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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.

Flames are seen in the Texas Panhandle

Uncontrolled Texas Wildfires Shut Down Nuclear Weapons Plant

Texas officials recorded the state's second-largest wildfire in its history on Tuesday and into early Wednesday as several fast-moving blazes formed what one resident called a "ring of fire" around her town in the Panhandle and forced a temporary closure of a nuclear weapons facility.

The Texas A&M Forest Service said early Wednesday that the main blaze, dubbed the Smokehouse Creek Fire, had burned through nearly 800 square miles since sparking on Monday—growing to five times its original size in about 24 hours.

Evacuation orders were issued for several Panhandle towns northeast of Amarillo and for parts of the city, with residents instructed to go to a high school gym and youth center. Authorities at the Pantex Plant, the United States' main nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility, temporarily evacuated nonessential employees on Tuesday night while firefighters remained on the premises.

The plant was reopened "for normal day shift operations" on Wednesday morning.

A hospital system in the town of Canadian was also forced to evacuate patients and staff.

The Forest Service said the uncontrolled fire and its rapid spread was fueled by dry conditions and strong winds. Erin O'Connor, a spokesperson for the service, toldThe New York Times that wind conditions were expected to "moderate a little bit" late Wednesday and Thursday, hopefully giving firefighters a chance to get the blaze under control before humidity was expected to drop again on Friday.

"It is a significant fire," O'Connor said. "It looks alarming how quickly it is spreading."

The service toldABC News that wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour helped the flames to grow as high as 20 feet in the region's dry grasses, reporting that the Smokehouse Creek Fire was 0% contained as of Wednesday morning and warning of "extreme fire behavior."

Videos on social media showed thick smoke that obstructed drivers' ability to see roads as flames engulfed nearby brush.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported that a swathe of the Panhandle was experiencing "abnormally dry" conditions, leaving grasses vulnerable to potential wildfire spread. Scientists have warned that planetary heating and higher average global temperatures has increased the risk and severity of drought conditions.

NextGen America, a progressive voter mobilization group, called the wildfires "the climate crisis in action" and demanded an end to climate denial and delay by fossil fuel giants and lawmakers.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties to activate state rescue crews and support local firefighters.

An unknown number of homes were damaged in the Panhandle, including more than 40 in the city of Fritch.

The wildfires took hold of the region as Swiss reinsurance company Re reported the climate crisis and severe weather events is costing the U.S. annual economic losses of $97 billion.

A "Cost of Inaction Ticker" for the U.S. was updated last week based on federal data, showing that the 28 disasters that caused at least $1 billion in damage last year cost Americans $92.9 billion, or $2,945.84 per second.

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.

Trump on Jan. 6

Judge Disqualifies Trump From Illinois Ballot, Citing Jan 6 Role

An Illinois judge ruled Wednesday that former U.S. President Donald Trump cannot appear on the state's presidential primary and general election ballots because of his role in the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection.

Judge Tracie Porter of the State Circuit Court in Cook County sided with Illinois voters who asserted that Trump—the 2024 GOP front-runner—must be disqualified from Illinois' March 19 primary and November 5 general election ballots due to his violation of the 14th Amendment's so-called "insurrection clause."

Porter, a Democrat, placed a stay on her ruling if Trump appeals by Thursday, or if the U.S. Supreme Court issues a highly anticipated ruling in a Colorado case involving a 14th Amendment challenge.

"This is a historic victory," said Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech for People, the co-lead counsel in the case. "Every court or official that has addressed the merits of Trump's constitutional eligibility has found that he engaged in insurrection after taking the oath of office and is therefore disqualified from the presidency."

Enacted after the Civil War, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment bars from public office any "officer of the United States" who has taken an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution but then participates in an insurrection or rebellion against the country. The text does not require a criminal conviction for the clause to apply.

Plaintiffs' attorney Caryn Lederer called the ruling "a critical decision that is adding to decisions in Colorado and Maine on this point."

Last month, a Maine judge deferred a ruling on yet another insurrection clause challenge, citing the Supreme Court's Colorado case.

Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for Trump's campaign, said that "today, an activist Democrat judge in Illinois summarily overruled the state's Board of Elections and contradicted earlier decisions from dozens of other state and federal jurisdictions."

"This is an unconstitutional ruling that we will quickly appeal," he added.

According toThe New York Times, courts in at least 18 states have dismissed or rejected efforts to exclude Trump from the ballot on 14th Amendment grounds, while unresolved challenges remain in 15 states.

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."

An Israeli army soldier

'Enough Is Enough': Former Top Sanders Aide Urges Israel Arms Embargo

As the death toll from Israel's war on the Gaza Strip topped 30,000 on Thursday, President Joe Biden faced renewed pressure to immediately cut off U.S. diplomatic and weapons support for the nearly five-month Israeli assault.

"President Biden must say 'enough is enough' and finally end U.S. support for and complicity in the ongoing carnage in Gaza," said Matt Duss, a former top aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who is now executive vice president at the Center for International Policy.

"Importantly, he should suspend transfers to Israel of the arms it is using in Gaza," Duss argued, "as he is already obligated to do under U.S. law given the obvious reality—including an open admission by Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu—that the Israeli government is limiting the amount of humanitarian aid delivered to the territory."

"U.S. security assistance has enabled catastrophic civilian harm in Gaza in a way that appears to violate existing U.S. law and policy."

Since Israeli forces began bombarding Gaza in response to the Hamas-led attack on October 7, the Biden administration has repeatedly vetoed United Nations cease-fire resolutions, bypassed Congress to send weapons, and sought over $14 billion atop the $3.8 billion in annual military aid that Israel already gets from the United States.

Duss stressed that Biden should continue efforts to secure a cease-fire, the release of all hostages, and a surge in humanitarian aid. He said that "diplomacy must be prioritized not only as a means of reaching peace, but in order to uphold our own principles. The ongoing provision of arms to Israel despite its open hindrance of humanitarian efforts is a clear departure from those principles."

"A full cease-fire and massive humanitarian relief effort is not just a moral necessity but a security one," he added, warning of the growing risk of a regional conflict. "Nearly five months of slaughter and starvation of civilians in Gaza, and the continued holding and abuse of Israeli hostages, must not continue. It is time for President Biden and U.S. partners to finally use their leverage to end this catastrophe."

After Israeli forces reportedly opened fire on starving Palestinians in Gaza on Thursday, Trita Parsi, executive vice president at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said on social media that "Biden's deference to Israel brought this about. Biden has put zero material pressure on Netanyahu."

Rather than using his leverage to "force Israel to let in the aid, Biden instead caves to Netanyahu and considers airdropping aid," Parsi continued. "What a humiliation! Imagine if Biden from the outset had decided NOT to give Israel a blank check?"

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) similarly released a Thursday statement calling on the United States to "urgently leverage security assistance to push for civilian protection, de-escalation, and an immediate cease-fire."

"The U.S. is Israel's closest ally and provider of billions of dollars of security assistance annually," the group said. "U.S. security assistance has enabled catastrophic civilian harm in Gaza in a way that appears to violate existing U.S. law and policy. The U.S. has publicly pressed Israel on civilian protection; however, without using its leverage by conditioning aid, these messages will continue to be ignored."

CIVIC and over a dozen other groups—including Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Save the Children—last month jointly called on all U.N. member states to "immediately halt the transfer of weapons, parts, and ammunition to Israel and Palestinian armed groups while there is risk they are used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law."

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday also called for ending the flow of weapons, responding to a recent report from the U.N. high commissioner for human rights about the occupied Palestinian territories.

"The heinous crimes carried out by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups since October 7 are the abhorrent legacy of decadeslong impunity for unlawful attacks by all parties and Israel's crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians," the group said. "The international community's long-standing unwillingness to act to hold perpetrators to account has fueled grave abuses."

"As Israeli authorities contemplate forcing the over 1 million Palestinians in Rafah to again flee when there's nowhere safe in Gaza—a move that would be unlawful and have catastrophic consequences—states should act to prevent further atrocities," HRW asserted.

Both HRW and Amnesty have said this week that Israel is defying the International Court of Justice, which last month issued binding provisional measures in the ongoing South Africa-led genocide case against the country. Meanwhile, a U.S. case about Biden and other top officials' complicity in genocide is moving through the federal appeals process.

"States should use all forms of leverage, including targeted sanctions and an arms embargo, to press the Israeli government to comply with the binding order and to press the Israeli government and Palestinian armed groups to end unlawful attacks and other grave abuses," HRW said Thursday. "The lives of millions of civilians hang in the balance."