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Dear Mr. President: Don’t go to Saudi Arabia

I sent this email to the White House tonight:

Dear Mr. President:
Please do NOT go to Saudi Arabia. A presidential appearance there gives aId and comfort to Mohammed Bin Salman, who is implicated in the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. You have called Saudi Arabia a pariah state. It is. It should be.
Please–stand up for human rights and do not visit Saudi Arabia.
Respectfully,
Mary Turck

Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist living and working in the United States. He was a columnist for the Washington Post. On October 2, 2018, Khashoggi was ambushed, suffocated, and dismembered in the Saudi embassy in Turkey. His assassination by a 15-person Saudi hit squad was well-documented, his gruesome final moments on audio tape, and the connection to Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman is well-established.

Nor is that the only reason to steer clear of a visit to Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, and 9/11 families continue to call for accountability on the part of Saudi Arabia. Some families are suing Saudi Arabia for damages. Terry Strada, widow of Tom Strada, wrote to President Biden on behalf of the 9/11 Families United organization:

“Please stand where no other President since 9/11 has stood, with the September 11 community in our pursuit for justice, and prioritize a full and complete discussion of the Saudis’ continued denial of their complicity in the attacks.

“We strongly suspect that you recognize the wisdom and justice in this request, and that you understand and support our efforts, but we need to see the actions, not just the words …”

I invite you to copy my letter and send, or write in your own words. This is the link to contact the President: https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

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Racism and Anti-Semitism: Ignoring Evil Does Not Make It Go Away

Swastikas on columns in Union Station in Washington DC
Holocaust Remembrance Day was yesterday, January 27. Today, Bo Erickson of CBS News reports that there are swastikas drawn on almost every column in Union Station in Washington, DC. 

In Tennessee, a school board banned the teaching of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, Maus. That novel teaches about the Holocaust. It is based on the experience of the author’s parents. They survived Auschwitz concentration camp. His mother later killed herself. 

The McMinn County Board of Education thinks the novel is disturbing and too adult for high school students. 

The Holocaust is an obscenity. Learning about the Holocaust SHOULD be disturbing. 

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Banning History is Racist: Stand Up, Fight Back!

In Florida, a school district canceled a civil rights history seminar for teachers. Not only do the rancid rightwing racists want to keep students from learning about slavery, civil rights, and racism—they don’t want teachers to learn history either. 

“J. Michael Butler, a history professor at Flagler College in St. Augustine, was scheduled to give a presentation Saturday to Osceola County School District teachers called ‘The Long Civil Rights Movement,’ which postulates that the civil rights movement preceded and post-dated Martin Luther King Jr. by decades.”

From civil rights history to graphic novels, just about any teaching or even reading about Black history and experience can be targeted. Jerry Craft wrote two graphic novels based on his own growing-up experience as an African-American kid in a mostly-white school. New Kid won the 2020 Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Author Award, and the Kirkus Prize—and got banned in Texas. 

The Florida legislature is considering legislation to block any teaching about race that would cause discomfort to anyone. They mean, of course, discomfort to any white people. When it comes to racism, Black people do not need a history class to feel discomfort.  

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Protected: Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

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End the Filibuster NOW

Closeup of mural of Congressman John R. Lewis (1940-2020) (Photo by Thomas Cizauskas, published under Creative Commons license) — Artist: Sean Schwab Atlanta (Sweet Auburn), Georgia, USA. Painted 2012.
Closeup of mural of Congressman John R. Lewis (1940-2020) (Photo by Thomas Cizauskas, published under Creative Commons license) — Artist: Sean Schwab Atlanta (Sweet Auburn), Georgia, USA. Painted 2012.

The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, passed by House of Representatives on January 13, is held hostage today by the Senate filibuster threat—a disgraceful tactic that has repeatedly blocked voting rights, civil rights, and anti-lynching legislation for more than a century. 

One hundred years ago, in 1922, a filibuster killed the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. In 1934, the Costigan-Wagner anti-lynching bill failed, as “southern senators threatened to filibuster and the Democratic leadership refused to take up the bill for full debate.”[1] The bill was brought up again in 1935 and again blocked by a filibuster. In the next Congress, 58 anti-lynching bills were introduced, and one was passed by the House. Again, it was killed by a six-week filibuster of southern Democrats and Republicans. Notably, Republicans said they supported the bill but refused to vote for cloture. President Roosevelt backed away from the bill, saying, “If I come out for the anti-lynching bill now, they will block every bill I ask Congress to pass to keep America from collapsing. I just can’t take that chance.”[2] The final effort to pass an anti-lynching bill in 1939 also failed, with Senators giving in to the mere threat of a filibuster. In 2019, the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act was blocked by a threat of a filibuster by a single Senator, Rand Paul. The bill was re-introduced in December 2021.[3] That’s right: all the way to the present day, the filibuster has blocked federal anti-lynching legislation. 

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Act Now to Protect Voting Rights and Preserve the Nation

Bloody Sunday at Edmund Pettis Bridge. This is the artwork of American artist, Ted Ellis. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
This is the artwork of American artist, Ted Ellis. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

“Kathy spotted the long line of voters as she pulled into the Christian City Welcome Center about 3:30 p.m., ready to cast her ballot in the June 9 primary election.

“Hundreds of people were waiting in the heat and rain outside the lush, tree-lined complex in Union City, an Atlanta suburb with 22,400 residents, nearly 88% of them Black. She briefly considered not casting a ballot at all, but decided to stay.

“By the time she got inside more than five hours later, the polls had officially closed and the electronic scanners were shut down. Poll workers told her she’d have to cast a provisional ballot, but they promised that her vote would be counted. …

“By the time the last voter finally got inside the welcome center to cast a ballot, it was the next day, June 10.”[1]

Kathy’s story, reported by NPR in June 2020, shows the future of voting in the United States, unless Congress acts now. Closure of polling places in Black neighborhoods and removal of voting machines to create long lines are just two of the tactics targeting Black voters, Indigenous voters, poor voters, and Democratic voters. Those tactics disenfranchise voters. In June 2020, “the average wait time after 7 p.m. across Georgia was 51 minutes in polling places that were 90% or more nonwhite, but only six minutes in polling places that were 90% white.” 

We as a nation desperately need the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives on January 13, and is held hostage today by the Senate filibuster threat. 

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Change Is Possible

This image is part of an amazing series created by Ricardo Levins Morales. Check out the whole series at his studio https://www.rlmartstudio.com

In the face of this week’s disaster news, Popular Information has a message I needed to hear: change is possible. In their real-life example social media activism drove real world action.

Popular Information is a small but feisty organization with deep research and reporting on a limited number of topics, and a well-worth-it $6/month subscription fee. I first encountered them as an invaluable source on corporate financial support for voter suppression and for politicians who collaborated in the attacks on the 2020 election,  but their reports cover a much broader range of issues. 

The change is possible story focuses on their exposé of working conditions at the Olive Garden, and the near-immediate change in sick leave policies following that exposé.  

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Yes, You Can—Do Something About Disasters

This image is part of an amazing series created and generously shared by Ricardo Levins Morales. Check out the whole series at his studio https://www.rlmartstudio.com

Terrified refugees fleeing Afghanistan as the Taliban takes over. Children dying in the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, as ICU units fill in hospitals across the southeastern United States. An earthquake in Haiti. Out-of-control fires on the west coast of the United Staes and in Greece. Drought. Global warming. 

The news is overwhelmingly awful. I know some people who simply refuse to watch or read or listen to news because it makes them feel bad. I disagree, but I understand. In weeks of disaster overload, it’s hard to keep paying attention to the suffering of others. 

Still, I believe each of us can do something. We can pay attention. We can see the human beings involved in these disasters. We can keep on caring. 

And we can all help, in small ways. 

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Tennessee’s Very Bad, No Good, Awful Example

Less than two weeks ago, Tennessee ordered an end to all vaccination in schools and no more information to teens about vaccine availability—for Covid-19 or for anything else.

Just three weeks ago, only 195 people in Tennessee were hospitalized with COVID-19. In Memphis, Methodist University Hospital had no COVID patients at all. Now numbers are soaring. Covid-19 hospitalizations across Tennessee almost tripled, to 579. 

On July 12, the state fired its top vaccination official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs at the Tennessee Department of Health. Dr. Fiscus issued a written statement, saying in part:

Each of us should be waking up every morning with one question on our minds: ‘What can I do to protect the people of Tennessee against COVID-19?’ Instead, our leaders are putting barriers in place to ensure the people of Tennessee remain at-risk, even with the delta variant bearing down upon us.

What’s more is that the leadership of the Tennessee Department of Health has reacted to the sabre rattling from the Government Operations Committee by halting ALL vaccination outreach for children. Not just COVID-19 vaccine outreach for teens, but ALL communications around vaccines of any kind. No back-to-school messaging to the more than 30,000 parents who did not get their children measles vaccines last year due to the pandemic.  No messaging around human papilloma virus vaccine to the residents of the state with one of the highest HPV cancer rates in the country. No observation of National Immunization Awareness Month in August. No reminders to the parents of teens who are late in receiving their second COVID-19 vaccine. THIS is a failure of public health to protect the people of Tennessee and THAT is what is ‘reprehensible’. When the people elected and appointed to lead this state put their political gains ahead of the public good, they have betrayed the people who have trusted them with their lives.”

Just a little reminder about vaccines:

Vaccination ended smallpox. Smallpox used to kill millions of people every year. A smallpox epidemic swept the United States between 1898 and 1904. Various state and local health officials mandated vaccinations. Some people resisted fiercely

“The very first vaccine, which protected against smallpox, was developed in England in the late eighteenth century; it consisted of pus taken from a cowpox blister, which was inserted into a small cut in the skin. As word of the new procedure spread, it was met with enthusiasm but also dread. While many patients and physicians were eager to fend off one of that era’s most feared diseases, many others balked at the prospect of contaminating their healthy bodies with disease matter from an animal.”

Vaccination became standard, but some still resisted and there were isolated U.S. outbreaks until 1949. In the 1950s, the World Health Organization mounted a major global vaccination effort. This completely eradicated smallpox. No cases have been found anywhere in the world since the mid-1970s

Vaccination ended polio. 

“Polio infections peaked in the United States in 1952, with more than 21,000 paralytic cases. Following introduction of effective vaccines in 1955 (inactivated polio vaccine, IPV) and 1961 (oral poliovirus vaccine, OPV), polio incidence declined rapidly. The last case of wild poliovirus acquired in the United States was in 1979…. The Global Polio Eradication Program has dramatically reduced wild poliovirus transmission throughout the world. Type 2 and 3 wild poliovirus have been eradicated worldwide and endemic circulation of type 1 wild poliovirus persists only in two countries.”

Before COVID-19 even existed, historian Elena Conis reviewed the history of vaccination resistance, which has met every single new vaccine from smallpox onward. Her conclusion sounds prophetic, in the light of today’s vaccination resistance:

“Back then, states responded to epidemics of vaccine-preventable disease with ever-stricter laws and regulations requiring vaccination, and citizens who opposed vaccination pushed back with lawsuits and proposed legislation of their own. In time, other factors quieted the issue—in the face of war, or a new epidemic, or new cultural and economic preoccupations of the middle class, vaccination consensus often came easily. But, eventually, the issue always came back to the forefront. Americans’ reasons for resisting specific vaccines have always reflected the norms and anxieties of a particular moment in time; our national dispute about how much power government should exercise in enforcing vaccination, however, has been with us since the dawn of vaccination and shows no promise of permanent resolution.”

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Why I’m Staying Far Away From My Unvaccinated Relatives

Edward Jenner, English physician who discovered the smallpox vaccine in 1796. Vaccination eradicated smallpox from the world.

Just three weeks ago, only 195 people in Tennessee were hospitalized with COVID-19. In Memphis, Methodist University Hospital had no COVID patients at all. Now numbers are soaring. Covid-19 hospitalizations across Tennessee almost tripled, to 579. 

More than 95 percent of these new wave of COVID patients are unvaccinated. Nearly 80 percent are tied to the Delta variant, which is highly, highly contagious. And COVID is hitting young people hard. The average age of patients has dropped from 61 to 51. 

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