Welcome to Newscoop Footnotes —
the weekly review of important news no one’s talking about.
Hi, I’m Zoe Licata.
In recent months, there’s been a sudden surge of attention in the U.S. to the dramatic and still-growing inequalities in American society. This includes everything from criminal justice to income and wealth, and now college admissions. And although some parts of the problem are uniquely American, the issue also sometimes determines U.S. foreign policy — which affects others around the globe.
A number of young American Millennials now find themselves in positions of influence, and they’re loudly drawing public attention to the imbalances in American society.
- New congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling for a 70% wealth tax, insisting that the inequality seen in America “erodes social trust”, and that billionaires are a threat to democracy. She cites very convincing evidence that eventually, such inequality also harms a country’s economy. While many in the GOP mock, berate and ridicule her, she remains steadfast in her calls for justice. And she’s developing a huge following among American voters.
- And there’s Edward Snowden, who in 2013 revealed the unconstitutional surveillance campaigns of the National Security Agency. In a March 7 tweet, Snowden noted the striking difference in punishment in America given 3 different offenders — 2 of them with money and influence, and one with neither (the military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who revealed evidence of American war crimes). Snowden notes that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort received: “47 months for a lifelong carnival of criminality. Petraeus: 0 days for trading the country’s highest secrets for a more favorable biography. Manning: 35 YEARS for revealing evidence of actual war crimes to the press. Your sentence derives from your proximity to power.”
As if to emphasize Snowden’s point, there was at the same time much new reporting on the 43 years that Albert Woodfox, Black Panther activist for black rights, spent in solitary confinement in a Louisiana penitentiary, for a crime he maintains he did not commit. Snowden is right, of course. Membership in clubs of power and influence offers people access and opportunity, as well as protection when their misdeeds are uncovered.
- And finally, Somali-American congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, got herself in a heap of trouble recently when she called out the U.S. Congress for their unconditional support of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his vision of Israeli interests. Omar maintained that U.S. policymakers were supporting Israel even when it disregarded the rights of Palestinians and even Americans. While her choice of words may not have been the best, she has a point.
Here’s the point: Many people around the world oppose the construction of Israeli settlements on land that is Palestinian and is to be part of a future Palestinian state. They say it’s unfair, and that it makes peace in the region more difficult to achieve. The international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, seeks to put pressure on Israel to stop building settlements that violate UN resolutions. But the U.S. GOP-controlled Senate has regularly sought to pass legislation that instead criminalizes support for BDS by U.S. citizens and corporations, despite the unconstitutionality of such legislation.
The Israel Anti-Boycott Act almost passed in 2017 and 2018, if not for a vigorous opposition campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union on the grounds of its unconstitutionality. And the Combating BDS Act of 2019, which criminalizes support of BDS by American companies, has already passed the GOP-controlled Senate.
Two problems with that last bill. First, that it’s unconstitutional, as we’ve said, contrary to the free speech rights guaranteed to every American by the First Amendment. But also, that the 2010 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court gave corporations the same First Amendment rights as an individual American citizen. Citizens United was hard for many Americans to swallow — the idea that a corporation should have the same right as an American citizen to donate money freely to U.S. political campaigns. But while it made little sense that U.S. corporations should be given unhindered influence in American elections, it makes even less sense that their freedom of expression be limited only when it comes to matters relating to Israel.
See the problem? Free expression in America and First Amendment rights are continually bumping up against foreign interests that link somehow with the political interests of some American policymakers. That’s simply a fact. And it’s not just Israel. It’s Russia, Saudi Arabia, and others. It creates legal problems in America, and a lot of misery around the world.
Omar’s opinion piece yesterday in the Washington Post offered good clarification of her intentions. She says: “Let us apply these universal values to all nations. Only then will our world achieve peace.”
We agree. All nations, and all peoples.
This has been the latest edition of Newscoop’s Footnotes – important events getting too little attention.
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