05.24.2019 Culture

A Weekly Roundup of Politics: Tornadoes, #StoptheBans, and Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

Ann Lewis
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Violent Weather in the Midwest

This week saw a rash of tornadoes hit the interior of the nation with a whopping 170 twisters sighted within the past seven days. Missouri was most dramatically hit with Jefferson City, Golden City, Joplin, and Carl Junction all reporting widespread damage and three fatalities. Downed power lines littered the streets and countless homes and buildings were destroyed.

The tornado that hit Jefferson City registered as an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale. The scale has 5 different levels of destruction, but less than 5% of tornadoes in the US actually reach or surpass a category 3.

Flooding in Tulsa, Oklahoma (also from the same storm systems) is challenging a dam about 20 miles outside of the city. Homes neighboring the dam have been evacuated as the Army Corp of Engineers is releasing water at a higher rate to relieve pressure on the structure. While it’s likely this will do much to ease the extra 29 feet of water in Keystone Lake, surrounding area residents have been put on alert that larger areas may need to evacuate if the dam fails. Dangerous weather is predicted for the region through Memorial Day weekend with possible tornadoes in Texas, Kansas, and Pennsylvania.

#StoptheBans Protests

Women all over the country rallied on Wednesday to #stopthebans on abortion after a wave of anti-choice legislation swept the country last week. Over 450 locations reported rallies with organizers such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and NARAL Pro-Choice America. At a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan women, men, and trans folks showed up with protest posters (some in pussy hats) to listen to local leaders speak on how best to center women of color and trans people in the fight to keep our autonomy.

Many people don’t know that trans people often have a difficult time gaining access to reproductive health services from various medical institutions because of their identities.

Cecil Richards, the former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, spoke first at the rally offering the crowd some solace: “I don’t know about you, but I will go to jail before I let this government tell me what I can and cannot do with my own body. That’s a promise to you.”

Emotions were high as roughly 20 speakers, poets, and rappers (mostly black, brown, and trans) took the stage demanding action and autonomy. Things got particularly intense when State Senator Jeff Irwin, the only cis-man who spoke during the rally, explained a frightening new prospect for Michigan women in the fight for reproductive rights. After Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) recently promised to veto a bill that passed in the state House and Senate that focused on banning abortions, the organization The Right to Life Michigan has pledged to get 350,000 signatures in support of the bill. Because of Michigan’s unique constitution, if the group can attain all of the signatures needed, the law can be passed without approval of the governor. No word on how soon that may happen but Michiganders can expect the ACLU to file suit challenging the bill’s constitutionality, which will likely stall implementation of the law.

The Arms Export Control Act Loophole

In another governmental bypass, the White House is planning to sidestep Congress to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is urging the President to invoke a provision known as the Arms Export Control Act which allows the White House to claim “an emergency exists which would require the proposed sale in the national security interest of the United States.”

This emergency would, of course, be Iran.

After weeks of tension between the US and Iran the argument that US interests in the region are in danger may make sense — but likely doesn’t amount to an absolute necessity to sell the Saudis over a billion dollars worth of ammunition and weaponry.

The Saudis have been waging a four-year war in Yemen fighting the Houthi Rebels which are backed by Iran. This proxy war of sorts has resulted in the United Nations deeming it the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. With nearly 7,000 civilians known to have died from the conflict, to the 3 million women and girls at risk of physical and sexual violence, to the 14 million people at risk for starvation and death, US Congress passed bipartisan legislation to cut off military assistance to Saudi Arabia’s participation in the war in Yemen. However, Trump vetoed that bill in April.

Both sides of Congress are balking at the administration’s complete willingness to look past the constitutional duties of the legislative arm of government. Part of that responsibility is to declare war and approve arms sales. Many believe allowing Trump to make this sale would open the door to other abuses of power in the future.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) said in a statement on Thursday: “It sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress. We have the constitutional duty to declare war and the responsibility to oversee arm sales that contravene our national security interests. If we don’t stand up to this abuse of authority, we will permanently box ourselves out of deciding who we should sell weapons to.”

Indeed, several dangerous precedents are being set at this moment in America. From rolling back women’s autonomy, category EF-3 tornadoes in the midwest, and Trump’s willful disregard for the checks and balances of our government, this is a very tumultuous time.

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.  

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