6.55pm EDT18:55

Georgia school board resolution issues ‘belief statement’ that the country is not racist

Georgia’s education board has adopted a resolution insisting that the US and the state of Georgia are not racist and that students should be taught that racism and slavery are aberrations rather than the systemic norm.

The symbolic resolution could pave the way for future binding restrictions on how teachers will be allowed to teach.

The AP reports:

“This resolution does not prohibit anybody from teaching anything,” board chair Scott Sweeney said during the meeting, which was held over the phone. “This is a belief statement more so than anything else or an affirmation.”

Additional provisions the board endorsed say teachers should not “inculcate” the idea that people’s race makes them inherently oppressive, either consciously or unconsciously, or responsible for past actions by other members of the same race. It also says instructors should not be forced to teach “currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs.”

Board member Kenneth Mason, who is Black, said the resolution encouraged people to be silent about any racism they’ve experienced.

He said the statement “when I read it made me feel like I didn’t belong,” because it “excused” racism that he and his family have faced.

The school board’s move comes amid a growing right-wing and Republican movement against teaching “critical race theory”, my colleague Julia Carrie Wong writes:

The laborious project of establishing truth in the face of official lies is one that Americans embraced during the racial reckoning of the summer of 2020, whether it was individuals speaking out about their experiences of racism at work, or institutions acknowledging their own complicity in racial injustice. For a time, it seemed that America was finally ready to tell a more honest, nuanced story of itself, one that acknowledged the blood at the root.

But alongside this reassessment, another American tradition re-emerged: a reactionary movement bent on reasserting a whitewashed American myth. These reactionary forces have taken aim at efforts to tell an honest version of American history and speak openly about racism by proposing laws in statehouses across the country that would ban the teaching of “critical race theory”, the New York Times’s 1619 Project, and, euphemistically, “divisive concepts”.

The movement is characterized by a childish insistence that children should be taught a false version of the founding of the United States that better resembles a mythic virgin birth than the bloody, painful reality. It would shred the constitution’s first amendment in order to defend the honor of those who drafted its three-fifths clause.

“When you start re-examining the founding myth in light of evidence that’s been discovered in the last 20 years by historians, then that starts to make people doubt the founding myth,” said Christopher S Parker, a professor of political science at the University of Washington who studies reactionary movements. “There’s no room for racism in this myth. Anything that threatens to interrogate the myth is seen as a threat.”

Legislation seeking to limit how teachers talk about race has been considered by at least 15 states, according to an analysis by Education Week.

Read more:

6.37pm EDT18:37

A non-profit in Tulsa announced that it will give the three remaining survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre $100,000.

The gifts for Hughes Van Ellis Sr., Lessie Benningfield Randle and Viola Fletcher will – the three known living survivors of the massacre – were organized by the Justice for Greenwood Foundation, a non-profit is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the city of Tulsa seeking reparations for the survivors.

Last week, an event to commemorate the centenary of the massacre was canceled due to an impasse over payments to the survivors. The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, a group of local, state and other representatives tasked with commemorating the massacre said it was willing to pay $100,000 directly to survivors and contribute an additional $2m for a reparations fund. However, the commission was not able to contribute the $50m in seed money for a reparations fund that attorneys from an attorney who represents the survivors and their descendants were asking for.

As the Guardian reported last week:

The commission had raised more than $30m, including $20m for building the Greenwood Rising museum, in the past five years. Other funds would help renovations to the Greenwood Cultural Center, commemoration activities and art projects, he said.

Some Black residents in Tulsa have questioned whether money for the museum, which is in an increasingly gentrified part of the city, should have gone instead to descendants of those killed in the massacre, or African Americans now living near Greenwood.

“We are immensely proud to play our role in rectifying these injustices,” said Damario Solomon Simmons, executive director of Justice For Greenwood Foundation and the attorney representing survivors, told the AP. “Nothing can undo the immense pain inflicted upon the remaining survivors of the massacre, but alleviating their current financial burdens inflicted not only by the massacre itself but subsequent systemic racism is the least we could do for them as we continue to push for reparations.”

Fletcher, 107, who testified to Congress about her experience as a survivor, accused authorities of profiting from trauma. “The city of Tulsa has unjustly used the names and stories of victims like me to enrich itself and its white allies through the $30m raised by the Tulsa Centennial Commission,” she said, “while I continue to live in poverty.”

6.03pm EDT18:03

Alex Hern

Amazon customers have one week to opt out of a plan that would turn every Echo speaker and Ring security camera in the US into a shared wireless network, as part of the company’s plan to fix connection problems for its smart home devices.

The proposal, called Amazon Sidewalk, involves the company’s devices being used as a springboard to build city-wide “mesh networks” that help simplify the process of setting up new devices, keep them online even if they’re out of range of home wifi, and extend the range of tracking devices such as those made by Tile.

But Sidewalk has come under fire for the apparent lack of transparency with which Amazon has rolled out the feature, as well as the limited time available for users to complete the tricky process required to opt out. Other critics have expressed concerns that failing to turn the setting off could leave customers in breach of their internet service provider’s terms and conditions.

“Amazon Sidewalk is a shared network that helps devices work better,” the company said in a Q&A document for users. “In the future, Sidewalk will support a range of experiences from using Sidewalk-enabled devices, such as smart security and lighting and diagnostics for appliances and tools.”

The feature works by creating a low-bandwidth network using smart home devices such as Amazon Echoes and Ring security cameras. At its simplest, it means that a new Echo can set itself up using a neighbour’s wifi, or a security camera can continue to send motion alerts even if its connection to the internet is disrupted, by piggybacking on the connection of another camera across the street. Other devices that don’t need a high-bandwidth connection, such as smart lights, pet locators or smart locks, can use Sidewalk all the time.

But the company’s plans have caused alarm among observers. Ashkan Soltani, a former chief technology officer of the US Federal Trade Commission, told the tech site Ars Technica: “In addition to capturing everyone’s shopping habits (from amazon.com) and their internet activity (as AWS is one of the most dominant web hosting services) … now they are also effectively becoming a global ISP with a flick of a switch, all without even having to lay a single foot of fiber”. The feature may also break the terms and conditions of users’ internet connections, which do not allow such resharing, warned Lydia Leong, an analyst at Gartner.

Users can disable Sidewalk in the settings section of the Alexa or Ring apps, but have until 8 June to do so. After that, if they have taken no action, the network will be turned on and their devices will become “Sidewalk Bridges”.

Updated
at 6.11pm EDT

5.10pm EDT17:10

Black community tackles vaccine hesitancy in Alabama but Trump supporters resist

Oliver Laughland

Omar Neal had every reason to be skeptical.

Here in Tuskegee, Alabama, where roadways are dotted with signs that read “Vaccinate Me. Stop the Spread”, the history of racist medical abuse weighs heavily.

For four decades, between 1932 and 1972, the US government sponsored a biomedical study coercing 600 Black men, all sharecroppers, into a study on the effects of untreated syphilis. The male subjects were not told they were part of the research, and instead were made to believe they were being examined for “bad blood”. Many died. Others spread the disease to family members, partners and their newborn children. None were offered proper treatment.

Neal’s uncle, Freddie Lee Tyson, was one of those men. He grew up in the house next door to his nephew and would occasionally share how it felt when the study was exposed in the early ’70s.

“There was shame. And there was disbelief. Disbelief that the government would do that,” Neal recalled. “How could you? How dare you use my humanity for such an egregious activity.”

In 1997, President Bill Clinton apologized for the Tuskegee study, which he described as “clearly racist”. Two decades on, the legacy of what happened here has been routinely cited as a reason many Black Americans remain distrustful of the country’s medical systems and also the Covid-19 vaccine itself.

It is then, perhaps, against expectation that vaccination rates in Macon county, where this city of 8,000 residents is situated, are substantially higher than the state average in Alabama. In Macon county, 36% of residents have now received their first shot compared with only 32% statewide. In this historic region of Black Belt counties, home to large populations of Black residents, some jurisdictions have completed vaccinations at rates of over 40%.

But Alabama and the neighbouring state of Mississippi have for months had the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with vaccine hesitancy underwritten by different forces in various locations across the state. In some areas, political leaders have retreated from public engagement on the issue, while in others, including Tuskegee, local leadership has played a vital role in pushing rates above the state average.

Neal, a radio host and community leader, took his shot almost as soon as it was available. He weighed the heavy history but set aside what he described as instinctive distrust of public health systems after generations of failures.

“Trust is a calculated risk,” he said, pausing for a moment. “Five hundred and eighty-eight thousand people have died because they didn’t get this vaccine. Nobody died that did take it. That’s pretty good odds for me.”

Read more:

Updated
at 5.43pm EDT

5.02pm EDT17:02

Today so far

That’s it from me today. My west coast colleague, Maanvi Singh, will take over the blog for the next few hours.

Here’s where the day stands so far:

The Biden administration outlined plans to share 80 million coronavirus vaccine doses with other countries. The president previously indicated he hoped to distribute the doses abroad by the end of June. In a statement about the plan, Joe Biden said, “We are sharing these doses not to secure favors or extract concessions. We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values.”
Biden will meet with Queen Elizabeth and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he travels to the UK for the G-7 summit this month. Biden will meet with Johnson on 10 June, the day before the summit begins in Cornwall, and the US president and first lady will meet with the queen at Windsor Castle on 13 June.
Biden has proposed a new, minimum corporate tax of 15% to help pay for an infrastructure bill. Biden raised the idea with Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito during their meeting yesterday, walking back his initial proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, which had attracted intense Republican criticism.
The controversial postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, is reportedly under federal investigation in connection to his political fundraising. A spokesperson for DeJoy told the Washington Post that the justice department is investigating “campaign contributions made by employees who worked for him when he was in the private sector”. Previous reports indicated that DeJoy’s former employees had accused him and his top aides of pressuring them to donate to Republican candidates.
Maanvi will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Updated
at 5.09pm EDT

4.41pm EDT16:41

Donald Trump will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) event in Dallas next month, the chair of the American Conservative Union has just announced.

Matt Schlapp
(@mschlapp)
We are honored that President Donald Trump will end #CPACTX on a high note and remind us that freedom means never being silenced. pic.twitter.com/WpZtQUyYHz

June 3, 2021

The announcement comes two days before the former president is scheduled to speak at the North Carolina Republican party’s annual state convention.

Trump is also reportedly planning to hold rallies in battleground states this summer, although the exact timing of those events has not yet been announced.

The uptick in Trump’s public events comes amid reports that he is increasingly leaning toward launching another presidential campaign in 2024.

4.20pm EDT16:20

Joe Biden has decided against the idea of creating a presidential commission to study the 6 January insurrection, the White House told Axios.

“Congress was attacked on that day, and President Biden firmly agrees with Speaker Pelosi that Congress itself has a unique role and ability to carry out that investigation,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “Because of that, the President doesn’t plan to appoint his own commission.”

Biden’s decision means that an expansive review of the insurrection will need to be launched by Congress, but that task became much more difficult after last week, when Senate Republicans blocked a bill to form a bipartisan commission to study the Capitol attack.

Nancy Pelosi said on a Democratic caucus call on Tuesday that she was also against the idea of a presidential commission because such a body would lack subpoena authority or funding without a statutory change.

Updated
at 4.48pm EDT

4.00pm EDT16:00

Oliver Holmes

Benjamin Netanyahu has fought back against what he slammed as a “dangerous” coalition of opposition parties that were rushing to establish a government aimed at unseating the country’s longest-serving leader.

A day after the opposition head, Yair Lapid, announced that he and Naftali Bennett – his far-right partner and prime minister in waiting – could form a “government of change”, the race was on to get it voted on in parliament and sworn in.

The process could take two weeks or more, all while the coalition remains vulnerable to collapse. It is composed of a mix of bitter ideological rivals, including Jewish religious nationalists and Arab Islamists, who are united only by a shared desire to oust Netanyahu.

On Thursday, the opposition was scrambling to get the speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to schedule a vote of confidence in the proposed government. However, the speaker, Yariv Levin, is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party and has powers to delay, giving his boss more time to manoeuvre.

The far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman, a member of the new coalition, warned that the interim period could allow Netanyahu – famed for political acrobatics – to find kinks in the plan. “We launched the move, but we haven’t completed it. There will be 12 days that won’t be easy,” Lieberman told Channel 13 TV. However, he added: “In the end, there will be a government.”

3.38pm EDT15:38

Donald Trump has reportedly been speaking more seriously in recent weeks about the possibility of launching another presidential campaign in 2024.

The AP reports:

[M]ultiple people who have spoken with Trump and his team in recent weeks say [remarks about running in 2024] shouldn’t be viewed as idle chatter. Instead, they sense a shift, with Trump increasingly acting and talking like he plans to mount a run as he embarks on a more public phase of his post-presidency, beginning with a speech on Saturday in North Carolina.

The report comes as the former president has continued to put out statements encouraging the controversial Republican-led “audit” of 2020 ballots in Maricopa county, Arizona.

According to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, Trump has been telling allies that he expects to be reinstated as president by August. (That is obviously not possible because Trump fairly lost the presidential election to Joe Biden, who was sworn in more than four months ago.)

3.18pm EDT15:18

Oliver Laughland

George Floyd Square: Minneapolis removes barricades for road reopening – video
Parts of the memorial space constructed at the south Minneapolis intersection where George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer were removed by work crews on Thursday morning.

The city confirmed to the Guardian that barricades had been taken down to allow the intersection to be reopened to traffic, as reporters on the ground confirmed the presence of a large group of workers early in the morning. The deconstruction work appeared to have ceased within a few hours.

Floyd, 46, was killed by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020. Shortly after the incident community members turned the intersection where Floyd took his last breaths into a public mourning space, named George Floyd Square. The space, which became a de facto autonomous zone in which city police stayed away, features community art, sculptures and often hosts performances and protests.

In an email, city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie described the work as a “community-led reconnection process with city supporting efforts”. She added that more information on the work would be forthcoming, and that “artworks and memorials to George Floyd” would be preserved.

Updated
at 6.23pm EDT

3.00pm EDT15:00

Joe Biden has signed an executive order expanding the list of Chinese companies that are banned from receiving US investment because of their alleged ties to China’s military.

The Wall Street Journal has more details on the order:

An executive order Mr. Biden signed Thursday brings to 59 the total number of Chinese companies banned from receiving American investment and shows how his administration is continuing some of the hard-line China policies left by former President Donald Trump.

The new order prevents Americans from investing in those companies, with a 60-day grace period, until Aug. 2, before sanctions begin and a one-year period for Americans already invested in the firms—either directly or via mutual and index or other funds—to divest themselves.

The action is one of the firmest to date as the Biden administration conducts a broad review of China policy, including how to deal with tariffs and other trade measures taken by Mr. Trump. So far the administration has advanced few concrete actions against Beijing, though the U.S. recently joined allies in imposing sanctions against Chinese officials engaged in the mass incarceration of mainly Muslim ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.

In his recent speeches, Biden has emphasized the importance of the US adequately competing with China in the global marketplace.

Speaking in Ohio last week, Biden said of electric vehicles, “We want to lead the world in exports of these new technologies instead of ceding the global market and job creation to the Chinese.”

2.42pm EDT14:42

DeJoy under federal investigation in connection to political fundraising – report

Victoria Bekiempis

Federal law enforcement authorities are investigating controversial US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, in relation to political fundraising that involved his former company, the Washington Post reports.

FBI agents recently interviewed present and former employees who worked for DeJoy and his business, according to the Post’s report Thursday afternoon. They are asking about campaign contributions and business activities, sources told the newspaper. Prosecutors also hit DeJoy with a subpoena for information, per the report.

DeJoy’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, has reportedly confirmed that there is an investigation. He is adamant that DeJoy has not knowingly broken any laws.

“Mr DeJoy has learned that the Department of Justice is investigating campaign contributions made by employees who worked for him when he was in the private sector,” Corallo is quoted as saying. “He has always been scrupulous in his adherence to the campaign contribution laws and has never knowingly violated them.”

The investigation might suggest looming legal problems for DeJoy. He has not been charged with any crime and has maintained that the campaign fundraising complied with the law.

The Post has reported in September that staffers at DeJoy’s former business in North Carolina, New Breed Logistics, claimed that he or his aides pressured them to patronize fundraising events or contribute to GOP candidates. These employees alleged that they were reimbursed through bonuses.

This sort of repayment could violate federal or state campaign contribution laws that bar “straw-donor” setups, which enable deep-pocketed donors to eschew contribution limits. Straw donors can also obscure the source of politicians’ funds.

DeJoy is a “prominent GOP fundraiser, who personally gave more than $1.1m to the joint fundraising vehicle of President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican party,” the newspaper notes.

The postal service’s board of governors appointed DeJoy to postmaster general in May 2020. DeJoy’s tenure in the postal service has been contentious.

Shortly after DeJoy assumed his role, he enacted cost reduction initiatives that prompted limits to overtime and limiting mail runs, spurring delivery delays. Democrats have claimed that DeJoy was trying to weaken the postal service in advance of the election, as Trump vehemently distrusted mail-in voting, the Post explains.

DeJoy has previously insisted that he was not trying to impact the election. “I am not engaged in sabotaging the election,” DeJoy reportedly said at an August congressional hearing. “We will do everything in our power and structure to deliver the ballots on time.”

Updated
at 3.12pm EDT

2.30pm EDT14:30

New York mayoral candidates clash on policing in Democratic debate

Adam Gabbatt

The New York City mayoral race exploded into life on Wednesday night, as the Democratic primary debate saw candidates clash over whether to rein in or bolster the city’s beleaguered police force, and the two centrist frontrunners found themselves variously attacked as Republicans or gun-toters.

Andrew Yang and Eric Adams, who are leading the polls along with Kathryn Garcia, the city’s former sanitation commissioner, were the focus of their rivals during the debate, as eight candidates pitched themselves to be mayor of the biggest city in the US – a role once dubbed the “second toughest job in America”.

The winner of the Democratic primary later this month is expected to triumph in the mayoral election proper in November, lending an extra frisson to proceedings. But less than three weeks before New Yorkers go to the polls, the debate offered little hope for progressives seeking systemic change.

Poverty and homelessness, which have continued to blight New York City under the last eight years of a Democratic mayor, were left by the wayside as law and order became an enduring topic.

After a year where tens of thousands of New Yorkers called for the police department (NYPD) to be cut in size amid protests against police brutality and racism, it was Yang, a tech entrepreneur who ran a high-profile campaign for US president last year, who took the remarkable position of calling for the NYPD to expand.