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The specter of an orange clad, black hooded human being cowering behind iron bars is drawing a lot of attention at the White House this week. On Saturday, January 7, members of Witness Against Torture carried a reproduction of a Guantanamo cell over barricades surrounding Lafayette Park and deployed it in front of the White House.
"We plan on being here, in the cage, twenty-four hours a day, until January 11," said Beth Brockman, a human rights advocate and mother of two from Durham, North Carolina. "We have dubbed January 11 a Day of National Shame. Ten years ago on this date, the first plane load of twenty men arrived at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. And this new architecture of torture, abuse and indefinite detention that is now known as GITMO began. We are here-- as we have been for the last six years-- to say no with our voices, our bodies and our hearts."
The 92-hour vigil in front of the White House comes little over a week after President Barak Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which essentially makes Guantanamo permanent by barring the transfer of detainees to the United States, severely restricting transfer to third-party countries, and potentially grants the Executive the power to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens.
"President Barack Obama promised to shut down Guantanamo within a year almost three years. His signature on the NDAA annihilates that already faded promise," says Brian Terrell, a human rights advocate from Maloy, Iowa. "Three years later, 171 Muslim men still remain in indefinite detention at Guantanamo. Ironically, most have been cleared for release and should be free to go. But they remain behind bars. We want to remind the President and people who visit the White House of Obama's Guantanamo and Bagram detention regimes. It is easy to forget that Bagram held 600 prisoners when Obama took office. It now holds 3,000 and is being enlarged to hold more than 5,000," Terrell concluded.
Witness Against Torture, a grassroots movement to shut down Guantanamo, initiated the "Hungering for Justice" liquids-only fast on January 2 and will break it ten days later on Thursday, January 12. About one hundred people--in DC and around the country-- are participating in the fast and engaging in daily actions in front of the White House, and elsewhere to call attention to the terrible injustice that is Guantanamo, Bagram, and secret prisons.
The campaign will culminate in a "Ten Years Too Many: National Day of Action to Shut Down Guantanamo" mass mobilization at noon on Wednesday, January 11 in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. The protest is organized by a coalition of groups that includes Amnesty International, Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Last week, four Witness Against Torture activists were found guilty of "unlawful conduct" and "disruption of Congress" stemming from an anti-torture action in June 2011 at the House of Representatives. Charges against another nine activists were dropped and one was acquitted.
Witness Against Torture is a grassroots movement that came into being in December 2005 when 24 activists walked to Guantanamo to visit the prisoners and condemn torture policies. Since then, it has engaged in public education, community outreach, and non-violent direct action. For the first 100 days of the Obama administration, the group held a daily vigil at the White House, encouraging the new President to uphold his commitments to shut down Guantanamo.
"Similar to the countless battles the LGBTQ+ community has faced over the last several decades, our collective success relies upon everyone speaking out and taking a stand against bigotry," said the group who challenged the statute.
A federal judge on Friday evening ruled that Tennessee's anti-drag show law—the first of its kind in the nation signed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee earlier this year after approval by the GOP-controlled state legislature—represented an unconstitutional attack on free speech.
The 70-page ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Parker found that the law was "unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad," making it a clear violation of the free protections in the First Amendment.
"We Won!" declared Friends of George's, the non-profit performance group in the state who had challenged the law.
\u201cWE WON! Judge Parker has declared Tennessee's anti-drag law unconstitutional! Friends of George's would like to thank Brice Timmons and Melissa Stewart at Donati Law and all who have stood by us during this fight! #standwithfriendsofgeorges #pride #dragisnotacrime\u201d— Friends of George's (@Friends of George's) 1685795100
While the word "drag" or phrase "drag show" did not appear in the statute, Judge Parker said the examples offered by the defenders of the law during the hearing of the case exhibited clearly who and what the law was targeting and that it therefore encouraged "discriminatory enforcement" by the state.
"There is no question that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment," states the ruling. "But there is a difference between material that is 'obscene' in the vernacular, and material that is 'obscene' under the law."
"Simply put," it continues, "no majority of the Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit—but not obscene—speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech."
\u201cLast night, Tennessee\u2019s extreme drag show ban was struck down and ruled unconstitutional by a Trump-appointed federal judge. \n\nTried to tell my Republican colleagues when they introduced it on the House floor, but yet again they had to FIND OUT. \n\nHappy Pride, y\u2019all!! \ud83c\udff3\ufe0f\u200d\ud83c\udf08\u201d— Rep. Justin Jones (@Rep. Justin Jones) 1685805066
In a statement on Saturday, Friends of George's said the ruling "represents a triumph over hate."
"Similar to the countless battles the LGBTQ+ community has faced over the last several decades, our collective success relies upon everyone speaking out and taking a stand against bigotry," said the group, based in Memphis.
Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression & education programs for PEN America, also celebrated the ruling, calling it a "necessary victory for free speech" in Tennessee.
The freshman Democratic congressman offered a concise political rebuke of his fellow Floridian during a rock concert Friday night.
Freshman Democratic Congressman Maxwell Frost of Florida was given an opportunity to speak to the crowd attending the Paramore concert in Washington, D.C. on Friday night and he offered just one word to Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis and the fascist policies he has pushed as the governor of the Sunshine State.
"Fuck Ron DeSantis! Fuck fascism!" said Frost when handed the microphone by lead vocalist Halyey Williams during the show at the Capitol One Center.
\u201cHoly shit. Maxwell Frost appeared at a Paramore concert last night & his first words on stage were \u201cfuck Ron DeSantis.\u201d The crowd went absolutely wild. Gen Z will make Ron DeSantis\u2019s life miserable & will never allow him to be president. Watch \ud83d\udc47 \nhttps://t.co/S7Drc0dgRq\u201d— Victor Shi (@Victor Shi) 1685806387
Frost, currently the youngest member of Congress at 26-years-old, has been an outspoken critic of DeSantis for his attacks on public education, a relentless targeting of the LGBTQI+ community, book banning, and his regressive economic policies.
"I said what I said," Maxwell tweeted later in the night. The congressman also responded to right-wing critics who denounced him for using the harsh word as he brushed off any concerns.
\u201clol they\u2019re so mad \ud83d\ude02\ud83d\ude02\u201d— Maxwell Alejandro Frost (@Maxwell Alejandro Frost) 1685766962
In March, Frost said it was important to call DeSantis out for what he is. "He is abusing his power and using the state to target political opponents and political enemies," Frost said. "And there’s a word for that, and it's fascism, and we have to be honest about it."
Frost, a musician himself, performed and danced with the Tennessee-based band during Friday night's show to loud applause from the youthful audience.
\u201cVery grateful for this moment. I\u2019ve been practicing in the shower for YEARS\u201d— Maxwell Alejandro Frost (@Maxwell Alejandro Frost) 1685766243
"Do you see this?" Williams asked the crowd after the lawmaker's remarks. "Do you see the future right here?"
"Here's the news media's takeaway on the debt ceiling deal: Yay! Bipartisanship works! Here's the reality: GOP radicals held the economy hostage, Democrats paid the ransom, and bipartisanship is badly broken."
President Joe Biden delivered his first televised address from the Oval Office on Friday night to applaud the final result of legislative negotiations between his administration and Republicans in Congress who took the U.S. economy hostage over the debt ceiling, but progressive critics found the victory lap hard to take given the details of the deal and the devastating impacts they will have.
"It was critical to reach an agreement and it's very good news for the American people," Biden said during his remarks from the White House. "No one got everything they wanted but the American people got what they needed. We averted an economic crisis and an economic collapse."
But what Biden called a "big win for our economy and the American people," progressives—who argue the entire debt ceiling law is unconstitutional because it violates the 14th amendment and warned since last year that Republicans would orchestrate a crisis to protect wealthy tax dodgers and corporations while imposing fresh cuts on key social programs—should be seen for what it is: a kick in the face to the planet, democracy, and the material needs of poor and working-class Americans.
"Wall Street and corporate interests may be enthusiastic about this bill, but I believe it moves us in exactly the wrong direction." —Sen. Bernie Sanders
Warren Gunnels, majority staff director for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said on social media Friday, the final legislation—which Biden is expected to sign into law Saturday—should be seen as "a big win for the donor class and a big loss for the 99%."
"It's nothing to brag about," Gunnels added.
\u201cNegotiating a debt deal that:\n\n-Doesn\u2019t include a penny in revenue from the top 1%\n\n-Increases spending for war profiteers\n\n-Fast tracks fossil fuel projects &\n\n-Increases poverty & hunger\n\nIs a big win for the donor class & a big loss for the 99%\n\nIt\u2019s nothing to brag about\u201d— Warren Gunnels (@Warren Gunnels) 1685753094
"Not everyone got what they wanted?" Nina Turner, former Ohio State Senator and congressional candidate, asked rhetorically. "The 1% and the military-industrial complex got exactly what they wanted."
As Common Dreamsreported, Lockheed Martin CEO James Taiclet this week said Biden signing the agreement into law would be "as good an outcome as our industry or our company could ask for at this point," noting that it calls for "3% growth for two years in defense where other areas of the budget are being reduced."
\u201cThe budget deal struck by the White House & House Republicans sets a damaging precedent shifting federal spending from domestic programs to the Pentagon.\n\nThe deal sets military at nearly 56% of discretionary spending\u2014$886 billion out of $1.59 trillion.\nhttps://t.co/SD91JQSCF3\u201d— National Priorities Project (@National Priorities Project) 1685637613
Journalist and author Mark Jacobs suggested that much of the coverage in the corporate press has been friendly to Biden's framing of the legislative result, but that this should be challenged.
"Here's the news media's takeaway on the debt ceiling deal: Yay! Bipartisanship works!" said Jacobs. "Here's the reality: GOP radicals held the economy hostage, Democrats paid the ransom, and bipartisanship is badly broken."
In addition to across-the-board spending caps for non-defense discretionary spending—which economists note is a real-world cut, given inflation, to key programs that serve tens of millions working class individuals and families—the deal greenlit permitting reforms for oil and gas projects desired by the fossil fuel industry and will force fast-track approval of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline that frontline communities in West Virginia, Virginia, and elsewhere have opposed for years.
\u201cThe debt deal protects tax cuts for the rich, gives defense contractors more cash, expedites a fossil gas pipeline during the climate crisis - and makes it harder for starving people to get food stamps.\n\nAnd Biden is now celebrating it as a "big win." https://t.co/UmtUETp3sO\u201d— The Lever (@The Lever) 1685751113
Katie Bergh and Dottie Rosebaum, policy analysts with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, detailed this week how changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) contained in the deal championed by Biden and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy "would put almost 750,000 older adults aged 50-54 at risk of losing food assistance through an expansion of the existing, failed SNAP work-reporting requirement."
"The older adults who lose access to SNAP would lose about $8 per person per day in benefits," explained Bergh and Rosenbaum. "These individuals often have very low incomes, and the loss of SNAP will push most of those affected into or deeper into poverty."
At the same time, the deal championed as a "big win" included large cuts to the IRS budget that a CBO analysis this week showed will actually cost the federal government over $40 billion in lost revenue and increase the deficit—the opposite result of what the GOP claims regarding the budget but very much in line with helping wealthy tax dodgers and corporations pay less each year.
\u201cMcCarthy and the MAGA faction that controls the House GOP held the global economy hostage & were ready to plunge us into a job-killing, retirement plan-erasing, once-in-a-generation recession unless their demands were met.\n\nThat\u2019s not negotiating a deal. It\u2019s extracting a ransom.\u201d— Indivisible Guide (@Indivisible Guide) 1685303159
In a Friday op-ed explaining his opposition to the legislation, Sen. Sanders said the only thing good to say about the bill was that it was not worse—which it certainly could have been.
"At a time when this country is rapidly moving toward Oligarchy, with more wealth and income inequality than we've ever experienced, I could not in good conscience vote for a bill that cuts programs for the most vulnerable while refusing to ask billionaires to pay a penny more in taxes," Sanders wrote. "Wall Street and corporate interests may be enthusiastic about this bill, but I believe it moves us in exactly the wrong direction."
\u201cIt's a disgrace that Republicans brought us so close to the edge of catastrophe during this debt ceiling debacle.\n\nIt simply did not need to happen this way.\n\nWe must abolish the debt ceiling so no party can use it to threaten the livelihoods of Americans for political gain.\u201d— Robert Reich (@Robert Reich) 1685754060
"The fact of the matter is that this bill was totally unnecessary," Sanders concluded in his op-ed. "The President has the authority and the ability to eliminate the debt ceiling today by invoking the 14th Amendment. I look forward to the day when he exercises this authority and puts an end, once and for all, to the outrageous actions of the extreme right-wing to hold our entire economy hostage in order to protect their corporate sponsors."