading censorship. Even so, many samba artists were imprisoned and exiled during the regime for espousing left-wing ideology. Throughout the years, artists have preserved the nature of resistance inherent in many classic samba tunes. Here in Ibirapuera, the audience proudly joins the musicians in singing.

“If I were God, better would be everything/If I were God, I would give to those who don’t have anything” Choosing to play samba during a protest is more than an aesthetic choice. The guitar strings and upbeat drum rhythm mesmerize audiences, but in the case of this concert, it also reflects the mourning and fears of the crowd. Everyone repeats the chorus of the last song over and over like a prayer, “Far, far, far away/I hear a voice/that time won’t take away.”

After the music and the chanting ends, everyone grabs their posters and lights candles to prepare for the silent walk. While everything gets organized, groups trade stories about the dictatorship.

“My brother was killed on the spot, but my aunt was really tortured…”

“In my family, it was my cousin. She was so young.”

The whole field murmurs with the memories of those who were lost to unpunished crimes. This gathering is clearly about much more than musical appreciation. But, it is also about much more than simply reacting to current events. It is a practice in collective political memory; generations are coming together not only to postulate what might happen but to remember what already did. In a climate full of political amnesia, simply recording and remembering history is a feat within itself.

According to Globo, over 45% of people aged 16-24 voted for Bolsonaro and 51% of those 25-34. It’s unclear whether young people understand the implications of voting for a president who glorifies the dictatorship.

What would they say to the three little boys who lost their lives? What would they say to their mothers?

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Trump says it’s legal to use campaign donations to pay off mistresses – until Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez delivered a brutal reality check

Unlike secret porn star mistresses and binders thrown at staff members, which are both pretty egregious skeletons to have buried in one’s career closet, campaign funding is not always a front-page scandal.

Thanks to Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s recent and groundbreaking approach to questioning during a recent House committee meeting, they might be on their way to becoming more of an issue.

At first glance, campaign funding might look like another non-issue. Particularly in America, we seem to have this attitude that our elected officials’ budgets are not as big of a deal.

After all, they earn it, right?

They spend all those sleepless nights on the floor of Congress, shuttle back and forth between their home states and the country’s capital, and pepper their speeches with reminders that they do this for us, and us alone.

The point that Ocasio-Cortez lays her fingers over during her role-play session, though, is the flaw at the core of that belief: if it is for our benefit, we shouldn’t care less about where that money comes and goes.

We should and deserve to care more.

And by “we,” I mean millennials in particular.

It is not surprising that one of the youngest members of Congress would shine a light on the murky waters of campaign funding laws, considering the ways in which this generation has found themselves growing up with lesser funds and opportunities than our predecessors.

After all, when student loan debt is skyrocketing and it’s commonplace to see friends and relatives crowd-sourcing through IndieGoGo or GoFundMe in order to secure funds for emergencies, why not question who is getting paid and how it influences their decisions?

A pivotal moment in the entire questioning was when Ocasio-Cortez briefly paused and then said, “that money,” referring to hush money gathered from corporate political action committees (PAC) funded campaigns used to legally pay off those who might testify to skeletons in politicians’ closets, “is considered speech.”

The idea of money as speech is a heavily contested one, but it holds water when you consider our current political environment. From tax breaks proposed for the wealthy to the fact that our government was shut down over a budget for the proposed border wall, there are indications of the ability of money to speak louder than real citizen voices to pepper articles, discussion, and political decisions.

Think about money as being a spokesperson for the corporation extending it, and it crying out from the pocket of the appointed official who sits down to write laws and passes judgment on the behaviors of said industry, and it is not hard to realize that this is indeed a conflict of interest.

The amount of pushback received by the Parkland activists from congressmen funded and supported over the years by the National Rifle Association is a key example of this conflict. The NRA has lowered its profile on Capitol Hill due to the increased scrutiny the gun control conversation millennials and Generation X are fueling has brought upon them.

One of the benefits in this generation being the leaders against campaign funding, and in Ocasio-Cortez’ clever role-playing speaking their language, is the fact that there is already a sense of irreverence for politics that has not been shared by prior generations.

We do not necessarily believe that these men and women deserve the money funneled their way by interest groups or private donors. We do not necessarily draw the conclusion that every check that passes over their desk will eventually result in positive efforts in our communities, or schools, or in legislation that supports our interests.

As more rights are challenged and we look forward to forging on with or without proper healthcare, a questionable job market and a struggling economy, we must think about what issues are benefiting while other efforts are deprived.

And thanks to Ocasio-Cortez, there is now a clear breakdown of exactly how and where a heavily legislated system still fails, not to mention the few regulations imposed on the powers of the executive branch.

It is long past due for campaign funding to become an issue on the table that isn’t slid aside in favor of something more titillating.

Money does talk.

And when it threatens to drown our voices and our efforts to make our lives and country better, we should be working on ways to improve the missions and agendas it speaks for.

Editor's Picks The Environment The World Policy

Your curbside recycling habits are about to change – here’s the policy behind it

In Mid-November, I checked my mail to find an interesting report from my town. They were ending their single-stream recycling program and moving to a dual-recycling program. The notice came without much warning. Moreover, the new program was incredibly restrictive about what products I could put out to recycle.

No longer would the tax-funded recycling program take things like pizza boxes or plastic takeaway containers. Additionally, they would refuse all glass recycling. Glass pickup was restricted to only 7 locations across the largest county on Long Island.

If you have a car, you can probably find one of these locations on your way to work. However, for those who previously relied on the curbside recycling that their property taxes pay for – they may be finding that their glass jars and plastic containers are just ending up in the garbage.

The restrictions have caused garbage volume to increase for many households. For people who were unprepared, they had to buy a new recycling bin to account for the bi-weekly recycling schedule. Without proper notice of the change, many people chose to stop recycling entirely – feeling as though the county was bringing too much hardship to their good deed.

What is more insidious is that much of the reason behind the change was cloaked behind vague reasoning. Rumors suggested that the county was changing their policies because recycling costs were too high. However, only a brief Google search revealed that these changes were being made across the country, indicating a more national reason afoot.

That reason is the United State’s trade war with China.

Previously, when a person recycled something that was not pure – such as oily pizza boxes or damaged take out containers, the containers needed to be cleaned. This process can be costly, and labor intensive. In the past, China would buy these materials at a cut rate, clean them, and reuse them in their own re-purposing endeavors.

Due to the cost of employing people to clean recyclables, China has been cutting back on their purchase of imperfect recycled products. However, they ultimately ended the program entirely in retaliation to President Donald Trump’s trade war.

Because it is no longer profitable to sell recycled products to China, many local recycling programs, like the one in my town, have cut back or reduced their recycling programs to only what they can profit on. Smaller communities have needed to end their recycling programs altogether.

This is an attack on the spirit of recycling. Were recycling simply about profit, there would be no incentive at all. I pay to recycle, with my time, and my tax dollars that fund the local recycling district.

Altruism need not exist purely for profit. As our oceans are overwhelmed with plastics, and the temperatures rise, the importance of recycling is more important now, than ever. With restricted recycling practices, there will be an increase in trash going to landfills, which release methane gas as garbage decomposes. Landfills account for one-third of the methane produced by humans in the United States, showing the toll that simply throwing things away has on global climate change.

Recycling cardboard boxes (whether or not they stored pizza before) is pivotal in preserving rainforests. Glass can be recycled endlessly, without an effect on purity. The process of recycling glass actually costs less than starting from raw materials, making it an easy tradeoff for many companies.

However, we rarely think of the environmental cost of our actions as a nation, only the monetary ones.

While our nation’s leaders are fighting over how to spend our tax dollars, I’ve come to realize that I rarely have any input on how my tax dollars are spent. My representative does not consider my values – and that I would rather pay for a recycling program that loses money, instead of a country-wide monument to hate on our southern border.

I’m still trying to find what is the best solution to recycle my pizza boxes. However, I think the president should be held responsible for all the wine bottles in the bin – he’s the reason they’re there.

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The government shutdown has shown us what our leaders truly value

“I don’t really feel bad about the people who are furloughed,” my father said. “I don’t think the government should be employing so many people.”

We were talking about the government shutdown, specifically the size of our government. He explained how he thought the government was too big, and how the idea of such a huge employee base being paid with his hard-earned tax dollars was appalling to him.

While I was able to help him come from the precipice of thoughtlessness, admitting that park rangers and military service members were essential government personnel, he wouldn’t budge on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

His thoughts regarding the size of our government are not rare. In fact, as the government shutdown comes to an end many people are feeling the same. Right-wing and libertarian pundits are calling for smaller government, saying that we have done fine without one this far. So why do we need one at all?

Advocates for smaller government are simply holding the shutdown as an example of why small government works. Our country didn’t spontaneously combusted or caved in on itself, so surely a smaller government is all we need.

However, the absence of an extinction-level event is not a success story. Our country was hurting, and that is a fact regardless of whether or not the president and his advisors want to acknowledge it.

[bctt tweet=”However, the absence of an extinction-level event is not a success story. Our country was hurting, and that is a fact regardless of whether or not the President and his advisors want to acknowledge it.” username=”wearethetempest”]

On January 16, 42,000 coast guard members went without a paycheck. This is the first time since the Revolutionary War that our military has not been paid while acting in defense of our country. However, the effects of the shutdown extend through all levels of government.

From IRS employees to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representatives, over 800,000 government workers went without pay during the partial government shutdown. Some were furloughed, as they were deemed nonessential.

However, many, like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at some of the countries busiest airports were still required to report to work. Like our soldiers in foreign theater, they were required to work without pay. As a result, many are called in sick causing jams at airport security.

Going weeks without pay would put anyone in a bind, let alone the most financially vulnerable. While Congress and the executive branch argue over a $5.7 billion border wall, the low-income employees that serve our country went without pay.

[bctt tweet=”Going over weeks without pay would put anyone in a bind, let alone the most financially vulnerable.” username=”wearethetempest”]

For those displaced by the recent fires in California, aid was shut down as FEMA has been ordered to halt all operations.

Many recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) received their February benefits two weeks early – halfway through January. The early push of funds to ensure benefits reached the neediest of people before funding ran out January 20th. Now, many who rely on the benefits to feed their children will be unable to put food on the table.

And as tax season approaches, over 30,000 IRS workers were ordered to work, however, like the members of the Coast Guard, the TSA, or other essential personnel, they worked without pay while the president fought for a wall we don’t need or want.

The ripple effects of the government shutdown are innumerable, and what’s more, it didn’t have to happen.

Government shutdowns are a relatively new invention. The first government shutdown only happened in 1976, two years after the national budget was placed in the hands of Congress. Since creating a hard deadline for the government fiscal year and putting the responsibility for the budget in the hands of Congress, it relies on a unanimous agreement between Congress and the executive branch.

By marrying these branches of government together, it allows for a constitutional crisis every time there is a need to fund the government. It allows Congress or the president to hold our country as a bargaining chip for their own agenda.

Today, that agenda was not just asking for a border wall, but also making an argument that our government is too large. In the eyes of those who thought this shutdown was productive, little value is seen on agencies like the IRS, SNAP, or FEMA. Further, the budget cuts that are affected the Coast Guard shows that there is little respect for the men and women who are defending our existing borders.

That is because those departments serve the people of this country, rather than the interests of bigotry and isolationism.

[bctt tweet=”Bigotry and isolationism prevail in a government shutdown. Government is established in support of the people, not in spite of them. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Those values prevailed in the shutdown.

Government is established in support of the people, not in spite of them. By holding the citizens of our country, and our country itself, for ransom we see the true motivation of our leadership. It’s without saying, Americans deserve better.

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Trump is using this woman as a political prop – but that shouldn’t surprise you

In October 2017, pop culture icon Kim Kardashian-West tweeted for the first time about Alice Johnson, a woman serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for a first-time, non-violent drug offense she had committed two decades prior. Since then, Kim has been an advocate for the release of Alice, meeting with President Donald Trump and many of his advisors to discuss Alice’s case. Finally, after months of campaigning, Trump granted Alice clemency and she was released from prison a few weeks ago.

I do believe that Alice deserved to be freed, especially considering that she only handled low-level operations for a drug trafficking ring to make ends meet after suffering several personal and financial upheavals within a short period of time. However, I can recognize that President Trump is only doing this because Kim Kardashian-West is a celebrity and because her husband, rapper Kanye West, is such a big Trump supporter.

So far, Trump has mainly used his powers to pardon or grant clemency to those who support his political ideologies and who are relatively famous and/or wealthy. For example, he pardoned former sheriff Joe Arpaio, a man who was so racist that he was convicted of illegally racially profiling Latinx people even after the court told him to stop. Arpaio was a huge supporter of Trump during his campaign, which likely plays a huge role in Trump’s decision to pardon him.

He’s also pardoned well-known conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who was convicted of violating campaign finance laws to try to elect Republican candidate Wendy Long. D’Souza is also a serious supporter of Trump. So it makes sense that, since Kanye West is such a fan of Trump, that he would grant Kim Kardashian’s pleas for him to release Alice Johnson.

Alice Johnson is only being granted clemency by Trump because she gained the attention of Kim Kardashian. If that had not happened, Alice Johnson would have more than likely died in prison, like thousands of others convicted of nonviolent drug crimes.  

Some conservatives lauded Trump’s decision, saying that granting clemency to Alice Johnson, a black woman, proved that Trump was not the racist that the “liberal media” had painted him to be. And although it is true that Alice’s clemency was an act of justice, it hardly makes up for how biased Trump is towards racial minorities, especially those in the criminal justice system.

The criminal justice system is incredibly biased against people of color, especially African-Americans, with over-policing of predominantly black neighborhoods resulting in the disproportionate arrests of black people for drug crimes, like Alice’s. Black people are also much more likely to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole, especially for nonviolent offenses, just like Alice was. The American Civil Liberties Union found that, of people serving life in prison, black people made up more than half. And when looking at life without parole for nonviolent offenses, that number was above 60%. Trump has not released any current plans to effectively address the racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Trump has, however, vowed several times to be more “tough on crime”—a phrase that has often carried racial connotations. The “tough on crime” approach has been a justification for the over-policing of non-white neighborhoods that have partially lead to the overrepresentation of minorities in federal and state prisons.

I am very glad that Alice Johnson is now out of prison and able to return to her family, but it’s still important to note that her situation would have played out much differently if her plight had not been noticed by a wealthy, white celebrity with connections to the Trump family. Trump’s clemency for Alice is just a political prop so dealing with real issues in the criminal justice system can remain unsolved.

USA Editor's Picks Politics The World Policy

Trump called immigrants “animals.” Are we headed down a slippery slope?

Two weeks ago President Trump described deported immigrants as “animals.”

Not long after, that verbal dehumanization was codified on an official White House press release entitled “What You Need to Know About the Violent Animals of MS-13.” While Trump and his supporters say he was specifically speaking about members of the gang MS-13, his track record on immigration issues leaves the possibility that he was talking about all immigrants from Central America.

And even if he was only talking about gang members, this kind of language is an extremely dangerous road to start down. 

As many people rightfully pointed out, dehumanizing language is often the prelude to real, physical violence. Consider the Nazi depictions of Jews as “rats” and the Hutu depiction of Tutsis as “cockroaches” in Rwanda. And for examples closer to home, consider the depiction of Africans as “animals” to justify their enslavement and all its attendant brutality.

The argument over whether or not Trump was specifically referring to MS-13 members is semantic and mostly unimportant. The bigger issue is that people are people, regardless of who they are or where they are from, regardless of who they are, where they are from, or what they have done. And people have rights. In some cases, when people have been convicted of crimes, their rights are abridged, such as when people are imprisoned. The process by which we do that in the U.S. is tainted by systemic racism already. Categorizing any person as nonhuman will only make the abuses of our criminal justice system worse.

In 2016, a man died of dehydration in a Milwaukee County jail. Then-Sheriff David Clarke, who ran the jail, and his deputies had denied the prisoner, Terrill Thomas, water for seven days. Others in the jail reported hearing Thomas crying out and begging for water for days before his death. Clarke has been a vocal Trump supporter, and the president is likewise a fan of Clarke’s: Clarke was in talks for a position in the White House last year before John Kelly shut down that idea. Instead, Clarke has become a spokesman and senior advisor for a pro-Trump super PAC.

Last summer, Trump pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been convicted of criminal contempt for his illegal racial profiling in his crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Some other fun facts about Arpaio: he has proudly referred to his jails as “concentration camps,” and has addressed overcrowding by having inmates stay in tents outside in the Arizona heat. His devotion to hunting down undocumented immigrants is so strong that he often failed to actually investigate things like reported sexual assaults in his jurisdiction. During his tenure at Maricopa County, violence against inmates in his care was rife, and its perpetrators rarely punished.

Why would they be, when their boss clearly had such little regard for the lives of immigrants he viewed as criminal?

It’s also important to remember that the state decided what acts are criminal, and to what extent to pursue and punish that criminality.

Remember how the Obama administration decided that although marijuana possession and use was still a federal crime, it would no longer be a high priority for federal law enforcement? Now consider what crimes a Justice Department headed by Jeff Sessions will consider most important to punish, and in particular what criminals a man who was once denied a federal judgeship for a host of racist comments will crack down on the most.

The label of “criminal” has always been more than a specific descriptor of wrongdoing. It is also a broad brush to paint certain groups of people as unworthy of rights of the basic rights they are guaranteed by law. Using the term indiscriminately hurts people, and calling anyone who has committed a crime an animal makes that risk of violence worse.

At a rally on Tuesday night, Trump doubled down on his language, turning it into a new call-and-response chant with his supporters. In the 2016 election, his rallies were sites of violence against people his supporters decided didn’t belong. Cities that hosted him saw increases in violent assaults.

And he seems dead set on whipping up a greater frenzy of animosity towards immigrants.