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Vox - Front Page
Ethiopia says it’s captured the capital of its rebellious Tigray region
A member of the Amhara Special Forces at the border crossing with Eritrea, under an Ethiopian flag, in November 2020. | Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images Internal conflict in Ethiopia is causing a humanitarian crisis that could leave 6 million in need of aid. Ethiopian armed forces are “fully in control” of the city of Mekele after a Saturday offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), according to a statement by the country’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed Ali. The assault on the city marks the latest clash in a conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and the TPLF, an Ethiopian political party, that began earlier this month when the TPLF launched what it called a preemptive strike against a federal military facility in Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia. The federal government claimed the party hoped “to loot” the base, and responded to the attack with a full military offensive that is now pushing the country toward a massive humanitarian crisis. Mekele, with a population of about half a million people, is the capital of Tigray, which is governed by the TPLF. The group dominated national politics in Ethiopia until Abiy became prime minister in 2018 and ushered in a series of reforms — including the dismissal of TPLF officials accused of corruption. Last Sunday, Abiy delivered an ultimatum demanding the peaceful surrender of TPLF leaders “within the next 72 hours, recognizing that you are at a point of no return.” That deadline expired unmet, and Abiy responded with Saturday’s offensive. According to the Washington Post, “a communications shutdown and bans on media access across most of Tigray has made verifying the government’s claims nearly impossible,” and relatively little is known so far about how the battle for Mekele was waged. One major question is to what degree civilians were protected from the fighting — and details on this are contested. TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael has said that the city, including civilian areas, was under “heavy bombardment” Saturday before its capture by federal troops, and humanitarian groups have reportedly confirmed to news service Agence France-Presse that artillery was used. These reports led US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy to tweet that “fighting and shelling in the Mekele area are a very grave concern” on Saturday morning. Fighting and shelling in the Mekele area are a very grave concern. We urge an immediate end to conflict and restoration of peace in Tigray. Civilians must be protected and humanitarian access provided to aid those in need.— Tibor Nagy (@AsstSecStateAF) November 28, 2020 But a spokesman for Abiy contested the claim, telling the Guardian that “the Ethiopian National Defence Forces do not have a mission to bombard its own city and people.” In a statement posted to Twitter, Abiy also claimed that Ethiopian National Defense Forces had “[undertaken] the operation with precision and due care for citizens ensuring civilians are not targeted.” “The people of the Tigray Region have provided utmost support and cooperation to the Ethiopian National Defense Force in all corners,” he said. Humanitarian groups have said they have not been allowed the necessary access to verify Abiy’s claims — although the federal government ordered aid routes to be established throughout Tigray on Thursday. The United Nations has warned that 6 million people in Tigray could soon be without sufficient food and water. Abiy’s role in the crisis is especially remarkable given he won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize after making a surprising peace with neighboring Eritrea. He has proved unable to defuse growing tensions with the TPLF, however — and now this new conflict has spilled into Eritrea too, with the TPLF launching a missile attack on the Eritrean capital of Asmara on November 14. TPLF leader Debretsion told the Associated Press that Asmara was a “legitimate military target” because Eritrea sent troops into Ethiopia’s Tigray region — but it’s unclear if it actually did. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the attack in stark terms last week. “We are deeply concerned by this blatant attempt by the TPLF to cause regional instability by expanding its conflict with Ethiopian authorities to neighboring countries,” Pompeo said in a statement. “We also continue to denounce the TPLF’s November 13 missile attacks on the Bahir Dar and Gondar airports in Ethiopia.” It is clear, however, that tens of thousands of refugees have been forced to flee the fighting in Tigray — and that even before Saturday’s offensive, violence between the TPLF and Ethiopian federal forces was causing widespread humanitarian disaster. The conflict is creating a “full scale” humanitarian crisis in the region The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned early last week that the flow of refugees out of Ethiopia was “rapidly overwhelming the humanitarian response capacity on the ground” in neighboring Sudan, and the agency said in a November 17 statement that as many as 4,000 people were crossing the border per day. As of Saturday, according to Al Jazeera, about 43,000 refugees had already crossed into Sudan, and more than a million have been displaced by the fighting. There have also been widespread reports of atrocities as the conflict continues. According to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Tigrayan security forces retreating from Ethiopian federal troops massacred at least 600 civilians from other ethnic groups in early November, and the EHRC says the eventual death toll could be even higher. On the other side of the conflict, refugees in Sudan told the Washington Post of a “genocide against Tigray people.” “They’re killing people madly,” one refugee said. “We saw a lot of dead people on the way. We didn’t bring any food or clothes — we just escaped to save our lives and our children’s lives.” According to the UNHCR, as many as 100,000 Eritrean refugees living in the Tigray region could also be displaced yet again by this conflict, further worsening the crisis. And getting aid and services to these refugees has reportedly been all but made impossible by the fighting. “The humanitarian situation as result of this crisis is growing rapidly,” UN spokesperson Babar Baloch said last week. “UNHCR reiterates its call for peace and urge all parties to respect the safety and security for all civilians in Tigray.” Last week, Abiy promised to “reintegrate our fellow Ethiopians fleeing to neighboring countries” — though exactly how this will be accomplished is not yet clear. On Saturday, however, he said the federal government planned to immediately move into a restorative phase: “Our focus now will be on rebuilding the region and providing humanitarian assistance while Federal Police apprehend the TPLF clique,” Abiy said.
vox.com
Federal appeals court rejects a Trump election lawsuit: “Calling an election unfair does not make it so”
President Donald Trump golfs at Trump National Golf Club on November 27, 2020 in Virginia. | Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images The Trump campaign can’t stop losing election lawsuits. President Donald Trump continued to misleadingly cast doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election — which was won three weeks ago by President-elect Joe Biden — in the early hours of Saturday morning. But with lawsuit after lawsuit failing in courts, and the federal election certification deadline approaching, Trump is quickly running out of road to attempt overturning the election. The president’s latest legal defeat came Friday when an three member appeals court rejected a Trump campaign suit against Pennsylvania election officials that alleged the state engaged in “unconstitutional discrimination” against Trump voters in a scathing, unanimous decision that found the president’s lawsuit had “no merit.” Specifically, the suit asked two things of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals: to reverse a lower court decision blocking Trump’s legal team from amending its complaint to include claims that poll watchers were barred from observing the vote counting process, and to issue an injunction “to prevent the certified vote totals from taking effect.” (Pennsylvania certified its election results on Tuesday.) The court granted neither. In its decision, the court highlights not just the Trump legal team’s lack of evidence of its claims, but rebuked the lawyers for making “vague and conclusory” allegations, and for requesting a remedy “grossly disproportionate to the procedural challenges raised.” “The Campaign never alleges that any ballot was fraudulent or cast by an illegal voter,” Judge Stephanos Bibas, who was nominated to the court by Trump in 2017, wrote for the court. “It never alleges that any defendant treated the Trump campaign or its votes worse than it treated the Biden campaign or its votes. Calling something discrimination does not make it so.” Dear lord, Bibas, the body stopped moving 10 minutes ago! pic.twitter.com/AMjdB6mqSv— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) November 27, 2020 “Charges of unfairness are serious,” Bibas continued. “But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.” Previously, Trump’s Pennsylvania lawsuit was dismissed in federal district court in a similar, equally scorching decision by Judge Matthew Brann, who wrote that “this Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence.” In a tweet after the decision was published, Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis, who in 2016 referred to Trump as an “unethical, corrupt, lying, criminal, dirtbag,” decried the “the activist judicial machinery in Pennsylvania.” “On to SCOTUS,” Ellis wrote Friday. .@RudyGiuliani and me on Third Circuit’s opinion:The activist judicial machinery in Pennsylvania continues to cover up the allegations of massive fraud.We are very thankful to have had the opportunity to present proof and the facts to the PA state legislature.On to SCOTUS!— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) November 27, 2020 However, there’s no guarantee that the Supreme Court will accept the case if the Trump campaign follows through on an appeal, experts say, and even less that the Court would rule in its favor. “Yes, the Trump campaign can now ‘go to #SCOTUS,’ but with what?” wrote University of Texas law school Prof. Steve Vladeck on Twitter. “The Court is never going to take up this dumpster-fire of a lawsuit. And, as today’s unanimous Third Circuit opinion written by a Trump appointee makes clear, there’s no remote basis for an injunction pending appeal.” The Trump campaign faces equally slim chances of success elsewhere. Though it is determined to pursue lawsuits in other swing states, Trump’s legal team has fared poorly thus far: In total, its post-election record in court stands at 1-38, according to Democratic voting rights lawyer Marc Elias, and the campaign is “on a solid pace to lose 50 before the Electors meet in December.” Even before the Electoral College meets on December 14 though, there is a rapidly approaching federal deadline for state certification of election results on December 8. According to the New York Times, “if states resolve all disputes and certify their results” by that deadline, “the results should be insulated from further legal challenges, ensuring that states won by Mr. Biden will send Biden delegates to the Electoral College.” That certification will essentially make the president’s legal challenges moot. And the meeting of the Electoral College the subsequent week will slam the door even more firmly in the face of Trump’s inane voter fraud claims. Biden won 74 more electoral votes than Trump — 36 more than the bare minimum needed to win the presidency. It is possible, although very unlikely, that some electors in states won by Biden choose to cast their votes for Trump — but as the Times points out, “rogue electors have been few and far between, and have never altered the outcome.” Trump keeps spreading lies about nonexistent voter fraud Though the Trump campaign has failed time and time again to provide any evidence of voter fraud in court, that hasn’t stopped the president and his lawyers from lying outrageously about the legitimacy of the election. Of late, their falsehoods have included a wide range of nonsense conspiracy theories, ranging from ballots for Biden being “created out of thin air” to former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez helping to rig election machines before his death in 2013. And even in the exceedingly rare occasions since Election Day where Trump has come close to acknowledging the reality of his loss, he’s married that acknowledgement with yet more false, baseless fraud claims. “[Biden] won because the Election was Rigged,” Trump tweeted earlier this month. He took a similar line in public remarks Thursday, when asked by reporters if he intended to leave the White House when Biden took office. “Certainly, I will. And you know that. But I think that there will be a lot of things happening between now and the 20th of January,” Trump said according to a transcript provided by the White House. “Massive fraud has been found. We’re like a third-world country.” For all of Trump’s hedging though, Biden’s margin is only growing. On Friday, a recount requested and paid for by the Trump campaign in two Wisconsin counties saw the former vice president pick up 132 new votes. All told, Biden’s national popular vote margin now stands at well over six million votes. And on Monday, the General Services Administration — the government agency in charge of “ascertaining” a presidential win to make government resources available to a transition team — authorized the Biden transition to begin. Trump didn’t let that pass unheeded either: “[GSA administrator] Emily Murphy has done a great job, but the GSA does not determine who the next President of the United States will be,” he tweeted Tuesday. On that, he’s right, if only technically. “Voters, not lawyers, choose the President,” Bibas wrote in his decision rejecting the Trump campaign appeal. “Ballots, not briefs, decide elections.” And those voters have decided — regardless of what Trump claims — that Biden will be the next president of the United States.
vox.com
The assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist, briefly explained
The site of Fakhrizadeh’s killing, about 40 miles east of Tehran. | Iranian State TV/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Iran has blamed Israel for the attack, and pledged retaliation. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pledged retaliation for the killing of Iran’s top nuclear scientist in remarks Saturday, promising a response “to the martyrdom of our scientist at the proper time.” The scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was killed near Tehran on Friday, authorities said, just weeks after an international monitoring agency confirmed that the country had taken new steps in its nuclear development, moving even further past limits on nuclear research imposed by a now discarded 2015 nuclear deal. According to Iran’s Defense Ministry, Fakhrizadeh was ambushed by gunmen while traveling to a town about 40 miles away from Tehran, and died after being taken to a hospital. No country or group has claimed responsibility for Fakhrizadeh’s death, but in a statement on Twitter, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif described the killing as “an act of state terror.” In his televised address Saturday, Rouhani accused Israel of being behind the attacks. Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetratorsIran calls on int'l community—and especially EU—to end their shameful double standards & condemn this act of state terror.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) November 27, 2020 Experts say Rouhani’s accusation is likely not wrong. According to the New York Times, at least one American official, as well as two other intelligence officials, have indicated that Israel was responsible for Fakhrizadeh’s death. Such an attack would seem to be within Israel’s abilities. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that Israeli assassins in the Tehran — Iran’s capital — killed a top Al Qaeda leader living there on behalf of the US. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Fakhrizadeh as a figure of interest and import in a 2018 speech. Israeli officials, however, have refused to comment on whether the country played any role in the killing. Whoever is responsible for Fakhrizadeh’s death — the latest loss in a long-running US-led campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran under President Donald Trump — Iranian military leaders like Iranian Gen. Mohammed Bagheri see his killing as a “huge blow to the Iranian defense establishment,” as Axios reported Friday. And it’s also just the latest in a series of setbacks for Iran’s nuclear program, including a summer fraught with mysterious explosions at testing and research sites, for which experts believe Israel is likely responsible. Among other targets, Natanz, Iran’s underground chief nuclear facility, was rocked by an explosion in early July. A missile facility, Khojir, was also the site of a major explosion in June. New images show the scale of the destruction from the explosion at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility on July 2. There may be further damage to the facility's underground elements, which aren't visible from above. Image: @Maxar pic.twitter.com/ZN7V25nCoE— Raf Sanchez (@rafsanchez) July 8, 2020 As Dalia Dassa Kaye, the director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy at the RAND Corporation, told Vox’s Alex Ward in July, “there is a pattern of escalation and a context” to this summer’s explosions “that would suggest a motive on the Israeli side to target the Iranians.” Israel has long been anxious about the prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, concern that may have intensified on Wednesday last week, when the International Atomic Energy Agency — a UN agency charged with monitoring Iran’s compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal — reported that Iran had taken yet another stride toward potentially producing nuclear weapons. The report says that Iran is using a type of advanced centrifuge prohibited by the deal to enrich uranium at Natanz, the same facility that suffered an explosion in July this year. In 2018, Trump moved to tear up the nuclear deal and reimpose US sanctions on Iran. Subsequently, Iran has also abandoned portions of the deal, arguing that because the US exited the agreement that it was no longer valid. In January the country indicated that it was enriching uranium at a higher level than before it entered the deal. Fakhrizadeh’s death comes at a delicate time for US-Iran relations Despite Iran’s promise to retaliate, it’s somewhat unclear what happens next as tensions in the region remain high. While Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised “definitive punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it,” it is not clear what form that might take. Following the US assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps leader Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iran retaliated with an airstrike on US military bases this past January. Even before Fakhrizadeh’s death, Iran had indicated as recently as September that it plans to retaliate further for Soleimani’s killing. But that doesn’t mean Iran will choose to act now — particularly as it deals with the Middle East’s worst coronavirus outbreak — which as of last week had caused more than 37,000 officially confirmed deaths. And while Iran has also laid blame for Fakhrizadeh’s death on the US, according to the Times, there’s also the incoming US presidential administration to consider. President-elect Joe Biden, who was vice president to President Barack Obama when the Iran nuclear deal was negotiated, will take office in January 2021 and has said he hopes to reenter the deal as president. Iran hasn’t ruled out the possibility. In early November Zarif, the country’s foreign minister, told CBS News that “We can find a way to reengage, obviously. But reengagement does not mean renegotiation. It means the US coming back to the negotiating table.” Whether that reengagement is still an option is no longer clear, however, and with nearly two months left in office, Trump represents something of a wildcard when it comes to the US-Iran relationship. Earlier this month, he reportedly asked advisers about options for a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities at Natanz, though officials now believe such an attack is “off the table,” according to the New York Times. Neighboring Iraq also remains a possible flashpoint. Last week, rockets believed to have been fired by an Iran-linked militia group “landed in the U.S. Embassy complex within Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone,” according to the Washington Post. No embassy personnel were harmed in the attack, and — for now — the US remains on track to further draw down its troop presence in Iraq in coming months. In a statement reported by Al Jazeera Saturday, a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for caution. “We have noted the reports that an Iranian nuclear scientist has been assassinated near Tehran today,” UN spokesman Farhan Haq said. “We urge restraint and the need to avoid any actions that could lead to an escalation of tensions in the region.”
vox.com
Black Lives Matter helped shape the 2020 election. The movement now has its eyes on Georgia.
Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images Founder Patrisse Cullors on the Senate runoffs, the impact of the protests, and what the movement wants from the Biden administration. The police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor set off protests like the nation has never seen — more than 15 million people marched in the name of justice for Black lives this summer. So it’s no surprise that the rallying cry out on the streets was still on voters’ minds when they cast their ballot in November. According to preliminary data from AP VoteCast, a comprehensive survey conducted for the Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago, roughly a fifth of all voters said the racial justice protests were the single most important factor when voting in the election. But just like Americans’ views on wearing a mask or social distancing, the protests have become a politically divisive issue — 53 percent of those voters went for Biden, 46 percent voted for Trump. Some conservative voters focused on the small percentage of looting and vandalism associated with the unrest, calling the protests “childish,” according to interviews conducted by the New York Times, while progressives and first-time voters were inspired by the movement to make radical change. In the end, the Black Lives Matter movement and protests shaped the results of the election: Many organizers worked to get people out to vote, with Black voters turning out in droves, despite obstacles of voter suppression. Black voters also helped flip key battleground states like Georgia and Pennsylvania to elect Joe Biden, while voters in cities across the country approved ballot measures on police accountability. Still, despite these wins, there is much work to be done, according to both activists and Democratic voters. Patrisse Cullors — one of three women founders of Black Lives Matter, along with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi — says this work must remain constant and varied. “We are going to use protests,” Cullors told Vox. “We’re also going to use our power, and the halls of power to make sure change happens.” This includes launching a political action committee to raise funds to elect and defeat candidates — a big step for a grassroots organization like Black Lives Matter. Meanwhile, organizers in cities and towns across the country — the movement has no single leader — will continue to mobilize local communities in the fight against police violence. I spoke with Cullors about how the protests impacted the elections, how Americans can address the political divide in this country, and what to expect from the organization in the new Biden-Harris administration. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Rachel Ramirez Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the presidential election. Democrats flipped key battleground states. Tell me about the impact the Black Lives Matter movement, and the protests this summer, had on getting people out to vote. Patrisse Cullors We really wanted to galvanize the energy from the streets this summer and move it to the ballot box. Just through our massive, multi-million dollar Get-Out-The-Vote efforts, we’ve texted 6 million new voters. We partnered with the Hamilton casts to make absentee ballot instructional videos. We worked with a live creative agency called Trap Heals, where we did Get-Out-The-Vote drive-in events in California, Michigan, and Georgia. We also started a “Dear White People” campaign, looking at the way in which the GOP was trying to paint Black Lives Matter in a negative light, so we started to run ads across the Midwest to combat the demonization of Black Lives Matter. Gio Solis Patrisse Cullors Most of our work during this election cycle was very much hands-on. Through our PAC, we signed 6,000 volunteers for 10,000 shifts to phone-bank in battleground states. We’ve knocked on thousands of doors in Miami-Dade, Philadelphia, and Atlanta to bring registered voters to polls on Election Day. We also endorsed candidates up and down the ballot from the president down to the school board. We spent a lot of our time focused on electives who are going to fight for Black lives and working with Black voters — and new Black voters, in particular — to get them out and to really teach them on how to use mail-in ballots. Rachel Ramirez Tell me more about the Black Lives Matter PAC and what it’s currently focused on. I know one of the states that Black voters helped flip blue for Joe Biden was Georgia — and much of that was with the help of Black women organizers. What are your current efforts for the Senate runoff in Georgia, which will dictate which party has the majority? Patrisse Cullors For our PAC, we are going to focus all of our efforts on Georgia for the Senate runoff elections. We’re coordinating a coalition of Black-led organizations to ensure we’re working together and putting all of our resources together in the best way possible. We’ll be phone banking, texting, knocking doors, running ads in digital and TV to help not just replicate but improve upon the record turnout we saw in November. We are so grateful for the work of Stacey Abrams, Nsé Ufot, LaTosha Brown, and their respective organizations for the groundwork that they’ve done in Georgia. So we want to just build with them and continue to build off of that. Georgia will decide who controls the Senate, and if we win, then we’ll have the political environment for progressive and affirmative legislative agenda ideas. We know that elected officials, and our current system, isn’t a magic fix to getting Black people closer to freedom, but it is an important part. Rachel Ramirez How do you see Black Lives Matter’s relationship with the upcoming Biden administration? Tell me about the types of legislation the organization wants to push. Patrisse Cullors The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation sent a letter to Biden and Harris requesting a meeting. We did that the day they were announced as the Vice President-elect and President-elect. So we’re looking forward to having that meeting with them directly to discuss our agenda. We believe that we need legislation that affirms and values Black lives. It could be comprehensive and intersectional. During the uprising in the summer, our movement came together with the movement for Black Lives when we wrote the BREATHE Act. We see it as a modern-day civil rights bill and the legislative love letter to Black people. The BREATHE Act actually offers a complete reimagining of public safety, it offers community care, and it really reevaluates how we spend money as a society, especially towards the most marginalized parts of our communities. It’s invested in non-punitive and non-carceral approaches to community safety — and it’s really trying to shrink the current criminal legal system that has completely decimated Black people. The BREATHE Act centers the protection of Black lives, including Black mothers, Black trans people, Black women, and Black men. So that is going to be a central piece of our work. Rachel Ramirez Some of the wins this election were ballot measures on police reform, but most of them aren’t nearly as radical as defunding the police. What can we expect to see in the future on upcoming ballots? What is some of the work you’re doing around that? Patrisse Cullors We’ll be working to support the implementation of Measure J, which is here in Los Angeles County. It doesn’t defund police, but that’s an oversimplification. What it does is actually allow for Los Angeles to fund solely a non-punitive system. And while in the short term, it may not defund the police, in the long term, it offers us an opportunity to show elected officials that policing and incarceration don’t work. And if we could show them by proving it to them, by investing in communities, then, in fact, the social service of policing will be a shrinking system. Rachel Ramirez Black Lives Matter has been around for over seven years now. Tell me what it was like to see a shift this summer — white people in suburbs and small towns actually chanting “Black Lives Matter” and putting signs in their windows — and is that shift something we can hold on to? Patrisse Cullors Yes, I think that we can hold on to it as long as we fight for it. We know that once the GOP started to see the power of Black Lives Matter, especially in this election year, they went after us. They demonized us. And so we saw the number of white people that stopped defending Black Lives Matter based on the polls. We need people to not allow for fear-mongering to stop them from being allies of our movement. We need them to see the necessity of this movement. Rachel Ramirez The political divide in this country is still so stark — from wearing masks to election misinformation to views on policing to even the nationwide protests this summer. How is Black Lives Matter working to cover the gap? How should other folks fill that divide? Patrisse Cullors Our elected officials are divided on a lot, but when you talk about division, I think one of the main issues is access to our democracy. We’re keeping people out of the system, primarily Black and brown and low-income folks, so what we end up with is a political system that has this artificial divide when that’s not actually the case. We’re looking at the Electoral College that makes votes in Wyoming count way more than votes in California, which makes very little sense outside of the racist structure of the Electoral College. The filibuster lets one senator hold up legislation that the majority agrees upon. Our current court system is packed with ultra-conservatives who are willing to strike down voting rights, health care, and is now actively hostile towards abortion rights, and queer and trans rights. I’m thinking a lot about voter ID laws, and other forms of suppression that keep people of color from voting at disproportionate rates. And the most obvious is our two-party system that reinforces these political divides. We need an additional political party or more for poor and working-class, Black and brown families. The unfortunate reality is the system keeps people’s voices silenced, and it makes our government work worse. What Black Lives Matter is really calling for is real democracy — a democracy that creates a progressive agenda that allows for everybody inside of this country to enjoy the fruits of democracy. Rachel Ramirez With a Biden-Harris win, clearly the work is not yet done and there’s no magic fix to systemic racism. What kind of short-term and long-term changes and reforms do you think everyday people should focus on when it comes to racial justice and holding the police and elected officials accountable? Patrisse Cullors Keep fighting locally. The work at the local level is the most important work. What we do at the local level impacts the national work. Our Black Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter PAC are going to keep doing the work to build a world where all Black lives matter. When it comes to bringing the movement to the halls of power, we are particularly thrilled to see folks like Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman, who are part of the movement, taking that step into the political arena. I just want to pick Cori Bush up, because she’s a perfect example of the type of people we need inside. She went from the street and now she’s in Congress, and she represents us unapologetically. Our movement will never lie to people and say get this person in office and everything you’ve desired will come true, because that’s not true. History has shown that to us. If it were, Black Lives Matter would not need to exist. What we do believe is that we have to be in the streets organizing for a better future for our people. It’s about building a political environment. It’s about building a social environment and a cultural environment. Sometimes we’re gonna have awful candidates — and we can’t stop fighting. We have to fight for change. We saw that for four years, we essentially lived in purgatory in this country because of what Donald Trump did to marginalized people. But our movement did not stop fighting. We didn’t put down the baton because we had a fascist in office. In fact, we grew stronger — so we see ourselves being able to maintain that strength and build that strength.
vox.com
The challenge of combating fake news in Asian American communities
A copy of the Epoch Times, a free newspaper backed by the Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong that tends to espouse anti-communist, pro-Trump views. | Miguel Candela via Getty Images Language diversity within the AAPI community means misinformation is difficult to track. Less than a week after Election Day, a spreadsheet titled “Battling Asian American Misinformation” began circulating in progressive Asian American social media circles, primarily among those of Vietnamese and Chinese descent. The most popular YouTube channels flagged on the spreadsheet accumulated hundreds of thousands of subscribers, in which pundits discussed misleading claims about election fraud, Hunter Biden’s relationship with China (a conspiracy disseminated by pro-Trump figures), and the Chinese Communist Party’s meddling in the presidential election. Below some of these clips, YouTube included a label informing viewers that the Associated Press had called the election for Joe Biden. But beyond that small disclaimer, most channels were still monetized and still easily discoverable. Flagging it to YouTube, as some soon realized, amounted to doing nothing. The election might be over, but the uphill battle against online misinformation, notably within first-generation immigrant communities, wages on. According to CNN’s exit polling, Biden won over the majority of Asian American and Pacific Islander voters this presidential election — 61 percent of AAPI voters supported Biden, while 34 percent backed President Donald Trump. But if Democrats want to maintain a sizable lead, especially within specific ethnic groups where Democratic support has waned, they must address the growing issue of native-language misinformation, according to grassroots organizers and community activists. Because upon disaggregating voter data — something few non-Asian polling organizations and publications tend to do — the political tendencies of this demographic are more complex and less predictable than meets the eye. A quarter of AAPI voters identify as independent, and as more people become naturalized citizens each cycle, Democrats and Republicans have a fresh slate of voters they’re able to court. Data from the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey showed that out of the six ethnic groups surveyed, Vietnamese Americans were the only ones to express more support for Trump (48 percent) than Biden (36 percent). When factoring in surveys that extend back to 2012, however, data suggests that Republican margins, while still in the minority, are increasing. While some Asian experts thought AAPI voters might be turned off by Trump’s harsh xenophobic language (which fed into anti-Asian sentiments), surveys suggest that a not-insignificant minority of the electorate are not just tolerating it but have bought into the rhetoric, in addition to the rampant conspiracy theories. Progressive Asian American organizers say online misinformation, specifically regarding the Democrats and the president-elect, played a role in exposing Asian American voters to more radical right-wing views since 2016. First-generation immigrants who have a contentious history with China and communist governments — such as those from Cambodia, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Laos — are more susceptible to the false claims Trump has made about China and its supposed impact on the election and the Democratic Party’s “socialist” tendencies. Nonpartisan organizations, like APIAVote, are also concerned about how voters with limited English proficiency are vulnerable to disinformation about the voting process. Some fretted over the reliability of mail-in ballots, voter safety at the polls, and if their ballot would be counted if they voted for certain candidates. “This election cycle, we were involved with a larger network of community organizations to make sure we fought back on disinformation about the election process,” Christine Chen, executive of APIAVote, told Vox. “It appeared that certain communities were more vulnerable and targeted, with the information translated into their language and posted onto WeChat or Facebook.” The organization and its community partners don’t expect the torrent of fake news to subside post-election; these campaigns can have a future impact on how Asian Americans participate and vote in upcoming elections, including the Georgia Senate runoff elections, which could determine whether Biden will be able to push through his agenda. Misinformation campaigns can be hard to track, due to the language and platform diversity of the AAPI community The AAPI community is the fastest-growing electorate in the US, according to the Pew Research Center, growing from 4.6 million in 2000 to 11.1 million in 2020. Yet the categorization of “Asian American and Pacific Islander” is broad and vague, and rarely used as a self-identifier. There is little to no political solidarity among most of these voters, especially first-generation immigrants, who hail from different cultural, economic, and religious backgrounds with varying political histories and sensitivities. To put it simply, the Asian American electorate is overwhelmingly diverse. Different ethnic groups communicate and receive news on different chat and social media platforms beyond the tech behemoths of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, popular among English-language voters. Since the AAPI umbrella represents voters from more than 30 different ethnic groups and languages, misinformation campaigns within these communities are challenging to track. For example, Chinese Americans who hail from mainland China tend to use WeChat, while those from Taiwan and Hong Kong use Line and WhatsApp, respectively. Korean Americans have KakaoTalk, Vietnamese Americans mostly rely on Facebook, and many Indian Americans use WhatsApp. Meanwhile, many immigrants with limited English proficiency naturally gravitate toward native-language media — television, radio, and print media — that is produced in the US or from their home country, which might carry its own individual biases. “I don’t know if there is a liberal Korean newspaper in America,” said Jeong Park, a reporter who formerly covered the Asian American community for the Orange County Register. In the lead-up to the election, Park noticed that Korea Daily, the largest US newspaper for Korean Americans, began to produce videos that alleged election fraud and corruption within the Biden family, which garnered hundreds of thousands of views. “Korean newspapers are mostly moderate to conservative and work to amplify the voices of the business class, but I’m pretty alarmed at how those videos have so many views,” he said. And a lot of Korean Americans also watch videos from Korean conservative YouTubers -- which has also spent some of their time promoting Hunter Biden scandal/conspiracy theory: https://t.co/ze5aRVqGdV— Jeong Park (@JeongPark52) November 5, 2020 The same dynamic exists among Vietnamese US-based media, according to volunteers at Viet Fact Check, a project launched by the Progressive Vietnamese American Organization (PIVOT). “In our own efforts to raise awareness in our community, we’ve been turned down or muzzled by Vietnamese-language press because of the fear of offending advertisers or the readership,” said Nick Nguyen, the group’s research lead. “The same pay-for-eyeballs phenomenon across the internet is also taking place here.” Consistent among most Asian American organizers who spoke with Vox was the concern with the Epoch Times’s media empire — including affiliates like New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD TV) and China Uncensored, which have 1.29 million and 1.48 million YouTube subscribers, respectively. That’s a conservative estimate of the Epoch Times’s reach; its affiliates have separate YouTube channels and Facebook pages across multiple languages, all with hundreds of thousands of followers or subscribers. These pages employ a “sophisticated translation operation,” one activist described, in disseminating articles and videos on Facebook and YouTube with an anti-China slant. Since misinformation experts and researchers usually specialize in one language or platform, there is little comprehensive research on how this phenomenon impacts AAPI voters as a whole. Groups like APIAVote, though, are anticipating misinformation will be a recurring tactic in future elections. “We’re working with community-based organizations that have a presence on each of these platforms,” Chen said. “Based on what we’ve seen in the African American and Latino community, these types of fear-based attacks are also affecting our ethnic communities.” How overlapping information networks can fuel false narratives The types of false narratives Asian Americans encounter online are not wholly distinct from misleading English- or Spanish-language media. Some voters are already avid viewers and readers of One America News, Newsmax, or Fox News, and seeing content in their native language may only reaffirm existing beliefs. “The core of this tactic relies on people’s sense of insecurity and fear by misinterpreting certain policies or outcomes,” said Sunny Shao of AAPI Data, who has done research on social media rhetoric, WeChat, and Chinese American voter behavior. “Sometimes it can be straight-out misinformation, but oftentimes, there’s a cultural twist.” “Sometimes it can be straight-out misinformation, but oftentimes, there’s a cultural twist” Inaccurate or false news about the presidential election results generally relies on similar narratives perpetrated on some English conservative channels and sites, like Breitbart and the Daily Caller: that voter fraud is a pervasive issue in the US or that Beijing favors Biden. Some content also stokes racial tensions by preying on anti-Black prejudices, in light of images from this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and the “scarcity mindset” that some immigrants have. These biased narratives are usually oversimplified and presented without nuance, which make them easily digestible for audiences with limited English and cultural context. Some unfounded claims, like that of Biden being a radical socialist, aren’t aimed at a specific community, as Recode’s Shirin Ghaffary reported. Yet they find resonance among Latino and Asian immigrants distrustful of communist governments, whose suspicions can lead them down information echo chambers that further solidifies these conspiratorial beliefs. It's interesting to see the Taiwanese trying to take down 中天 but quoting Breitbart and Bannon and the same time https://t.co/JRgOpO64AU— Jocelyn 羅 (@jocelkx) November 15, 2020 Research shows that people are more likely to trust information that originates from sources they’re familiar with — friends, family, or those within their cultural community on Facebook groups, YouTube channels, or Instagram pages. As a result, peer-to-peer sharing within closed chat groups on platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram are driving the spread. And the misinformation is not just from one source: These information networks can overlap, and first-generation immigrants might be swayed by perceptions of US politics from their home country, according to anecdotes from community members. For example, analysis of American politics from Taiwan — which has taken a proactive stance against domestic disinformation — has largely been in favor of Trump, said Rath Wang, communications director of Taiwanese Americans for Progress. While the Taiwanese government did not officially endorse any presidential candidate, its media ecosystem is still skewed. Pre-election polls by YouGov found Taiwan to be the only one out of 15 European and Asian states with citizens favoring Trump over Biden. Several prominent Chinese dissidents have also promoted the message that Republicans and Donald Trump are the only ones who can stop China” from politically encroaching on Taiwan, Wang added. It doesn’t help that most Americans traditionally lump the Chinese diaspora under the “Chinese American” umbrella, which overlooks the population’s geopolitical complexity. Immigrant voters who still have ties to their home country deeply care about foreign policy, and this generalizing “ignores the community’s political diversity,” Wang said. A similar development has occurred in Vietnam, whose state media is predominantly pro-Trump. There, the Epoch Times — under the name Dai Ky Nguyen — developed an experimental network of pro-Trump, anti-China pages, which soon became one of the country’s largest Facebook publishers. The New York Times described the operation as “a Vietnamese experiment,” and the Vietnam team was reportedly tapped to build the US arm of the Epoch Times’s operation in 2017. This misinformation network has become “a force in right-wing media,” the New York Times reported, commanding tens of millions of social media followers on Facebook and Youtube spread across dozens of English and foreign-language pages. “A lot of channels like the Epoch Times are superspreaders of misinformation, and it’s not clear from their Facebook or YouTube presence where they come from,” said Deanna Tran, Viet Fact Check’s operations lead. “It’s shared on multiple platforms at the same time, and then it gets absorbed into our communities and makes it seem like it’s homegrown, when in fact there might be outside influence involved potentially.” “It’s shared on multiple platforms at the same time, and then it gets absorbed into our communities and makes it seem like it’s homegrown” Misinformation can also be community-specific, varying by region or by ethnic enclave. In early November, ProPublica reported that at least two dozen groups on WeChat had spread misinformation about how the federal government was “preparing to mobilize” in the case of riots on Election Day, in an attempt to frighten Chinese voters to stay home. Reuters also reported that several nonpartisan South Asian groups worked together to correct fake news about the voting process on WhatsApp, an unmoderated and decentralized chat service. “It’s not that we only have a WeChat or a WhatsApp problem; these platforms are accelerants,” said Vincent Pan, executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action and co-founder of Asian Americans Against Trump, who is familiar with misinformation on WeChat. “It accelerates a lot of vulnerabilities that Chinese and other Asian immigrants with limited English proficiency have. They live in scarcity, under tremendous social and economic pressure and uncertainty.” “Meet the community where they’re at”: Organizers demand support from social media platforms and political parties While the potential for misinformation on these platforms is known, the effort to stanch the spread has primarily fallen to the hands of grassroots organizers from within these ethnic communities. These efforts also vary by ethnic group. Community members are tasked with not just finding and reporting fake news but actively debunking these claims and becoming an accurate, neutral news source — often with little manpower and financial support. According to Pan, the non-English social media landscape is usually homogeneous, operating as an insular echo chamber where little fact-checking is done. “There’s not the same level of balance, in terms of political balance or racial and ethnic balance,” he said. “It’s a priority of ours to meet the community where they’re at.” This “data void” is also occurring in the Latino community, as Vox’s Ghaffary has reported: “There are only two major Spanish-language broadcast news networks in the US: Univision and Telemundo. This leaves room for media operations — not just on the internet but also via local radio channels and newspapers — to spread less accurate reporting,” according to a Spanish misinformation researcher. View this post on Instagram A post shared by VietFactCheck /ViệtKiểmTin (@vietfactcheck) While accurate and nonpartisan sources of information in Asian languages do exist, they are few and far between, and their online presence can’t compete against viral posts with an inflammatory or biased slant. “The message discipline in conservative media is amazing,” said Nguyen of Viet Fact Check. “Think of the juggernauts we’re facing, and there are no progressive alternative voices in Vietnamese media. For us, we just try to keep a very neutral and fact-based tone.” But platforms too have a responsibility to mitigate the spread of non-English misinformation, Nguyen added, as this phenomenon is no longer unique to the English-speaking population. While Facebook announced it will take measures to stem election misinformation related to the vote count, similar content remains accessible on YouTube and is gaining traction. One researcher told Recode that YouTube doesn’t appear to actively push such content, which is “somewhat hard to find,” but it’s possible the platform’s moderation focus is less strict surrounding foreign-language misinformation on US elections. Viet Fact Check, a volunteer-run group, has tried to register as an independent fact-checker on Facebook, but faced obstacles to verification. “I’m comfortable saying we are the No. 1 neutral-to-progressive fact-checking Vietnamese source in the US,” Nguyen said. “And while Facebook has tried to mobilize third-party groups to fact-check, we’re not technically a media organization. We’re all volunteers.” This grassroots work isn’t sufficient, nor is it sustainable. Organizers say Democrats need to commit to outreach and budget in translation services to reach these historically overlooked communities. “The Democratic Party needs to recognize that there are certain political sensitivities within the Asian American umbrella,” said Wang of Taiwanese Americans for Progress. “For Taiwanese Americans, it’s crucial that candidates express their backing for Taiwan. … Since Trump has been so vocal about China, many believe that he will take action to support Taiwan.” “The Democratic Party needs to recognize that there are certain political sensitivities within the Asian American umbrella” It’s also a matter of trust. About half of AAPI voters in the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey have not been contacted by a major party, a huge missed opportunity, according to Shao, the researcher from AAPI Data. Pockets of Asian American voters live in battleground states and can be a deciding factor in congressional or state legislature races. There are both cultural and language barriers that prevent people from breaking through the misinformation trap. For example, many first-generation immigrants lack the civic knowledge about how elections work, thus relying on community-driven translated content that might not always be true. A direct approach from political parties and candidates, then, could make a difference in how these voters perceive certain policies and elections. On-the-ground regional or state-level work is required to disaggregate and disentangle the myth of the “AAPI voter” and their varying interests. “We ran Asian-language ads and direct mail in four to five different swing states against vulnerable Republicans,” said Pan of Asian Americans Against Trump. “The parties and candidates weren’t doing it themselves, and it was too frustrating to sit and watch our communities go the wrong way.” In late October, Bloomberg reported that Asian American voters could “play a decisive role” in turning Georgia blue, with Indian Americans as the state’s largest Asian ethnic group. With Georgia’s upcoming Senate runoff race in January, the AAPI vote is similarly coveted. These voters could be crucial in swaying elections in races that have thin margins, Pan added, and politicians — at the regional, state, and national levels — should be focused on investing and distributing more resources. “We’ve realized that if we can’t always rely on regulatory protections from Facebook or backing from a national party,” Pan said. “We have to organize.”
vox.com
On the rebellious joy of a long, long movie dance scene
Nothing better than a movie where people dance, and dance, and dance. | Parisa Taghizedeh / Amazon Prime Video Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock and movies like it take the edge off loneliness. A bead of sweat, shot close up and glistening, slowly meanders down a gilded wall. The music playing in the background is equally unhurried. It’s lovers rock, reggae with a romantic pulse, and the room is full of young people who’ve come to dance all night. And they’re in a movie: Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock, which debuts November 27 on Amazon Prime, the second of five installments in McQueen’s masterful anthology series about West Indian communities in London. Lovers Rock lasts 70 minutes, but it feels like it lasts all night, in a good way. Time slows down in a movie like this. While it’s ostensibly a story about a young woman named Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn), who meets Franklyn (Micheal Ward) at a house party in the early 1980s, it’s more of an experience than a film, more immersive than narrative. Most of what’s subversive about Lovers Rock never makes it to the foreground, but the title shows McQueen’s hand. The film’s young dancers and prowlers and lovers are at a house, not a club, because the all-white nightclubs of the era aren’t friendly to them. The musical genre from which the movie draws its name emerged in the 1970s as a departure from other reggae, in that it foregrounded women’s desire, women’s experience, women’s passion. It bucked the patriarchal attitudes that often undergirded the music scene, and in centering romance, it became subtly political. Artists from Lauryn Hill to Drake to Rihanna have worked within the structures and styles of lovers rock. Lovers Rock translates these attitudes and themes into vibes, letting Martha escape a strict religious family and cut loose for a while. It’s not a world free of care; at one point, Martha intervenes when she discovers a man trying to assault a young woman he lured out of the party. She argues with Franklyn; she has a tiff with her best friend, Patty (Shaniqua Okwok). It is not paradise in this house. But it is an oasis. The greatest scene comes midway through, when the DJ puts on Janet Kay’s hit 1979 single “Silly Games,” one of the most famous lovers rock songs. Lovers Rock is set a few years after the song hit its peak, and the whole crowd knows it word for word. The song is five minutes long and plays in its entirety, Kay’s voice climbing slowly up the scale till she hits a high note at the end. McQueen lets the whole thing roll. The dancers groove and grind; it looks like they’re dancing in slow motion. And when the song is over, the crowd starts to sing it again, from the beginning, a cappella, still dancing. Parisa Taghizedeh / Amazon Prime Video Micheal Ward and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn in Lovers Rock. The whole scene lasts 10 minutes, and it’s only one of several long sequences in Lovers Rock. It dares the stolid movie-watcher, perched on their couch, to let go of the fourth wall and get up and dance. That’s the power of a movie: to speed up time or slow it down, or to run it at the same speed as our own time, daring us to sync up. There’s something a bit flustering about watching a film like that. We are so used to leaning on the barrier, the fiction that we set up between ourselves and whatever’s happening on screen — sitting back and quietly judging it, munching on popcorn. But something about an extended dance scene coaxes us out of that bubble. Jonathan Demme — one of the greatest directors of all time, who is celebrated in particular for his concert films — harnessed that power and let it rip in the third act of 2008’s Rachel Getting Married, a movie about a young woman named Kym (played by Anne Hathaway) having a breakdown at her sister’s wedding. Her sister Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt) is marrying record producer Sidney, who is played by TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe. Their wedding is full of musicians, and music breaks out after the ceremony, and everyone starts dancing. Demme asked the musicians to improvise the music on set, following their mood rather than a preset composition, and the result is vibrant and irresistible. The dancing comes near the end of a movie full of bitterness and family strife, so its joy is shaded and colored by all the sorrow — and that might be what makes it so meaningful. Everything is hard, and people often hurt each other, and hurt themselves. But there is something we have always done, as a species, to fight back. And on screen, the characters invite us to join in both their pain and their elation. Whenever this sort of extended dance scene shows up in a film — with diegetic music that sets the characters swaying and asks us to listen to the full song with them — the result is intoxicating. In 2020, such scenes have popped up quite a bit, whether it’s Kate Lyn Sheil in She Dies Tomorrow as despondent Amy, listening to a requiem over and over as she gets wasted in her house, or isolated dancers losing their minds alone across Europe in the short, brilliant Strasbourg 1518. The upcoming film Another Round, starring Mads Mikkelsen, features several exhilarating dancing sequences where middle-aged men sway and jump and swirl, losing themselves and their pain and their adult bitterness in the music. In the third episode of Damien Chazelle’s Netflix series The Eddy, which debuted back in May, a Parisian funeral crammed with jazz musicians turns from somber to electrifying; the episode stretches from storytelling to full-out memorial celebration. Parisa Taghizedeh / Amazon Prime Video Pure joy in Lovers Rock. In all of these cases, the normal rhythm of cinema — which cuts and moves from scene to scene, cramming days and weeks and years into a few hours — expands to match the pace of our own off-screen time. And it can be unnerving. If making a movie lets the director manipulate time and reality, it also allows them to suddenly make us feel our place in time. And there’s no better way to do that than through a long, languid stretch of music and dance that we can hang out in ourselves. Lovers Rock is easily one of the best movies of 2020, and by the end of the film, you’ll be surprised that only 70 minutes have passed; somehow, it’s felt like much more, but in the very best way. This year has bent us all toward isolation and bitterness, toward an unending monotony somehow mixed with a daily parade of horrors. There have been far fewer opportunities to lose ourselves in music, to sweat and breathe alongside other bodies, and know that we are alive. So sometimes it helps to sink deeply into the images and rhythms and pace of a film that knows one big truth: All of eternity, the joy and the pain, can be compressed — a glittering bead of sweat and bliss — into one perfect dance party. Lovers Rock, the second of five installments in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, premieres on Amazon Prime on November 27.
vox.com