Congress needs to step in to end our complicity in the kingdom’s human rights abuses.
By Bernie Sanders
Mr. Sanders is a United States senator from Vermont. Oct. 24, 2018
The likely assassination of the Saudi critic and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi underscores how urgent it has become for the United States to redefine our relationship with Saudi Arabia, and to show that the Saudis do not have a blank check to continue violating human rights.
One place we can start is by ending United States support for the war in Yemen. Not only has this war created a humanitarian disaster in one of the world’s poorest countries, but also American involvement in this war has not been authorized by Congress and is therefore unconstitutional.
In March 2015, a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates started a war against Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Since then, many thousands of civilians have been killed and many more have lost their homes. Millions are now at the risk of the most severe famine in more than 100 years, according to the United Nations. The chaos in Yemen has also provided fertile ground for extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, and created new opportunities for intervention by Iran.
The United States is deeply engaged in this war. We are providing bombs the Saudi-led coalition is using, we are refueling their planes before they drop those bombs, and we are assisting with intelligence.
In far too many cases, the bomb’s targets have been civilian ones. In one of the more horrible recent instances, an American-made bomb obliterated a school bus full of young boys, killing dozens and wounding many more. A CNN report found evidence that American weapons have been used in a string of such deadly attacks on civilians since the war began.
Yet last month, responding to congressional concerns, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo officially certified to Congress — and Secretary of Defense James Mattis affirmed — that the Saudis and Emiratis are making “every effort to reduce the risk of civilian casualties.”
It turns out that selling solutions to problems created by the tech industry presents a tremendous business opportunity. In recent months, a spate of current and former tech executives have taken to the media to evangelize variations of the same message: Social media is harming humanity. Sean Parker, who served as Facebook’s first president, warned that social media “exploit[s] a vulnerability in human psychology,” addicting children while interfering with productivity. Chamath Palihapitiya, once Facebook’s vice president “for user growth,” opined that social media is “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” After co-engineering the Facebook “Like” button and Google’s Gchat messaging system, Justin Rosenstein bemoaned the effects of his contributions.
The onslaught of techie contrition, however, isn’t a prelude to meaningful change—it’s a business opportunity.
What makes these grievances appealing is that they’re ostensibly antidotal. Over the course of roughly a decade, Facebook and other Silicon Valley social media platforms have mutated into ubiquitous forces. Approximately 70 percent of Americans use social media—a statistic that is concerning in light of admonitoryreports about social media’s impact on mental health, particularly among younger users. That figures who helped develop those platforms now appear more scrupulous shows that Silicon Valley is now profiting from efforts to rectify its own ills.
You might think that the kind of extreme poverty that would concern a global organization like the United Nations has long vanished in this country. Yet the special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, recently made and reported on an investigative tour of the United States.
Surely no one in the United States today is as poor as a poor person in Ethiopia or Nepal? As it happens, making such comparisons has recently become much easier. The World Bank decided in October to include high-income countries in its global estimates of people living in poverty. We can now make direct comparisons between the United States and poor countries.
Properly interpreted, the numbers suggest that the United Nations has a point — and the United States has an urgent problem. They also suggest that we might rethink how we assist the poor through our own giving.
According to the World Bank, 769 million people lived on less than $1.90 a day in 2013; they are the world’s very poorest. Of these, 3.2 million live in the United States, and 3.3 million in other high-income countries (most in Italy, Japan and Spain).
As striking as these numbers are, they miss a very important fact. There are necessities of life in rich, cold, urban and individualistic countries that are less needed in poor countries. The World Bank adjusts its poverty estimates for differences in prices across countries, but it ignores differences in needs.
Let’s come clean: President Trump is a white racist! Over the past few days, many have written, spoken and shouted this fact, but it needs repeating: President Trump is a white racist! Why repeat it? Because many have been under the grand illusion that America is a “post-racial” nation, a beautiful melting pot where racism is only sporadic, infrequent and expressed by those on the margins of an otherwise mainstream and “decent” America. That’s a lie; a blatant one at that. We must face a very horrible truth. And America is so cowardly when it comes to facing awful truths about itself.
So, as we celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, we must face the fact that we are at a moral crossroad. Will America courageously live out Dr. King’s dream or will it go down the road of bigotry and racist vitriol, preferring to live out Mr. Trump’s nightmare instead? In his autobiography, reflecting on the nonviolent uprising of the people of India, Dr. King wrote, “The way of acquiesce leads to moral and spiritual suicide.” Those of us who defiantly desire to live, and to live out Dr. King’s dream, to make it a reality, must not acquiesce now, precisely when his direst prophetic warning faces us head on.
On the night before he was murdered by a white man on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., Dr. King wrote: “America is going to hell if we don’t use her vast resources to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life.” Our current president, full of hatred and contempt for those children, is the terrifying embodiment of this prophecy.
We desperately need each other at this moment of moral crisis and malicious racist divisiveness. Will we raise our collective voices against Mr. Trump’s white racism and those who make excuses for it or submit and thereby self-destructively kill any chance of fully becoming our better selves? Dr. King also warned us that “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.” To honor Dr. King, we must not remain silent, we must not betray his legacy.
So many Americans suffer from the obsessive need to claim “innocence,” that is, to lie to ourselves. Yet such a lie is part of our moral undoing. While many will deny, continue to lie and claim our national “innocence,” I come bearing deeply troubling, but not surprising, news: White racism is now comfortably located within the Oval Office, right there at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, embodied in our 45th president, one who is, and I think many would agree, must agree, without any hesitation, a white racist. There are many who will resist this characterization, but Mr. Trump has desecrated the symbolic aspirations of America, exhumed forms of white supremacist discourse that so many would assume is spewed only by Ku Klux Klan.
According to a new CBS News poll, almost 60 percent of the American public believes that the current Republican tax plan favors the wealthy. Some people see this number as a sign that the plan is in trouble; I see it as a sign that Republican lies are working far better than they deserve to.
For the plan does indeed favor the wealthy — overwhelmingly, undeniably. It’s shocking that as many as 40 percent of Americans don’t realize this.
It’s not difficult to see how the plan is tilted toward the very top. The main elements of the plan are a cut in top individual tax rates; a cut in corporate taxes; an end to the estate tax; and the creation of a big new loophole that will allow wealthy individuals to pretend that they are small businesses, and get a preferential tax rate. All of these overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy, mainly the top 1 percent.
There are also some measures affecting middle-class families, but they’re relatively small change — and some of them would actually raise taxes. Over all, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that by 2027 almost 80 percent of the gains from the plan would go to the top 1 percent, just 12 percent of the gains to the middle 60 percent of Americans — and that more than a quarter of middle-class families would actually see their taxes go up.
So the question about this plan isn’t whether it favors the wealthy — it does, to an outrageous extent. The questions we should be asking instead are why Republicans are pushing this so hard, and how they can hope to get away with it. Bear in mind that there is essentially no popular constituency demanding tax cuts for the rich. By a large margin, the general public wants to see taxes on corporations and the wealthy go up, not down; even Republicans are divided, with only a modest margin in favor of cuts.
Yet tax cuts for the rich are the overriding objective of the modern G.O.P. They were the principal motivation for the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, since that would also mean repealing the high-income taxes that pay for it; from Republicans’ point of view, depriving millions of health care was just a minor side benefit. And now tax cuts for the wealthy are pretty much the only thing left on the G.O.P.’s legislative agenda.
In fact, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the hope for tax cuts is the main thing keeping congressional Republicans in line behind Donald Trump. They know he’s unfit for office, and many worry about his mental stability. But they’ll back him as long as they think he might get those tax cuts through.
JARABULUS, Syria — Since 2011, the civil war in Syria has killed more than 470,000 people, mostly civilians. Millions of people have been displaced, and nearly five million Syrians have fled, creating the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. By far the greatest burden of receiving Syria’s refugees has fallen not on the United States or on Europe, but on Syria’s neighbors: Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Together, these countries are hosting most of the five million Syrians.
Each is coping with huge challenges, with different degrees of success. In my visits to those three countries, I‘ve been struck by how much more dignity has been accorded to Syrian refugees in Turkey than in Jordan, and especially in Lebanon.
Lebanon, with a population of six million, has long given refuge to Palestinians. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, some 450,000 Palestinian refugees are registered in Lebanon, most of them in camps. Even third-generation Palestinians born in Lebanon retain refugee status and live in refugee camps without a pathway to citizenship — almost 70 years after their ancestors arrived. Lebanese law even excludes refugees from most jobs.
To this refugee population, Lebanon has now added an estimated 1.5 million Syrians. Many live in plastic tents in crowded camps with scarce access to clean water, surviving on aid from nongovernmental organizations. Because the Lebanese government doesn’t want the Syrians to become permanent residents as the Palestinians have, the camps are not officially recognized or managed by the United Nations. Resentment toward Syrian refugees has reached alarming levels. With elections next year, some Lebanese politicians are promising to deport the refugees once the war in Syria has been fought to a standstill. For the time being, Syrians receive charity, not dignity.
Over the last 10 months, I visited several of these camps. In a camp in the Bekaa Valley, I met 12-year-old Nour and her sister, Aya, outside a bakery. As I stopped to buy sweets to celebrate the end of Ramadan, I asked Nour about her family. She told me that she and Aya had lost everyone. She now lives with her only remaining relative — an impoverished elderly aunt who has five children of her own.
As sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., Joe Arpaio engaged in blatant racial discrimination. His officers systematically targeted Latinos, often arresting them on spurious charges and at least sometimes beating them up when they questioned those charges. Read the report from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and prepare to be horrified.
Once Latinos were arrested, bad things happened to them. Many were sent to Tent City, which Arpaio himself proudly called a “concentration camp,” where they lived under brutal conditions, with temperatures inside the tents sometimes rising to 145 degrees.
And when he received court orders to stop these practices, he simply ignored them, which led to his eventual conviction — after decades in office — for contempt of court. But he had friends in high places, indeed in the highest of places. We now know that Donald Trump tried to get the Justice Department to drop the case against Arpaio, a clear case of attempted obstruction of justice. And when that ploy failed, Trump, who had already suggested that Arpaio was “convicted for doing his job,” pardoned him.
By the way, about “doing his job,” it turns out that Arpaio’s officers were too busy rounding up brown-skinned people and investigating President Barack Obama’s birth certificate to do other things, like investigate cases of sexually abused children. Priorities!
Let’s call things by their proper names here. Arpaio is, of course, a white supremacist. But he’s more than that. There’s a word for political regimes that round up members of minority groups and send them to concentration camps, while rejecting the rule of law: What Arpaio brought to Maricopa, and what the president of the United States has just endorsed, was fascism, American style. So how did we get to this point?
Trump’s motives are easy to understand. For one thing, Arpaio, with his racism and authoritarianism, really is his kind of guy. For another, the pardon is a signal to those who might be tempted to make deals with the special investigator as the Russia probe closes in on the White House: Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.
For now, at least, the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act appears dead. Sabotage by a spiteful Trump administration is still a risk, but there is — gasp! — a bipartisan push to limit the damage, with Democrats who want to preserve recent gains allying with Republicans who fear that the public will blame them for declining coverage and rising premiums.
This represents a huge victory for progressives, who did a startlingly good job of marshaling facts, mobilizing public opinion, and pressuring politicians to stand their ground. But where do they go from here? If Democrats regain control of Congress and the White House, what will they do with the opportunity?
Well, some progressives — by and large people who supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries — are already trying to revive one of his signature proposals: expanding Medicare to cover everyone. Some even want to make support for single-payer a litmus test for Democratic candidates.
So it’s time for a little pushback. A commitment to universal health coverage — bringing in the people currently falling through Obamacare’s cracks — should definitely be a litmus test. But single-payer, while it has many virtues, isn’t the only way to get there; it would be much harder politically than its advocates acknowledge; and there are more important priorities.
The key point to understand about universal coverage is that we know a lot about what it takes, because every other wealthy country has it. How do they do it? Actually, lots of different ways.