Rights & Justice
War & Peace
Hungry Palestinian children hold out empty pots to get donated food in Rafah.

What Would You Do: This Is What Our Ruling Class Has Decided Will Be Normal

Declaring "I will no longer be complicit in genocide," U.S. airman Aaron Bushnell set himself on fire Sunday to protest Israel's annihilation of Palestinians in Gaza. His "extreme action born of desperation" has stirred wildly divergent responses. To the right, he was ill, extremist, contributing to "political violence" in the name of imaginary crimes; to the left, his was a brave, dire act of justifiable rage at an ongoing "stream of horrors in Gaza." Grievously, "Bushnell died so that Gaza may live."

"My name is Aaron Bushnell. I am an active-duty member of the United States Air Force, and I will no longer be complicit in genocide," Bushnell says tensely on his livestream, breathing fast as he walks in fatigues toward D.C.'s Israeli Embassy. "I'm about to engage in an extreme act of protest, but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it's not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal. Free Palestine!" At the embassy he sets down his still-recording phone, dons his cap, walks to the gate, douses himself, tosses a metal container that loudly rolls away, lights himself ablaze and yells "Free Palestine!" as flames engulf him. Most recordings blur his body as he repeats "Free Palestine," then screams in agony and collapses. Frantic police and Secret Service rush in shouting "Get on the ground"; one imbecile trains his gun on the burning body as another figure yells, “I don’t need guns - I need fire extinguishers!” Bushnell died soon after.

Since Oct. 7, the Israeli military has killed almost 30,000 Palestinians - now 29,878 - two-thirds women and children; thousands more are dead under rubble, with over 70,215 wounded, most displaced, and many facing starvation as Israel blocks aid; in its latest war crime, Israel halted a medical evacuation convoy in Khan Yunis, detaining a paramedic and making others remove their clothes. Yet the U.S. fast-tracks billions in weaponry and has vetoedthree UN ceasefire resolutions supported by the world's international organizations, millions of protesters and the Hague. Israel and the U.S. now stand alone as what Veterans For Peace rightly deem "madmen arsonists (abetting) the slaughter of innocents"; they specifically blast U.S policymakers "swaddled in privilege" who take their orders from corporate powers - Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics and other "merchants of death" - who "as much as lit the match for Aaron Bushnell, the collateral damage of the ongoing conflagration in Palestine."

Bushnell joined the Air Force in 2020; after graduating from basic training “top of flight and top of class," he was a cyber-defense operations specialist stationed at San Antonio-Lackland Air Force base in Texas. He reportedly grew increasingly disillusioned with the military, especially after George Floyd’s killing, and became involved in left-leaning groups, including helping the unhoused in San Antonio. Though he considered leaving the military, he decided to stay until his time was up in May, after which he was enrolled in computer science classes at a New Hampshire college. His social media profile featured a Palestinian flag; friends describe him as "a force of joy," "an amazingly gentle, kind, compassionate person," principled, "with a strong sense of justice." He had earlier asked the Atlanta Community Press Collective to preserve and report on footage of his fiery protest; it was also posted by a freelance journalist, with the self-immolation blurred, after Bushnell's family consented to her sharing it online.

Bushnell's death has prompted fierce debate across the political spectrum, with the media often twisting, diluting or misconstruing his action. Digging for easy or ugly answers, "smearmeisters" found Bushnell had grown up in a Massachusetts religious group called the Community of Jesus; in a successful lawsuit last year, former members alleged abuse in a "charismatic sect" that "created an environment of control, intimidation and humiliation (that) inflicted enduring harms." Other coverage omitted all context with headlines that didn't mention Gaza, hysterically charged "the Left" is "a death cult," and primly noted U.S. military policy forbids service members from engaging in "partisan political activity" or wearing their uniform during "speeches, interviews, marches, or other activities," presumably including burning yourself to death to protest genocide. And friggin' Tom 'Red Scare' Cotton huffed about "this individual," "extremist leanings," and "compromising national security" by having a functioning moral compass.

Meanwhile, hawks and Zionists who for months have been cheerleading a fascist government's carpet bombing of two million trapped Gazans, over half of them children, were outraged by what Israeli Consul-General Anat Sultan-Dadon called an act of "hate and incitement toward Israel." In a head-spinning op-ed, the Jerusalem Post argued "an act of suicidal political protest is another step toward more political violence," with "the line between self-immolation and a suicide bombing" so thin one can easily "extend that violence onto others." "The far-Left already believes it is grappling with an evil that justifies violence," it went on. "Bushnell was deluded into thinking there was a 'genocide' occurring...Another devil in the radical-left’s pantheon of demons (is) calling Israelis "colonizers.' Israel is also accused (of) 'apartheid'...and protesters in New York City have called for 'resistance'...There may be many more Bushnells waiting in the wings...Those willing to kill themselves for a cause may have no qualms about killing others."

Their delirium sharply contrasts with the pained, wrenching, mournful, empathic responses of those who, like Bushnell, are consumed by helpless rage at the devastation wrought by Israel on innocents - with US money and complicity - but who still feel horror at what Bushnell felt he had to do. "I am moved by his conviction and his anger, but grieved by the loss of his life," one wrote. "More death will not heal the wounds of war." Still, they hotly refuted the inevitable mental health trope too often dredged up with, "Anyone who thinks he was mentally unwell needs to check their humanity." "Please, stop saying Aaron Bushnell was mentally ill," wrote Joshua Frank of CounterPunch. "The real mental illness is witnessing a genocide taking place and not doing a thing to stop it." Bushnell was "rational and clear about his political reasoning, which resonates with (the) majority of the world," wrote another of his "legitimate moral outrage and courage." "May his sacrifice not be in vain, may his last words on this earth ring true."

At protests and vigils, many held responsible Joe Biden, "who has ignored every peaceful form of protest." "In a few minutes," one said, "Aaron Bushnell exhibited more courage than every member of Congress." Others hoped he will inspire "more soldiers with a conscience to raise their voices," and we will "honor the message he left." Electronic Intifada's Ali Abunimah: "He gave his life so people in Gaza might live. There’s no greater love than that." The Palestinian Youth Movement praised his moral clarity as a ‘shaheed,’ or witness,’ "whose final moment in life is as a witness to injustice." Caitlin Johnstone, who watched the uncensored video - "I figured I owe him that much" - cited a Buddhist monk on self-immolation: "It is done to wake us up." In this, she echoed Bushnell's wrenching Facebook post the morning before his death. “Many of us like to ask ourselves, ‘What would I do if I was alive during slavery? Or the Jim Crow South? Or apartheid? What would I do if my country was committing genocide?’” he wrote. "The answer is, you’re doing it. Right now."

Aaron Bushnell felt he had to do something else. May he rest in peace.

Homes are partially toppled onto the beach after Hurricane Nicole came ashore on November 10, 2022

Climate-Fueled Extreme Weather Costs US Nearly $100 Billion a Year

The climate crisis is already having a major impact on the U.S. economy, and the damages are only going to increase.

A new report from the reinsurance company Swiss Re estimates climate change is currently costing the U.S. roughly $97 billion per year. This cost comes from the increased frequency of natural disasters that are connected to climate change, which is driven by the burning of fossil fuels.

"Climate change is leading to more severe weather events, resulting in increasing impact on economies," said the Swiss Re group's chief economist Jerome Jean Haegeli. "Therefore, it becomes even more crucial to take adaptation measures."

Swiss Re looked at data from 2022 and analyzed the impact of natural disasters on the GDP of 36 countries, including the U.S., to establish its findings. The report focused on the effects of floods, tropical cyclones, winter storms, and severe thunderstorms.

While the effects of climate change on the U.S. economy were significant, the country that was most affected by it was the Philippines. The report says climate change impacted 3% of the country's GDP. The U.S. saw a 0.4% impact on its yearly economic output.

The report states that all countries must do whatever possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help lessen the potential economic costs of climate change-related natural disasters. It says countries must also better prepare for the effects of climate change to reduce these costs.

One effect of climate change, increased heatwaves, was not factored into this report. A study from 2022 found that human-caused increases in heatwaves potentially cost the global economy over $29 trillion between 1992 and 2013.

Some experts have suggested the effects of climate change are actually costing the U.S. over $120 billion per year. While there's no universally agreed upon number, it's clear that the costs of the climate crisis are high, and they'll only increase as it gets worse. Decarbonizing the economy isn't a cheap endeavor, but letting climate change spiral out of control would have much more dire economic effects.

Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio

Norfolk Southern CEO Got a Pay Boost After Toxic East Palestine Crash

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw got a large raise last year after the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio that devastated that community. Shaw's total compensation rose by 37% in 2023, which put it at over $13 million for the year.

The train derailment occurred in February of last year and exposed the community to toxic chemicals that caused a large fire. Though there were no human fatalities, the wreck sparked grave public health concerns and the company has faced major criticisms for what have been described as lax safety practices.

Jonathon Long, general chairman of the American Rail System Federation (ARSF) of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED), wrote about the problems with the rail company in a letter last year.

"I am writing to share with you the level of disregard that Norfolk Southern has for the safety of the railroad's workers, its track structure, and East Palestine and other American communities where NS operates," he wrote. "They gamble with your money, and you hold all the risk if they lose by putting a toxic train in the ditch in your community."

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) criticized Shaw's compensation raise in a tweet on Monday.

Shaw's compensation increase last year came despite the fact the company's net income decreased by 44% in 2023. The company also increased its spending on lobbying by 30% last year. A group of shareholders from the firm Ancora Holdings is trying to replace Shaw and other members of the company's management with new leadership, because it doesn't feel Shaw is leading the company in the right direction.

"It's alarming that the board rewarded Mr. Shaw with a massive raise and total compensation of $13.4 million during the same year he presided over industry-worst operating results, sustained underperformance, and a tone-deaf response to the derailment in East Palestine," the group told CNN in a statement. "This failure of corporate governance … reinforces the need for sweeping changes to Norfolk Southern’s well-paid board."

The Department of Justice sued Norfolk Southern for violating the Clean Air Act last year, and the Supreme Court ruled in June of last year that a former Norfolk Southern employee who alleged he developed colon cancer after being exposed to hazardous chemicals could proceed with a lawsuit.

It remains to be seen how long Shaw will be in charge of Norfolk Southern, but the company has certainly had a tumultuous year since the disaster in East Palestine, and it doesn't seem he's yet paid a major price for what's happened under his leadership.

"Mr. Shaw and his boardroom allies have no credible plan and no viable record to run on," the investors from Ancora told CNN.

A volunteer with the Listen to Michigan campaign holds a sign reading, "Uncommitted"

Organizers Expand 'Uncommitted' Primary Campaigns to Push Biden on Gaza

With more than 100,000 Michigan voters having cast primary ballots letting U.S. President Joe Biden know they are "uncommitted" to supporting him in the general election due to his continued support for Israel's genocidal violence in Gaza, organizers of the effort said Wednesday that the Listen to Michigan campaign is spreading to other states.

Voters in Colorado, Minnesota, and North Carolina are among the Americans whose primary votes will be tallied next week on Super Tuesday, and all three states have "uncommitted" or similar language as an option on their ballots.

The Listen to Michigan campaign started organizing less than a month in advance, gathering support from leaders including Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and former congressman Andy Levin in hopes that it could convince at least 10,000 voters to mark "uncommitted" on their primary ballots to warn Biden that he must end military funding for Israel and push the country to agree to a permanent cease-fire.

With more than three-quarters of Democrats in the U.S. backing a cease-fire, the campaign drew more than 10 times the amount of support it expected, with more than 13% of Michigan Democrats who took part in Tuesday's primary voting "uncommitted."

"We are going to be talking to other states that are looking for a unifying vehicle to send the same message to Joe Biden," Layla Elabed, campaign manager for Listen to Michigan, told reporters on Wednesday. "This issue of Gaza is not just a Michigan issue, it is an issue across the United States. So our plan is to work with other coalitions like Listen to Michigan."

According to Hammoud, organizers in other states with upcoming primaries have reached out to Listen to Michigan "to follow their strategy."

As Common Dreamsreported last week, campaigners in Washington state are urging voters to write "cease-fire" on their primary ballots ahead of the March 12 election.

In Colorado, concerns about Biden's support for Israel, which has now killed more than 30,000 people in Gaza and decimated civilian infrastructure across the enclave even as it claims to be targeting Hamas fighters, helped push the state Democratic Party's executive committee to vote unanimously in December in favor of including a "noncommitted" line on primary ballots.

Abed Ayoub, national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said Thursday that Armenian-American campaigners in key states including Wisconsin, Arizona, and Pennsylvania are leading efforts to push people to vote "uncommitted."

More than 206,000 Armenian-Americans in swing states "are perfectly positioned to play a high-impact role," said the Armenian National Committee of America.

"Over 100,000 sent Biden a clear message in Michigan," said Yonah Lieberman, co-founder of the Jewish-led Palestinian rights group IfNotNow. "Now the fight moves on."

Biden arrives at San Francisco International Airport

As Biden Heads to Border, Amnesty Says Ditch 'Cruel' Anti-Migrant Policies

Just ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden's planned trip to a Texas border city, Amnesty International USA on Wednesday urged the Democrat to "abandon cruel anti-immigrant proposals" he is weighing after a controversial package opposed by rights groups and progressive lawmakers recently failed to get through the divided Congress.

"With President Biden visiting the border this week, he should remember that he once campaigned on a promise to restore the United States' role as a safe haven for refugees and asylum-seekers. Instead, his policies of deterrence have caused a humanitarian catastrophe along the border," said Amy Fischer, the group's director of refugee and migrant rights, in a statement.

Biden, who is seeking reelection in November, is scheduled to travel to Brownsville "to meet with U.S. Border Patrol agents, law enforcement, and local leaders," according toPolitico. The White House confirmed those plans Monday, after it was announced former President Donald Trump, the likely GOP nominee, is set to visit Eagle Pass, Texas, the same day.

"President Biden must use this visit to meet with asylum-seekers who had to flee extreme violence and insecurity in their home countries, only to face extortion, kidnapping, and sexual violence as they were waiting in Mexico due to his cruel asylum ban," Fischer said. "And he must also meet with the incredible organizations and volunteers who are on the frontlines of our migration crisis, welcoming people seeking safety, and exemplifying a model for what safe and welcoming border systems can look like."

"Days after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's attack on Annunciation House's long history of welcoming immigrants, it is critical for Biden to hear ideas and solutions from the frontline nongovernmental organizations who know first-hand the solutions of a functional asylum reception system," Fischer continued.

Paxton, a Republican, is trying to shut down the faith-based organization that has aided migrants in El Paso for decades, claiming that "information strongly suggesting Annunciation House is engaged in legal violations such as facilitating illegal entry to the United States, alien harboring, human smuggling, and operating a stash house."

The Catholic group said in a statement last week that "the attorney general's illegal, immoral, and anti-faith position to shut down Annunciation House is unfounded," and its efforts to help migrants are "no different from that of the schools who enroll children of refugees, the clinics and hospitals who care for the needs of refugees, and the churches, synagogues, and mosques who welcome families to join in worship."

While groups like Annunciation House have welcomed migrants, Republican Texas leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have prioritized limiting access to the state and sending away those who make it there, often with legally dubious actions. Rights advocates, including Amnesty, are urging Biden to distinguish himself from the likes of Abbott and Trump—who has threatened mass deportations if he returns to power.

According toThe New York Times:

Mr. Trump plans to deliver remarks from the border to highlight the immigration crisis and lay blame at the feet of Mr. Biden, according to a person close to Mr. Trump who was not authorized to discuss the plans publicly.

Mr. Trump is expected to highlight crimes committed by migrants in New York and in other cities, as well as the arrest of a Venezuelan undocumented immigrant in the recent high-profile killing of a 22-year-old nursing student in Georgia, the person added.

"We challenge President Biden to stop his blatant disregard for the right to seek asylum and his continued politicizing of migrant rights and lives," said Fischer. "We challenge him to abandon his cruel proposals that echo Trump's anti-immigrant playbook, and instead to advance policies that would ensure both the protection of human rights and an orderly border."

"President Biden needs to find the political courage to rise above the growing tide of xenophobia and return to his promise to push for commonsense solutions that center safety and human rights," she added. "Until he does that, he'll only be on a race to the bottom as far as who can be the cruelest to those who need protection."

A mother cries over the body of her dead child in an incubator

'Worst-Case Scenario': Children Dying of Starvation, Dehydration in Gaza Hospitals

In what Palestinian officials on Wednesday called "'an international failure to protect humanity" from Israel's genocidal assault and blockade, at least six Palestinian children and infants have died of starvation, dehydration, and poisoning in Gaza hospitals in recent days.

The Gaza Health Ministry said that two children died at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, while four other children perished at Kamal Adwan Hospital in the north. Seven other children remain in critical condition in the hospitals.

Quds News Networkreported that one infant, Ahmad Hijazzi, died at Kamal Adwan Hospital from malnutrition and poisoning after he consumed livestock feed, which starving Gazans are eating out of desperation. Other children have been poisoned from eating grass or drinking contaminated water. Newborns and infants born during the war to malnourished mothers are at particularly acute risk of death.

"The international community is facing a moral and humanitarian test to stop the genocide in Gaza," Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra said. "We ask international agencies to intervene immediately to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in northern Gaza."

Gaza's hospitals are stretched beyond the breaking point. Kamal Adwan Hospital director Ahmed al-Kahlout toldAl Jazeera that the facility is no longer operational after running out of fuel to power its generators. There is also an acute lack of baby formula and other essential supplies.

"What we're seeing now is the worst-case scenario unfolding right before our eyes," Alexandra Saieh, head of policy and advocacy at the humanitarian group Save the Children International, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

Saieh blamed the "relentless Israeli bombardment" and Israeli "restrictions that prevented the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance," and the "complete decimation of civilian infrastructure and services" for the current situation.

The Gaza Government Media Office said Wednesday that Israeli attacks have put 31 Gaza hospitals and scores more medical facilities out of service.

"The situation is dire, and it's getting worse," Saieh warned. "And it won't get better unless there is a cease-fire and we're able to scale up humanitarian assistance."

Delivery of humanitarian aid is being held up by Israeli restrictions as well as by extremist Israeli civilians who have set up encampments and roadblocks—one replete with a children's bouncy castle and carnival snacks—to block trucks from entering Gaza.

Earlier this week, Michael Fakhri, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food and a law professor at the University of Oregon, said that "intentionally depriving people of food is clearly a war crime," and that Gazans are enduring "a situation of genocide."

On Thursday, Israeli troops opened fire on a large crowd of starving Palestinians collecting food aid on al-Rashid Street in Gaza City, killing at least 112 people and wounding more than 700 others.

"The reports emerging are beyond horrific," Save the Children country director Jason Lee said in a statement. "A queue for lifesaving food became a line-up for death. While children are dying from lack of food, their parents are dying trying to get it."

Thursday's massacre pushed the Palestinian death toll in Israel's 146-day genocide to more than 30,000. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Rep. Ro Khanna (D--Calif.) on Thursday that "over 25,000" of those deaths are women and children."

Additionally, more than 70,000 other Palestinians have been wounded, while around 90% of Gaza's 2.3 million people have been forcibly displaced.

Last month, the International Court of Justice issued a provisional ruling that Israel is "plausibly" committing genocide in Gaza and ordered Israeli forces to prevent genocidal acts. Human rights groups this week accused Israel of ignoring the ruling.