Free Julian Assange!
Free Speech! • Free Journalists! • Free Press! No to Endless U.S. Wars
Saturday, October 23
12 Noon to 1:30 pm
Grand Lake Theater, Grand Ave. & Lake Park Ave. Oakland
Nozomi Hayase, Author, “Wikileaks, the Global Fourth Estate: History is Happening”
Andrew Kodama, Exec. Dir. Mt. Diablo Peace & Justice Center
Dennis Bernstein, Host, KPFA’s Flashpoints
Mickey Huff, Director, Project Censored
Cynthia Papermaster, CodePink/Women for Peace
Rick Sterling, Syria Solidarity Movement
Jeff Mackler, Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal; Admin. Comm., UNAC
Rep., SF Labor Council
Tom Lacey, Bay Area Peace and Freedom Party
Shahid Buttar, activist/organizer
With a special rap from
Taped greetings from…
Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize novelist
Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers defendant
Mumia Abu-Jamal, innocent journalist/political prisoner
Noam Chomsky, author
Boots Riley, of The Coup; Director, “Sorry to Bother You”
Sponsor: Freedom for Julian Assange SF Bay Area Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-Sponsors: Courage Foundation (assangedefense.org) • San Francisco Bay Area National Lawyers Guild • Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal • Black Alliance for Peace • Code Pink/Women for Peace, • United National Antiwar Coalition • International Action Center • Syria Solidarity Movement • Peninsula Peace and Justice Center • Peace and Freedom Party • Socialist Action • Green Party of Alameda County • U.S. Peace Council • BAYAN USA • Haiti Action Committee • Socialist Organizer • Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Social Justice Committee • Task Force on the Americas • Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center • Workers World Party • Veteran For Peace • San Jose Peace and Justice Center • Women's International League for Peace & Freedom • Bay Action Comm. to Free Julian Assange • Labor Action Comm. to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal • CWA TNG 39521 Pacifica Media Workers Union.
Please forward widely…
Link to Registration:
Sincere Greetings of Peace:
The “In the Spirit of Mandela Coalition*” invites your participation and endorsement of the planned October 2021 International Tribunal. The Tribunal will be charging the United States government, its states, and specific agencies with human and civil rights violations against Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.
The Tribunal will be charging human and civil rights violations for:
• Racist police killings of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people,
• Hyper incarcerations of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people
• Political incarceration of Civil Rights/National Liberation era revolutionaries and activists, as well as present day activists,
• Environmental racism and its impact on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people,
• Public Health racism and disparities and its impact on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, and
• Genocide of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people as a result of the historic and systemic charges of all the above.
The legal aspects of the Tribunal will be led by Attorney Nkechi Taifa along with a powerful team of seasoned attorneys from all the above fields. Thirteen jurists, some with international stature, will preside over the 3 days of testimonies. Testimonies will be elicited form impacted victims, expert witnesses, and attorneys with firsthand knowledge of specific incidences raised in the charges/indictment.
The 2021 International Tribunal has a unique set of outcomes and an opportunity to organize on a mass level across many social justice arenas. Upon the verdict, the results of the Tribunal will:
• Codify and publish the content and results of the Tribunal to be offered in High Schools and University curriculums,
• Provide organized, accurate information for reparation initiatives and community and human rights work,
• Strengthen the demand to free all Political Prisoners and establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission mechanism to lead to their freedom,
• Provide the foundation for civil action in federal and state courts across the United States,
• Present a stronger case, building upon previous and respected human rights initiatives, on the international stage,
• Establish a healthy and viable massive national network of community organizations, activists, clergy, academics, and lawyers concerned with challenging human rights abuses on all levels and enhancing the quality of life for all people, and
• Establish the foundation to build a “Peoples’ Senate” representative of all 50 states, Indigenous Tribes, and major religions.
Endorsements are $25. Your endorsement will add to the volume of support and input vital to ensuring the success of these outcomes moving forward, and to the Tribunal itself. It will be transparently used to immediately move forward with the Tribunal outcomes.
We encourage you to add your name and organization to attend the monthly Tribunal updates and to sign on to one of the Tribunal Committees. (3rd Saturday of each month from 12 noon to 2 PM eastern time). Submit your name by emailing: email@example.com
Please endorse now: http://spiritofmandela.org/endorse/
Dr. A’isha Mohammad
– Coordinating Committee
Created in 2018, In the Spirit of Mandela Coalition is a growing grouping of organizers, academics, clergy, attorneys, and organizations committed to working together against the systemic, historic, and ongoing human rights violations and abuses committed by the USA against Black, Brown, and Indigenous People. The Coalition recognizes and affirms the rich history of diverse and militant freedom fighters Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Graca Machel Mandela, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, and many more. It is in their Spirit and affirming their legacy that we work.
Thursday, November 11, 2021, San Francisco
Timeline of Events:
Meet at The Ferry Building, grab signs and get ready to march.
March along the scenic Embarcadero, the route is two miles, flat and wheelchair accessible
End at Aquatic Park near Hyde St. Pier for a short rally.
COP26 in Glasgow this November has the stated aim of “uniting the world to tackle climate change”.
Yet at the previous 25 COP conferences since 1995, world leaders have repeatedly failed to deliver on this.
We will not accept this failure—governments must act now!
“Stop killing us” is the message from XR Global South groups already suffering the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. We must also provide a voice for the millions of species and future generations who cannot speak for themselves.
XR will continue demanding immediate action to tackle the climate and ecological emergency in the run up to, during and beyond COP26.
Join us. Together we will tell these leaders to listen.
Bring yourself, friends, colleagues, neighbors, schoolmates, children, and community for a demonstration to let the power that be know we are watching them.
We will march with signs, hand crafted puppets, banners, a safety team, and each other to call for our right to safe and healthy planet for future generations by Non-Violent Direct Action.
To: U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives
Sign Petition at:
Rashid just called with the news that he has been moved back to Virginia. His property is already there, and he will get to claim the most important items tomorrow. He is at a "medium security" level and is in general population. Basically, good news.
He asked me to convey his appreciation to everyone who wrote or called in his support during the time he was in Ohio.
His new address is:
Kevin Rashid Johnson #1007485
Nottoway Correctional Center
2892 Schutt Road
Burkeville, VA 23922
Freedom for Major Tillery! End his Life Imprisonment!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Governor's Press Office
Friday, May 28, 2021
Governor Newsom Announces Clemency Actions, Signs Executive Order for Independent Investigation of Kevin Cooper Case
SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that he has granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations and 8 medical reprieves. In addition, the Governor signed an executive order to launch an independent investigation of death row inmate Kevin Cooper’s case as part of the evaluation of Cooper’s application for clemency.
The investigation will review trial and appellate records in the case, the facts underlying the conviction and all available evidence, including the results of the recently conducted DNA tests previously ordered by the Governor to examine additional evidence in the case using the latest, most scientifically reliable forensic testing.
The text of the Governor’s executive order can be found here:
The California Constitution gives the Governor the authority to grant executive clemency in the form of a pardon, commutation or reprieve. These clemency grants recognize the applicants’ subsequent efforts in self-development or the existence of a medical exigency. They do not forgive or minimize the harm caused.
The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation, increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry, correct unjust results in the legal system and address the health needs of incarcerated people with high medical risks.
A pardon may remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service, restore civic rights and responsibilities and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction, such as deportation and permanent family separation. A pardon does not expunge or erase a conviction.
A commutation modifies a sentence, making an incarcerated person eligible for an earlier release or allowing them to go before the Board of Parole Hearings for a hearing at which Parole Commissioners determine whether the individual is suitable for release.
A reprieve allows individuals classified by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as high medical risk to serve their sentences in appropriate alternative placements in the community consistent with public health and public safety.
The Governor weighs numerous factors in his review of clemency applications, including an applicant’s self-development and conduct since the offense, whether the grant is consistent with public safety and in the interest of justice, and the impact of a grant on the community, including crime victims and survivors.
While in office, Governor Newsom has granted a total of 86 pardons, 92 commutations and 28 reprieves.
The Governor’s Office encourages victims, survivors, and witnesses to register with CDCR’s Office of Victims and Survivors Rights and Services to receive information about an incarcerated person’s status. For general Information about victim services, to learn about victim-offender dialogues, or to register or update a registration confidentially, please visit:
www.cdcr.ca.gov/Victim_Services/ or call 1-877-256-6877 (toll free).
Copies of the gubernatorial clemency certificates announced today can be found here:
Additional information on executive clemency can be found here:
Questions and comments may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Three white men are charged in the death of Arbery, an unarmed Black man, in a coastal Georgia suburb. Jury selection begins on Monday.
By Richard Fausset, Oct. 17, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/17/us/ahmaud-arbery-shooting-trial.html
A protester holds up an image of Ahmaud Arbery during a march in St. Paul, Minn., before the trial of Derek Chauvin. Like that case, the trial of Mr. Arbery’s accused killers is likely to be charged with raw emotion and allegations of racism. Credit...Tim Evans/NurPhoto, via Associated Press
ATLANTA — The three white Georgia men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery have already come in for harsh judgment from the highest of places. Donald Trump called the slaying of Mr. Arbery, an unarmed Black man, “disturbing.” Barack Obama described it as an example of enduring racial injustice. Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Republican governor, called it “absolutely horrific.”
In the coming days, a dozen jurors in the small coastal city of Brunswick, Ga., will be called on to judge the actions of the three suspects, Gregory McMichael, 67, his 35-year-old son, Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan, 52. Their pursuit of Mr. Arbery, 25, through their Brunswick suburb after suspecting him of a series of break-ins ended with a brief fight in which Travis McMichael fired his shotgun at Mr. Arbery at close range.
The release of a graphic video of the February 2020 shooting, recorded by Mr. Bryan, sparked nationwide protest and prompted the State Legislature to make significant changes to Georgia criminal law, including passage of the state’s first hate crimes statute. On Monday, attention will turn back to Brunswick, where jury selection is set to begin in the murder trial of the three men — the first chapter in a courtroom drama likely to be charged with raw emotion and allegations of racism.
With an unsettling video playing a starring role, the trial will bear similarities to that of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was found guilty of murder in April after a bystander video showed him kneeling for roughly nine minutes on the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man.
But with its fraught themes of self-defense — and questions about the point at which neighborhood vigilance lapses into vigilantism — the trial is also likely to echo the 2013 case of George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager.
“There’s a lot of similarities,” said Mark O’Mara, who represented Mr. Zimmerman in that trial, which, like the Floyd case, was closely watched as a barometer of matters of race and justice in 21st-century America. “You have somebody who was watching after their neighborhood, if you want to use that generic phrase, and saw somebody who they thought didn’t belong there, and took it within their own hands to do something about it.”
Lee Merritt, the lead counsel in a civil lawsuit brought by the Arbery family, blasted what were expected to be the defense’s arguments during the trial, particularly the idea that Travis McMichael acted out of self-defense. “It’s a simple fundamental principle of law,” Mr. Merritt said. “The aggressor is the person or persons that initiates the encounter. Here, these men pursued Ahmaud based on a hunch, and when he fled they trapped him.”
Mr. Arbery, a habitual jogger, was captured on security camera video in the neighborhood of Satilla Shores, a couple of miles from his own house, on a Sunday afternoon.. One video shows him walking into a house under construction on the McMichaels’ street. The half-built home was one that Mr. Arbery had entered on other occasions, based on other camera footage, although there is no evidence that he ever did more than look around the property.
According to a police report, Gregory McMichael, a former investigator in the local prosecutor’s office, saw Mr. Arbery in the house and thought he looked like a man suspected of several break-ins in the area. He called to Travis, his son, a Navy veteran and boat-tour operator. The elder Mr. McMichael grabbed a handgun; his son, a shotgun. The two jumped into a truck and gave chase and were eventually joined by Mr. Bryan, who drove his own truck. Mr. Arbery, a former high school football player, tried to run from them.
Eventually, the pursuers cut off Mr. Arbery’s escape routes. Mr. Bryan’s video shows Gregory McMichael standing in a truck bed on the phone with 911, and Travis in the street next to the truck, holding his shotgun. Mr. Arbery runs around the truck, then runs straight toward Travis McMichael. The first of three shotgun blasts can be heard going off soon after the two men clash.
The three pursuers walked free for weeks afterward, while one of the prosecutors handling the case initially determined that they had broken no laws. They were eventually arrested as national attention and outrage grew. Both the McMichaels and Mr. Bryan have pleaded not guilty. They were denied bond and have been waiting for their day in court for more than a year in a Glynn County jail.
All three men have also been indicted under federal hate crime and kidnapping laws.
Jason V. Sheffield, a lawyer for Travis McMichael, said he will argue in the state trial that Mr. Arbery tried to take Mr. McMichael’s shotgun away, and in so doing, placed Mr. McMichael “in fear of being shot himself.”
A second, and perhaps more remarkable, pillar of the defense strategy will be its reliance on Georgia’s Civil War-era citizen’s arrest statute, which came under scrutiny as a result of Mr. Arbery’s killing and was significantly weakened earlier this year by the Republican-controlled State Legislature.
The defense lawyers, said Ronald L. Carlson, emeritus professor at the University of Georgia School of Law, will be “trying to convince the jury that these folks honestly believed that there was a burglary suspect running in the neighborhood.” Under the old citizen’s arrest law, Mr. Carlson noted, a private person is allowed to arrest someone if a felony is committed in that person’s presence “or within his immediate knowledge.” The person seeking to make the arrest must also have “reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.”
The prosecution is being handled by the Cobb County, Ga., district attorney’s office, where a spokesperson declined to comment last week. In court documents, prosecutors have said that the three men had tried to “unlawfully” detain Mr. Arbery, who had been “unable to escape the strange men” and “was forced to face the man who was pointing a shotgun at his chest.”
Mr. Merritt said that prosecutors were also likely to argue that the three men were motivated by racism. In a June 2020 hearing, a Georgia state criminal investigator testified that Mr. Bryan said he heard Travis McMichael use a racist epithet soon after firing his shotgun. The investigator said Mr. McMichael had used racist language in numerous previous social media posts and text messages.
Mr. Sheffield refuted the idea that the incident was about race. “There is no doubt that racism is still alive and well not only in Georgia, but all across the country. So when this case came up, it instantly felt like that same old narrative of Southern racism,” he said in a recent interview. But he said the jury would come to see that the defendants were motivated by “a common concern in their neighborhood about the ongoing crime, and that they were simply trying to assist law enforcement in putting an end to it.”
Defense attorneys recently asked Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walmsley to exclude from trial photos of a vanity license plate on Travis McMichael’s pickup truck of the old Georgia state flag, which features the Confederate battle flag symbol.
The judge has not ruled on that motion, but he has issued two other rulings that do not help the defendants. One prevents discussions of Mr. Arbery’s serious mental health issues. Another prevents the defense from bringing up Mr. Arbery’s past criminal record, including guilty pleas for shoplifting and taking a gun onto a high school campus.
From the beginning of the case, there have been suspicions that elements of the local justice system had favored the three pursuers. In September, Jackie Johnson, the former chief prosecutor for the area who briefly handled the case, was indicted on charges of violating her oath and obstructing a police officer. Among other things, the indictment said that she showed “favor and affection” to Gregory McMichael, who had worked previously in her office.
By Chris Gilbert, October 15, 2021
Still from Squid Game. (Netflix)
What would you call a society in which everybody is an equal, everyone gets a fair chance, but is at the same time cruel and destructive in a way never before seen in history? The new Korean series Squid Game models this kind of social situation in an abstract way: It depicts a scenario in which debt-ridden people play a series of children’s games to potentially win a huge jackpot, if they advance (or die, if they lose).
I believe that Squid Game is one of the best aesthetic depictions of the essential situation of capitalism: it reveals the destructive social fabric that capitalism generates, especially the profound barbarism that exists in our society behind the thinnest of veneers. It is hardly surprising that the series comes from South Korea, a country that has undergone capitalist development in one of its purest, most savage versions recently.
The “updated” children’s games that appear in the series have much in common with modern team sports, almost all of which – soccer, American football, basketball, and baseball among others – were born in the nineteenth-century epoch of industrial capitalism in the US and the UK. What is remarkable about these games is not play, which even animals do, but rules. The concepts of fair play and an equal playing field both belong to this new world of rule-based interactions, reflecting the novel social situation typical of capitalism in which birth status, station, and caste do not, in principle, affect one’s position in the society. This differs sharply from the feudal, tributary, and slave-based societies that preceded capitalism.
Needless to say, a formally “equal playing field” – both in the series and in sports – does not guarantee a fair outcome. As if to underline the parallels between team sports and capitalism, winning sports teams today, which are billion-dollar industries, are usually those with the most money. The Nation’s sports editor David Zirin has eloquently expressed this contradiction between abstract rules that are fair versus unfair concrete reality by saying: sports are built on the myth of inclusion and the reality of exclusion. Ditto for capitalism.
From Europe, capitalism spread throughout the world, and much of capitalism’s culture, including modern sports, went along with it. South Korea has lived through one of the most accelerated processes of capitalist development in recent times, having gone from a backward country to a world leader in the space of just a half century. A cruel war, instigated by the US, in which more than five million people died, provided a training ground for key principles of capitalist behavior: no one will help you, to lose is to die.
In the series, the rich (the VIP spectators) are depicted as animals, insofar as they wear buffalo, bear, owl, and lion facemasks. More importantly, they are driven by mere appetites and a hunger for blood sport. This is also true of the capitalist situation. Animal instincts are raised to a guiding principle, while rational planning, affection, and care must take the backseat. The rich are neither really free nor fully human – they must, after all, pursue profit or sink and lose their class status.
Meanwhile, both in the series and in reality, the only glimpses we get of truly human gestures take place among the oppressed. Hence, we are offered a brief window in the series on a different, more positive type of social relation when desperate players make nearly suicidal decisions, for instance, not to finish off a losing opponent. The rich see these expressions of solidarity as plain crazy; they cannot understand them. Their preferred relation to human beings is neatly summarized by the human furniture they employ in the VIP lounge.
The series’ creators seem to be more than aware of the meaning of the parable they offer us. In a telling moment, for example, the Squid Game players vote to end the games and return to their daily lives. Yet they all come back to the games very soon. They conclude that the hellish situation outside is not at all different from the one inside. Similarly, viewers of the series need only look away briefly from the screen to confirm that the same hellish principles apply in their own reality.
Chris Gilbert is professor of political science in the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela.
Michael Regan, the E.P.A. administrator, wants to limit a class of chemicals that has been linked to cancer and is found in everything from drinking water to furniture.
By Lisa Friedman, Oct. 18, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/18/climate/biden-pfas-forever-chemicals.html
Michael S. Regan, the E.P.A. administrator who was previously served as North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, said reining in PFAS has been one of his priorities. Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Monday said it would require chemical manufacturers to test and publicly report the amount of a family of chemicals known as PFAS that is contained in household items like tape, nonstick pans and stain-resistant furniture, the first step toward reducing their presence in drinking water.
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl compounds, or PFAS refers to more than 4,000 man-made chemicals that are often called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment. Exposure to the chemicals has been linked to certain cancers, weakened immunity, thyroid disease, and other health effects.
Michael S. Regan, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said in an interview that regulating PFAS has been one of his priorities. He previously served as the top environmental regulator in North Carolina where startlingly high concentrations of the chemicals were found in several sources of public drinking water.
“PFAS contamination has been devastating communities for decades. I saw this first hand in North Carolina,” Mr. Regan said. He recounted visiting with mothers unsure if their children’s drinking water was safe, and caregivers wondering if a loved one’s terminal illness was associated with exposure to the chemicals.
The new E.P.A. testing requirements will go into effect “in a matter of weeks,” Mr. Regan said. The agency did not provide an estimate of the cost to manufacturers but Mr. Regan said it is a cost that industry, not taxpayers, should bear.
“It could be expensive, but it’s necessary,” Mr. Regan said. “It’s time for manufacturers to be transparent and provide the American people with this level of detail,” he said.
Thousands of chemicals classified as PFAS are ubiquitous in consumer products because they increase resistance to heat, stains, water and grease. The E.P.A. plans to group the chemicals into 20 subcategories based on shared characteristics. By the end of 2021, the E.P.A. will require manufacturers to test chemicals from each grouping, which the agency said will yield data on more than 2,000 PFAS to inform E.P.A. plans going forward.
Mr. Regan will announce the new policies at North Carolina State University in Raleigh flanked by local officials including Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
The E.P.A. announced additional regulatory steps it intends to formally propose by 2022 that involve PFAS, Mr. Regan said.
The list, which the E.P.A. described as a “road map” includes setting legal limits for safe levels of PFAS in drinking water, which the chemical industry tentatively supports; designating it as a hazardous substance under the laws that govern toxic Superfund sites, which industry opposes; and increasing monitoring and research.
Meanwhile the Department of Defense, is expected to review how to clean PFAS contamination at nearly 700 military installations and National Guard locations by the end of 2023. The chemicals are in a foam used at military installations and by civilian firefighters to extinguish fires.
The E.P.A. has set a lifetime health advisory for two types of PFAS in drinking water at 70 parts per trillion — essentially cautioning that sustained exposure above that level could cause adverse effects. Agency officials said it is too soon to say whether the E.P.A. will recommend that threshold or a different one when it develops formal drinking water limits.
The American Chemistry Council, a trade organization, noted that about 600 chemicals in the PFAS category are used to manufacture products like solar panels and cellphones, and said alternative materials might not be available to replace them. “The American Chemistry Council supports the strong, science-based regulation of chemicals, including PFAS substances. But all PFAS are not the same, and they should not all be regulated the same way,” Erich Shea, a spokesman for the organization, said in a statement.
Environmentalists said they don’t believe there is a safe level of PFAS in drinking water.
Kemp Burdette, 47, works for Cape Fear River Watch in Wilmington, N.C., where he used to encourage people to drink tap water to avoid using disposable plastic bottles. Then he discovered that PFAS levels in the local tap water had reached as high as 6,000 parts per trillion, the result of years of contaminated wastewater discharged into the Cape Fear River by a Dupont plant, later owned by The Chemours Company.
“All of a sudden you’re like, ‘What’s in the water? What is this stuff? How long have we been drinking it’?” Mr. Burdette said. “My kids were drinking that water all their lives.”
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, then under the leadership Mr. Regan, ultimately reached an agreement requiring Chemours to pay a $13 million fine.
A spokesman for Chemours referred questions to the American Chemistry Council.
President Biden has called for about $10 billion in funding to address PFAS contamination through a bipartisan infrastructure package and a separate budget bill that Congress has been struggling to approve.
A push in the Buffalo area could produce the first union at company-owned stores in the U.S. But backers say moves by management are having a chilling effect.
By Noam Scheiber, Oct. 18, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/18/business/economy/starbucks-union-buffalo.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Business
BUFFALO — During her decade-plus at Starbucks, Michelle Eisen says she has endured her share of workplace stress. She points to the company’s increased use of productivity goals, inadequate attention to training and periods of understaffing or high turnover.
But she had never encountered a change that the company made after workers at her store and two other Buffalo-area locations filed for a union election in late August: two additional “support managers” from out of state, who often work on the floor with the baristas and who, according to Ms. Eisen, have created unease.
“For a lot of newer baristas, it’s an imposing force,” Ms. Eisen said. “It is not an easy job. It should not be complicated further by feeling like you’re having everything you’re doing or saying watched and listened to.”
Workers and organizers involved in the unionization effort say the imported managers are part of a counteroffensive by the company intended to intimidate workers, disrupt normal operations and undermine support for the union.
Starbucks says the additional managers, along with an increase in the number of workers in stores and the arrival of a top corporate executive from out of town, are standard company practices. It says the changes, which also include temporarily shutting down stores in the area, are intended to help improve training and staffing — longstanding issues — and that they are a response not to the union campaign but to input the company solicited from employees.
“The listening sessions led to requests from partners that resulted in those actions,” said Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesman. “It’s not a decision where our leadership came in and said, ‘We’re going to do this and this.’ We listened, heard their concerns.”
None of the nearly 9,000 corporate-owned Starbucks locations in the country are unionized. The prospect that workers there could form a union appears to reflect a recent increase in labor activism nationwide, including strikes across a variety of industries.
According to the National Labor Relations Board, union elections are supposed to be conducted under “laboratory conditions,” in which workers can vote in an environment free of intimidation, in an election process that is not controlled by the employer.
Former labor board officials say the company’s actions could cause an election to be set aside on these grounds should the union lose.
“You could say it’s part of an overall series of events that seems to create a tendency that people would be chilled or inhibited,” said Wilma B. Liebman, a chairwoman of the board during the Obama administration.
A labor board official recently recommended that a union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama be overturned for similar reasons, but Mr. Borges said Starbucks did not believe anything it had done would warrant overturning an election.
Starbucks has faced union campaigns before, including efforts in the early 2000s in New York City and in 2019 in Philadelphia, where the firing of two employees involved in union organizing was deemed unlawful by a labor board judge. Starbucks has appealed the ruling.
Though none of the campaigns were successful in this country, a Starbucks-owned store in Canada recently unionized, and some stores owned by other companies that have licensing agreements with Starbucks are unionized.
Many of the ways Starbucks has responded in Buffalo — where union backers seek to become part of Workers United, an affiliate of the giant Service Employees International Union — are typical of employers. The measures include holding meetings with employees in which company officials question the need for a third party to represent them.
Starbucks is also seeking to persuade the labor board to require that workers at all 20 Buffalo-area stores take part in the election, rather than allow stores to vote individually, arguing that employees can spend time at multiple locations. (Union organizers typically favor voting in smaller units to increase the chance of gaining a foothold in at least some locations.) The board is likely to rule on this question and set an election date in the coming weeks.
But some of the company’s actions during the union campaign are unorthodox, according to labor law experts. “A huge increase in staffing, shutting down stores, it’s all unusual,” said Matthew Bodie, a law professor at St. Louis University who is a former labor board attorney.
A recent visit to a Starbucks near the airport, where workers have filed for a union election, turned up at least nine baristas behind the counter but only a handful of customers.
“It’s insane,” said Alexis Rizzo, a longtime Starbucks employee who has been a leader of the organizing campaign at the store. “Even if you’re just trying to run to the back to grab a gallon of milk, you now have to run an obstacle course to fit between all the folks who have no real reason to be there.”
Ms. Rizzo said the number of employees in the store at once — which she said had run into the teens — made those who predate the union election filing feel outnumbered and demoralized. “It’s intimidating,” she said. “You go to work and it’s just you and 10 people you don’t know.”
Starbucks said the additional personnel were intended to help the store after an uptick in workers who were out sick.
Some of the additional employees have come to the airport location from a nearby store that Starbucks recently turned into a training facility. That store does not have an election petition pending, but many of its workers have pledged support for the union effort, and some feel separated and disoriented as well.
“Initially, people thought our store could use a little reset,” said Colin Cochran, a pro-union employee at the store that was turned into a training facility, who has mostly been assigned to other locations since then. “As it’s dragged out and we’re getting sent to more and more other stores, it’s been frustrating. We want to see each other again.”
Workers said their anxiety had been heightened by the sudden appearance of new managers and company officials from out of town.
In a video of a meeting in September, a district manager in Arizona tells co-workers that the company has asked her to spend time in Buffalo over the next 90 days. “There’s a huge task force out there that’s trying to fix the problem because if Buffalo, N.Y., gets unionized, it will be the first market in Starbucks history,” the district manager says in the video, provided by a person at the meeting and viewed by The New York Times. When someone asks if the task force is a “last-ditch effort to try and stop it,” the district manager responds, “Yeah, we’re going to save it.”
Will Westlake, a barista in a Buffalo suburb called Hamburg, where workers have also filed for a union election, said a store log showed that several company officials from outside the Buffalo area had been to the store during the past six weeks. Included were at least seven visits from Rossann Williams, Starbucks’ president of retail for North America.
The officials sometimes work on laptops facing the baristas, sometimes join them behind the bar to work and inquire about the store, and sometimes perform menial tasks like cleaning the bathroom, Mr. Westlake said. He said that many of his co-workers felt intimidated by these officials and that he found the presence of Ms. Williams “surreal.”
Starbucks said that many of the officials were regional leaders and coaches who were helping to solve operational issues and remodel stores, and that they were part of a companywide effort dating to May, when Covid-19 infection rates declined and stores across the country got busier.
“The resurgence of business came so fast we were not prepared,” Ms. Williams said in an interview.
The company says that it has added staffing in a number of cities beyond Buffalo, especially in the Midwest and the Mountain West, and that it brought on an additional recruiter in each of its 12 regions in the spring to expedite hiring. It said it had turned about 40 stores around the country into temporary training facilities.
On a Saturday in October, Ms. Williams visited the training store, saying little as she stood behind a group of workers while a trainer instructed them at the bar.
Later, seated outside the store to discuss her work in Buffalo, she waved off the idea that temporarily shutting down a store or making other significant changes might compromise the union election’s laboratory conditions.
“If I went to a market and saw the condition some of these stores are in, and I didn’t do anything about it, it would be so against my job,” she said. “There’s no way I could come here and say I’m not going to do anything.”
South Korea has said the release of the radioactive wastewater poses a "grave threat" to marine life.
By JULIA CONLEY, October 18, 2021
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant over the weekend. (Photo: Prime Minister's Office of Japan/Twitter)
A South Korean official on Monday denounced Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's call to begin releasing contaminated wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the sea starting in 2023.
Kishida, who took office last month, visited the plant over the weekend and said the plan to release more than one million tonnes of water into the sea over 30 years should not be delayed.
The radioactive wastewater has continued to accumulate at the power plant site since three nuclear reactors melted down after the March 2011 tsunami, forcing the evacuation of more than 150,000 people.
"I felt strongly that the water issue is a crucial one that should not be pushed back," Kishida told reporters.
According to The Times, South Korean officials, who continue to ban seafood imports from the region due to safety concerns, were not consulted by Kishida's government before the announcement.
"Japan's decision was made without enough consultation with the neighboring nations," a South Korean diplomat told the outlet.
According to the prime minister, the government will make extensive efforts to ensure the water is safe, despite the fact that the Advanced Liquid Processing System used by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to treat the wastewater is not able to remove tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
Experts say tritium is only harmful to humans in large doses, but South Korean officials have said the release of the water poses a "grave threat" to marine life in the Pacific Ocean.
The plan to move forward with the release of wastewater represents a "radioactive assault" on the ocean "and all those who share its shores," tweeted Alex Mihailovich, a correspondent for RT America.
Kishida has said that nuclear power, including the restart of nuclear reactors that were put out of commission after the Fukushima meltdown, must be part of Japan's energy economy in order to ensure the country is carbon neutral by 2050. The prime minister has not yet confirmed if he'll attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow beginning later this month.
Japan's economy and industry ministry in 2019 recommended the wastewater, which is being stored in more than 1,000 tanks at the site of the nuclear plant, either be released into the sea or evaporated.
The local fishing industry, which has not been able to resume full operations since the 2011 disaster, have strongly opposed the release of the water into the sea, with the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Association warning it would have an "immeasurable impact on the future of the Japanese fishing industry."
Evaporation was used to get rid of wastewater following the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, but experts, including those at the International Atomic Energy Agency, have said releasing the water into the sea is the only feasible option.
"A release to the sea is technologically a realistic option, but its social impact would be huge," Naoya Sekiya, a sociologist at the University of Tokyo, told ABC News after the economy and industry ministry made its recommendation.
Transferring the power grid to a private company was supposed to help. But thousands protested last week over more blackouts.
By Patricia Mazzei, Oct. 19, 2021
People protested against LUMA Energy outside the governor’s home in San Juan this month. Credit...Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times
AGUADILLA, P.R. — Four years after Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico’s electrical grid a shambles and the entire island in the dark, residents had expected their fragile power system to be stronger now. Instead, unreliable electricity remains frustratingly common, hindering economic development and daily life.
In June, a private consortium known as LUMA Energy took over the transmission and distribution of electricity. And yet the situation has only worsened. Surging demand in August and September led to rolling blackouts affecting a majority of the island’s 1.5 million electrical customers.
Last week, several thousand people marched along a main highway in San Juan, the capital, blocking traffic with the latest in a series of protests over the seemingly unending electricity problems plaguing the island.
“The people can’t take it anymore,” said Iris Delia Matos Rivera, 69, a former employee of the island’s longstanding electrical utility who attended a recent demonstration.
Many Puerto Ricans are diabetic and need refrigerated insulin to survive. The coronavirus pandemic has also put some people on respiratory therapies requiring electrical power at home for oxygen machines. Some Puerto Ricans are still studying or working at home.
Ashlee Vega, who lives in northwestern Puerto Rico, said the power fluctuations this month were so imperceptible that it took her several hours to realize her appliances were not working right. The new refrigerator she had bought in February — to replace an old one that gave out after enduring years of volatile electrical surges — was fried.
Her mother lent her a big cooler. In went the milk and eggs, the ham and cheese. Vegetables spoiled. Twice a day for the next five days, until a repairman got her fridge working, she hustled to gas stations for ice. There was little to be had at first because a spate of power outages had also left her neighbors scrambling.
“I can’t have that happen again,” said Ms. Vega, 31, an Army veteran who returned last year to Aguadilla, her hometown, from Colorado with her 7-year-old son, Sebastián. “That’s not something that should be happening. We’re in 2021. We have internet on our TV. Why don’t we have electricity?”
Behind the failures are the same problems that have plagued Puerto Rico’s grid for decades: aging equipment, lack of maintenance and past mismanagement and corruption of an inefficient system.
The bankrupt public utility, which is still in charge of power generation, declared an emergency this month to try to hasten critical repairs to its ailing plants. Electricity rates, which are higher in Puerto Rico than in almost all of the 50 states, have continued to rise, even as service has deteriorated.
Privatizing transmission and distribution — the part of the power system most damaged by Hurricane Maria — has led to new challenges, including public distrust and the retirement or redeployment of experienced line workers who knew how to deal with the island’s outdated infrastructure.
The system is so frail that a power plant recently went offline because sargassum — seaweed — blocked its filters.
The inability of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, known as PREPA, and the new private Canadian-American consortium to provide consistent power has led to weeks of finger-pointing, tense legislative hearings and growing protests by fed-up residents who ousted the governor two years ago by taking to the streets.
“That LUMA contract has to be thrown in the trash!” protesters chanted on Friday.
Crews patched Puerto Rico’s grid with $3.2 billion in emergency repairs after Hurricane Maria, which shredded the island’s power lines as a Category 4 storm in September 2017. Congress earmarked about $10 billion through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to rebuild the system. Those projects will be contracted out by the new consortium, with the aim of restoring the grid to how it was before the storm, with some modernization.
That approach, while consistent with how the federal government deals with disasters, is shortsighted and unsustainable, said Agustín A. Irizarry, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Puerto Rico who has promoted a plan to distribute solar energy across residential and commercial rooftop panels and storage batteries.
“People are doing it on their own, without the government stepping in,” he said. “Eventually, there won’t be clients for the electrical grid because they will not have taken the trouble to modernize the grid.”
Last week, the government of Puerto Rico announced the first disbursement of federal funds for reconstruction: $7.1 million.
Puerto Rico awarded a 15-year contract to LUMA last year to operate the transmission and distribution system and handle its reconstruction, arguing that a private company would do better than PREPA, one of the two largest public power utilities in the United States. While PREPA is in bankruptcy — it is $9 billion in debt — Puerto Rico is paying the new company a fixed annual fee of $115 million.
Gov. Pedro R. Pierluisi said the new contract came with a promise to reduce the number and length of outages. But the contract drew criticism from the start, with some analysts noting that the company would not face penalties if it did not find savings and lower rates.
LUMA took over in June, with its top officials saying they were prepared to handle a Category 2 hurricane. (None have hit the island this year.) Almost immediately, huge outages began. Customers found the company slow to respond to their complaints. Some residents tried to fix the grid themselves, prompting the utility to warn against such dangerous attempts.
Wayne Stensby, LUMA’s chief executive, said in an interview in June that the company had rolled out a new website and app to provide better customer service, opened call centers on the island and planned a series of other improvements, including upgrading the vehicle fleet.
He blamed the initial rash of problems on a backlog of outages, a cyberattack and resistance from some PREPA workers ahead of the June 1 handoff, including a blockade to keep LUMA from accessing some equipment. Some power lines, he added, were still being held up by the makeshift fixes made after the hurricane, in which crews restored electricity by tying the lines not to poles but to trees.
Mr. Stensby said in a congressional hearing this month that fixing the tattered system would take time. The company has cleared half the backlog of solar power applications — some of them two years old, he said — and has a batch of 65 initial projects worth about $2.8 billion that it hopes to begin next year.
“The Puerto Rico electric system is arguably the worst in the United States and has been for a very long time, even prior to the devastating hurricanes in 2017,” Mr. Stensby said. “While the transformation is in its early days, we have many reasons to be optimistic.”
PREPA workers had to reapply for their jobs, an arrangement that their union opposed. About a quarter of grid workers ultimately transferred to the new company, leading to concerns among critics that the work force might not be sufficiently experienced in dealing with Puerto Rico’s obsolete grid.
In the early days of the transition, an explosion and a fire at a main power substation knocked out a lot of power.
“Twenty-six hours later, we were able to restore all those customers,” Mr. Stensby said. “We were able to demonstrate our capability and quickly respond to the event.”
But records filed by LUMA from June through August show outages lasted longer on average than they did last year under PREPA: more than five hours, compared with less than half that time in the same months of 2020. (The U.S. average is about 82 minutes.) Mr. Stensby said in the congressional hearing that the system remained precarious — and that customers underreported their outages previously because they did not expect the utility to be responsive.
Puerto Rican legislators have demanded to know exactly how many line workers LUMA has employed. PREPA historically had about 800. Mr. Stensby said at the hearing this month that the company had about 900, but he did not specify how many had prior experience in Puerto Rico, other than saying a large portion of them did.
Legislators have also asked how many executives are making salaries greater than $200,000 a year. The company has refused to respond, despite being ordered by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court to do so.
Juan Declet-Barreto, a senior social scientist for climate vulnerability at the Union of Concerned Scientists, is part of a coalition that has urged the Biden administration to withhold federal funds used to pay the company unless safeguards are added to the contract and it better aligns with the White House’s policy goals of promoting renewable energy and protecting workers’ rights. Otherwise, the funds will be wasted, Dr. Declet-Barreto said.
“And when another hurricane comes, it won’t have to be a Category 5 — with a tropical storm, half of the island will be left without power,” he said.
For exhausted Puerto Ricans like Ms. Vega, struggling with outages day in and day out, the political pressure on the utilities is welcome but insufficient. To her, it seems like no one is assuming responsibility for her spoiled food, her refrigerator repair, her lost schoolwork as she pursues a bachelor’s degree online and her son’s fear every time the power goes out.
“My neighbor, an old man who lives alone, locks himself in because he’s scared,” she said. “I bring him candles.”
Once she is able to afford a house, she hopes to install solar panels.
For now, she plans to keep a bag of ice in her freezer, just in case. Her landlord asked her to use less power. She has been running the air-conditioning for only a few hours every other day.
And when she leaves the apartment, she has made sure to unplug the computer, the television, the washer — and the refrigerator.
Edmy Ayala contributed reporting from San Juan, P.R.
A kidney grown in a genetically altered pig seemed to function normally, potentially a new source for desperately needed transplant organs.
Surgeons in New York have successfully attached a kidney grown in a genetically altered pig to a human patient and found that the organ worked normally, a scientific breakthrough that one day may yield a vast new supply of organs for severely ill patients.
Although many questions remain to be answered about the long-term consequences of the transplant, which involved a brain-dead patient followed only for 54 hours, experts in the field said the procedure represented a milestone.
“We need to know more about the longevity of the organ,” said Dr. Dorry Segev, professor of transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who was not involved in the research. Nevertheless, he said: “This is a huge breakthrough. It’s a big, big deal.”
Researchers have long sought to grow organs in pigs suitable for transplantation into humans. A steady stream of organs — which could eventually include hearts, lungs and livers — would offer a lifeline to the more than 100,000 Americans currently on transplant waiting lists, including the 90,240 who need a kidney. Twelve people on the waiting lists die each day.
An even larger number of Americans with kidney failure — more than a half million — depend on grueling dialysis treatments to survive. In large part because of the scarcity of human organs, the vast majority of dialysis patients do not qualify for transplants, which are reserved for those most likely to thrive after the procedure.
The surgery, carried out at N.Y.U. Langone Health, was first reported by USA Today on Tuesday. The research has not yet been peer-reviewed nor published in a medical journal.
The transplanted kidney was obtained from a pig genetically engineered to grow an organ unlikely to be rejected by the human body. In a close approximation of an actual transplant procedure, the kidney was attached to a person who had suffered brain death and was maintained on a ventilator.
The kidney, attached to blood vessels in the upper leg outside the abdomen, started functioning normally, making urine and the waste product creatinine “almost immediately,” according to Dr. Robert Montgomery, the director of the N.Y.U. Langone Transplant Institute, who performed the procedure in September.
Although the organ was not implanted in the body, problems with so-called xenotransplants — from animals like primates and pigs — usually occur at the interface of the human blood supply and the organ, where human blood flows through pig vessels, experts said.
The fact that the organ functioned outside the body is a strong indication that it will work in the body, Dr. Montgomery said.
“It was better than I think we even expected,” he said. “It just looked like any transplant I’ve ever done from a living donor. A lot of kidneys from deceased people don’t work right away, and take days or weeks to start. This worked immediately.”
Last year, 39,717 residents of the United States received an organ transplant, the majority of them — 23,401 — receiving kidneys, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit that coordinates the nation’s organ procurement efforts.
Genetically engineered pigs “could potentially be a sustainable, renewable source of organs — the solar and wind of organ availability,” Dr. Montgomery said.
Reactions to the news among transplantation experts ranged from cautiously optimistic to wildly effusive, though all acknowledged the procedure represented a sea change. The prospect of raising pigs in order to harvest their organs for humans is bound to raise questions about animal welfare and exploitation, though an estimated 100 million pigs already are killed in the United States each year for food.
While some surgeons speculated that it could be just months before genetically engineered pigs’ kidneys are transplanted into living human beings, others said there was still much work to be done.
“This is really cutting-edge translational surgery and transplantation that is on the brink of being able to do it in living human beings,” said Dr. Amy Friedman, a former transplant surgeon and chief medical officer of LiveOnNY, the organ procurement organization in the greater New York area.
The group was involved in the selection and identification of the brain-dead patient receiving the experimental procedure. The patient was a registered organ donor, and because the organs were not suitable for transplantation, the patient’s family agreed to permit research to test the experimental transplant procedure.
Dr. Friedman said she envisioned using hearts, livers and other organs grown in pigs, as well. “It’s truly mind-boggling to think of how many transplants we might be able to offer,” she said, adding, “You’d have to breed the pigs, of course.”
Other experts were more reserved, saying they wanted to see whether the results were reproducible and to review data collected by N.Y.U. Langone.
“There’s no question this is a tour de force, in that it’s hard to do and you have to jump through a lot of hoops,” said Dr. Jay A. Fishman, associate director of the transplantation center at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“Whether this particular study advances the field will depend on what data they collected and whether they share it, or whether it is a step just to show they can do it,” Dr. Fishman said. He urged humility “about what we know.”
Many hurdles remain before genetically engineered pigs’ organs can be used in living human beings, said Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer of the United Network for Organ Sharing.
While he called the surgery “a watershed moment,” he warned that long-term rejection of organs occurs even when the donor kidney is well-matched, and “even when you’re not trying to cross species barriers.”
The kidney has functions in addition to clearing blood of toxins. And there are concerns about pig viruses infecting recipients, Dr. Klassen said: “It’s a complicated field, and to imagine that we know all of the things that are going to happen and all the problems that will arise is naïve.”
Xenotransplantation, the process of grafting or transplanting organs or tissues between different species, has a long history. Efforts to use the blood and skin of animals in humans go back hundreds of years.
In the 1960s, chimpanzee kidneys were transplanted into a small number of human patients. Most died shortly afterward; the longest a patient lived was nine months. In 1983, a baboon heart was transplanted into an infant girl known as Baby Faye. She died 20 days later.
Pigs offered advantages over primates for organ procurement — they are easier to raise, reach maturation faster, and achieve adult human size in six months. Pig heart valves are routinely transplanted into humans, and some patients with diabetes have received pig pancreas cells. Pig skin has also been used as temporary grafts for burn patients.
The combination of two new technologies — gene editing and cloning — has yielded genetically altered pig organs. Pig hearts and kidneys have been transplanted successfully into monkeys and baboons, but safety concerns precluded their use in humans.
“The field up to now has been stuck in the preclinical primate stage, because going from primate to living human is perceived as a big jump,” Dr. Montgomery said.
The kidney used in the new procedure was obtained by knocking out a pig gene that encodes a sugar molecule that elicits an aggressive human rejection response. The pig was genetically engineered by Revivicor and approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use as a source for human therapeutics.
Dr. Montgomery and his team also transplanted the pig’s thymus, a gland that is involved in the immune system, in an effort to ward off immune reactions to the kidney.
After attaching the kidney to blood vessels in the upper leg, the surgeons covered it with a protective shield so they could observe it and take tissue samples over the 54-hour study period. Urine and creatinine levels were normal, Dr. Montgomery and his colleagues found, and no signs of rejection were detected during more than two days of observation.
“There didn’t seem to be any kind of incompatibility between the pig kidney and the human that would make it not work,” Dr. Montgomery said. “There wasn’t immediate rejection of the kidney.”
The long-term prospects are still unknown, he acknowledged. But “this allowed us to answer a really important question: Is there something that’s going to happen when we move this from a primate to a human that is going to be disastrous?”
More than 160 reports, obtained by Human Rights Watch, reveal details of mistreatment that asylum seekers described experiencing from border officials and while in U.S. custody.
By Eileen Sullivan, Oct. 21, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/21/us/politics/asylum-migrants-abuse.html
A Honduran man seeking a haven in the United States said a Border Patrol officer told him that he would not be granted asylum — a determination the officer was not authorized to make — and when the migrant refused to sign paperwork, the officer said he would be sent to jail, where he would be raped.
In a report prepared by an asylum officer at Citizenship and Immigration Services, the officer wrote that threatening rape for refusing to sign paperwork was “a gross violation.”
“I’m really sorry that this happened to you,” the asylum officer recalled telling the man. “It should not have happened.”
In a separate account of misconduct, a migrant told an asylum officer that after she tried to run from a Border Patrol officer along the southwestern border in April 2017, “he caught me and threw me to the ground in a very aggressive way. And he pulled me up three or four times, and kept slamming me on the ground.” She said the officer also grabbed her by the hair and kicked her in the rib cage and lower pelvis, causing her to bleed.
These and other accounts are among 160 reports filed by federal asylum officers from 2016 to 2021, relaying details of abuse that asylum seekers described experiencing during interactions with border officials and while in U.S. custody. The descriptions, disclosed in response to a public records request made by Human Rights Watch, did not include information about the outcomes of the cases, including whether the complaints were found to have merit. And many other details, including dates and locations, were redacted.
While the complaints are mostly based on interactions that took place during the Trump administration, they come at a time of increased concern about the treatment of migrants by American border and immigration officials. Scenes last month of Border Patrol agents on horseback in Del Rio, Texas, corralling Black migrants with their reins have renewed a focus on years of complaints about inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants.
“The department does not tolerate any form of abuse or misconduct,” a homeland security spokeswoman, Marsha Espinosa, said in a statement on Wednesday night. Ms. Espinosa said that under the leadership of its secretary, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the department was conducting internal reviews “to identify and terminate intolerable prejudice and reform its policies and training,” and on the use of force.
The agency has also added more personnel to its Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, she said, and has issued memos on “the need to respect the dignity of every individual, fight against discrimination, and safeguard civil rights and civil liberties.”
President Biden has promised that the Border Patrol agents captured on camera in Del Rio would “pay” for their behavior. An internal investigation into their actions is underway, and Biden administration officials have promised to publicly share the findings. But in the past, there has been little transparency about such investigations, or disciplinary measures.
During his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Biden’s choice to lead Customs and Border Protection, Chris Magnus, promised lawmakers that he would be forthcoming about the Del Rio investigation.
“I have a long history of transparency and sharing things with the public, whatever the outcome may be, because I think this is how you sustain and build trust,” said Mr. Magnus, the police chief in Tucson, Ariz. Mr. Magnus has a reputation for changing the culture of law enforcement organizations and said that after Del Rio, “examining tactics and training is certainly appropriate.”
When migrants are caught crossing the border illegally, a Border Patrol officer will detain and question them. Although the policy has changed temporarily during the pandemic, during certain proceedings, the officers are supposed to ask if the migrants fear persecution or harm in their home country. If migrants express a fear about returning, they are placed into immigration court proceedings and eventually interviewed by an asylum officer.
The records obtained by Human Rights Watch are of reports that asylum officers made after hearing allegations of law enforcement misconduct. In addition to complaints about physical, emotional and sexual abuse, migrants said in some of the reports that they were not asked whether they feared persecution; that they were told they could not request asylum; that they were pressured with threats to sign documents; and, in a few cases, that they had their documents torn up by border officers.
“The documents make clear that reports of grievous C.B.P. abuses — physical and sexual assaults, abusive detention conditions and violations of due process — are an open secret within D.H.S.,” said Clara Long, an associate director at Human Rights Watch, using the abbreviations for Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security. “They paint a picture of D.H.S. as an agency that appears to have normalized shocking abuses at the U.S. border.”
The documents also show federal asylum officers apologizing for the treatment asylum seekers faced in U.S. custody. In March 2019, one asylum officer said to an immigrant: “U.S. government officials should not be treating you this way. They should be treating you and anyone else with respect.”
It is not clear how many interviews asylum officers conducted during the period that the more than 160 complaints were reported. According to immigration data, from 2016 to 2020, there were 409,000 referrals for credible fear interviews with asylum officers.
Similar complaints have been disclosed previously. In 2014, the American Immigration Council obtained records detailing more than 800 complaints against border officials, also through a public records request. In a subsequent request, the organization found that out of more than 2,000 allegations of misconduct by border officials filed from 2012 to 2015, more than 95 percent of the cases ended in no action against the accused.
Around 2013, some of the asylum officers working at Citizenship and Immigration Services reached out to a supervisor to see what could be done about the complaints they were hearing from migrants, a former asylum officer said. The former officer was not authorized to publicly discuss the internal workings of the agency and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The reports from migrants were troubling, the former officer said, and they wanted a formal system to document the complaints.
In 2015, the agency issued a directive to asylum officers to report known or suspected misconduct.
The allegations sought by Human Rights Watch had been sent to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. The group asked the department last month about the outcomes of the complaints, but has not received a response, Ms. Long said.
In the reports filed by asylum officers, migrants described being called “pigs,” “herds of animals” and a “parasite.”
“They treat you like you are worthless, like you are not a human,” one asylum applicant said in September 2018.
Mr. Mayorkas said last month that the images from Del Rio “do not reflect who we are as a department, nor who we are as a country.”
But many immigrant advocates said rough treatment of migrants by Border Patrol agents was par for the course.
This argument was used in defense of a Border Patrol agent who admitted to deliberately running over a Guatemalan migrant, Antolin Rolando Lopez-Aguilar, in December 2017. A few weeks before the episode, the agent, Matthew Bowen, referred in text messages to immigrants as “mindless murdering savages,” “subhuman” and “unworthy of being kindling for a fire.”
In the court filings, Mr. Bowen’s lawyer argued that his client’s views were “commonplace throughout the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector.”
“It is part of the agency’s culture,” he said.
Jia Hong & Ju-Hyun Park, Truthout, October 19, 2021https://truthout.org/articles/half-a-million-south-korean-workers-prepare-to-walk-off-jobs-in-general-strike/
On October 20, at least half a million workers in South Korea — from across the construction, transportation, service, and other sectors — are walking off their jobs in a one-day general strike. The strike will be followed by mass demonstrations in urban centers and rural farmlands, culminating in a national all-people’s mobilization in January 2022. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the country’s largest labor union umbrella with 1.1 million members, is organizing these mobilizations in a broad-based front with South Korea’s urban poor and farmers.
The 15 detailed demands of the strike can be summarized as fitting within three basic areas:
1. Abolish “irregular work” (part-time, temporary or contract labor with little or no benefits) and extend labor protections to all workers;
2. Give workers power in economic restructuring decisions during times of crisis;
3. Nationalize key industries and socialize basic services like education and housing.
South Korea Today: Overworked and Job-Insecure
Today, South Korea ranks third in highest annual working hours and as of 2015 it was third in workplace deaths among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Over 40 percent of all workers are considered “irregular workers.” As in the U.S., many of these irregular workers labor in the gig economy, beholden to tech giants’ apps.
With an economy and society dominated by corporate conglomerates known as chaebol, South Korean people face increasingly bleak prospects. The top 10 percent of earners claimed 45 percent of total income in 2016, real estate speculation has led to a housing crisis, and privatization in education and health care are expanding disparities. As South Korea undergoes blowback from the effects of COVID-19 on the global economy, these crises have only sharpened.
Behind the shiny electronics and cars that chaebol like Samsung, Hyundai or LG are known for lie countless stories of exploitation. Earlier this year, cleaning staff for LG Twin Towers (the company’s skyscraper headquarters) camped outside the company building for 136 days in the coldest winter months to protest layoffs and exploitative workplace conditions. LG hired goons to pour water into the workers’ tents as they slept. One worker exclaimed, “What did we do wrong? Imagine this giant conglomerate comes and floods your bedroom. Can you sleep?!”
Exploitation and unsafe conditions are consistent across industries. Coal miners at Korea Coal, a government-owned coal mining corporation, are suffering health conditions from breathing in coal dust and overwork. One coal miner recounted the plight of irregular workers:“The government reduced the labor force by half, so our unit now has to do the job of two units. So everyone is ill. There’s no one here who is not sick. Our wages need to increase but have stayed the same. We work the same as regular workers, but we don’t even get half the pay.”
How We Got Here: Demystifying South Korea’s Rise
Often hailed as a “miracle on the Han river,” the story of economic development in South Korea has always had its winners and losers. Forty years of U.S.-backed right-wing dictatorships set the political conditions for the growth of South Korean industry. That story is for another time, but a general description still paints a chilling picture: participation in the Vietnam War, the separation of families and sale of children through the trans-national adoption system, state management of a sex industry catered to occupying U.S. troops, and decades of martial law and anti-communist state terror all played their part in the rise of the chaebol. The confrontation between labor and capital brewing in South Korea today is another chapter in this bloody history.
Since the Chun Doo-hwan dictatorship in the 1980s, neoliberal reforms have gradually stripped away South Korea’s protectionist policies, opening its markets and resources to foreign investors at the expense of workers. By the mid-1990s, South Korea received a rush of $100 billion in foreign loans. When the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis hit, the economy quickly deflated as foreign capital withdrew. With national bankruptcy looming, South Korea was forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance.
But the IMF loan came with strings attached: Structural adjustment policies dismantled hard-won worker protections, public corporations were privatized, and domestic markets were pried open for foreign capital, which returned to devour cheap Korean assets. By 2004, up to 44 percent of South Korea’s total stock market capitalization was owned by foreigners, mostly from the U.S., the E.U. and Japan.
The 1997 crisis and its aftermath ultimately led to mass layoffs, the “irregularization” of South Korean workers and the doubling of poverty rates in a single decade. Despite an ostensible democratic transition in the late 1980s, the South Korean people have no ownership of South Korea’s economy. The average household’s debts amount to almost double their annual income. Sixty-four chaebols claim 84 percent of the GDP, yet provide only 10 percent of jobs. In fact, the average South Korean has less say in government than U.S. corporations, which have power under the 2007 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement to legally contest laws they find unfavorable.
Taking Back the Future: South Koreans on Strike
The half a million South Korean workers who are walking off their jobs are demanding the abolition of all forms of “irregular” work. They also demand an end to loopholes in labor laws that permit employers to cheat their employees out of basic rights, such as the right to organize, access to benefits and compensation for work injuries.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and a new government effort to build a “digital” economy, workers are also demanding that future economic restructuring decisions be jointly determined by labor and management. Workers aren’t just demanding the government make changes for them; they’re fighting for more power to determine these changes themselves.
They’re also demanding their fair share. Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising demand by far is the push to nationalize troubled industries that have been laying off workers en masse — including the airline, automobile manufacturing and shipbuilding industries. After decades of austerity, the KCTU is challenging the state to take responsibility and guarantee housing, health care, elder care, child care and education for all. Its demands for social reforms include increasing public housing units from 5 percent to 50 percent of all available housing, making college-preparatory classes free for all, and for the state to hire at least a million care workers to ensure free elder care and child care for all families. “The government uses taxpayer money to bail out troubled companies,” says Lee Jeong-hee, the director of policy for KCTU. “It should play a greater role to guarantee fairness and protect the common people.”
South Korean workers see COVID-19 as a turning point. This ongoing pandemic nearly halted the movement of people and created bottlenecks in the global supply chain — and workers worry how the economic effects of the climate crisis and digital transformation of industries could leave them on the losing end of a new economy.
“In times of crisis, the forces that successfully respond to the demands of the times will lead the new era,” says Lee. The KCTU’s demands exceed improving the conditions of its members — they are fighting for workers’ power as a class and demanding their share of the wealth they create. And for this, the workers expect to pay a heavy price. The South Korean state has already responded with preemptive repression, jailing KCTU President Yang Kyung-soo and at least 30 other union organizers, according to Lee. As strikers walk out of their jobs, Lee expects the government and companies to respond, as they have in the past, by jailing other union leaders and fining and suing workers for their activities.
South Korean workers have thrown down the gauntlet, and we should all pay close attention. While the dynamics at play in the KCTU strike are particular to Korea, the plight of precarious workers under the weight of neoliberalism is a global struggle. As labor struggles rock Korea and the world this “Striketober,” opportunities arise to build towards an international class struggle to confront the international exploitation of workers. Everywhere, the working masses are making history, demanding a different future.
U.S. observers must not treat the struggle in South Korea as a distant concern. The conditions South Korean workers face today are the consequence of more than 70 years of capitalist development in the shadow of U.S. military and financial hegemony. Given the United States’ imperialist position in the world economy, and its long and violent history in Korea, solidarity from U.S. workers is especially important. When we asked how to support KCTU from overseas, Lee asked us to spread the word. The international spotlight may protect some workers against retaliation by employers and the government and push the workers’ demands forward.
Is society safer with Daniel Hale, who exposed U.S. drone civilian killings, being housed with some of the most dangerous prisoners in America?
By John Kiriakou, October 19, 2021
Special to Consortium Newshttps://consortiumnews.com/2021/10/19/john-kiriakou-drone-whistleblower-thrown-in-pen-with-terrorists/
Drone whistleblower Daniel Hale was sent on Sunday to the notorious Communications Management Unit (CMU) at the maximum-security U.S. Penitentiary (USP) at Marion, Illinois to serve a 45-month sentence, rather than to the low-security prison at Butner, North Carolina, where federal Judge Liam O’Grady had recommended he go.
Butner is a prison hospital complex, and O’Grady was cognizant of Daniel’s need for psychological therapy to deal with post traumatic stress disorder from his time as a U.S. Air Force drone operator.
USP Marion, on the other hand, is a former “Supermax” prison that was built in the early 1960s as a replacement for Alcatraz. It was converted into a CMU to keep terrorists from being in contact with the media. The Bureau of Prisons, which apparently knows better than a federal judge, decided that the American public must be protected from Daniel Hale’s dangerous ideas, like the notion that we shouldn’t murder innocent civilians with drones.
Hale today should be sitting in the TV room of a low-security housing unit in a prison in North Carolina awaiting drug and alcohol counseling or speaking with a therapist. That’s what the judge’s order was. Hale is emotionally fragile. He’s occasionally suicidal. He needs some help and support through this experience. Instead, he’s on 24-hour-a-day lockdown. He will likely spend his entire nearly 4-year sentence in solitary confinement with almost no human contact at great risk to his mental health.
What is Daniel Hale’s day like? He is alone in a six-by-ten-foot concrete and steel cell. It has a steel bunk, a paper-thin mattress, a small steel sink, and a steel toilet. On the days that he’s allowed to exercise, which is two or three times per week, he is led into a six-by-ten-foot outdoor cage, where he can walk in circles for an hour.
He is permitted two showers per week and one phone call per month, but only to his attorney. Visitors are carefully screened (NSA whistleblower Tom Drake and I, for example, are banned from visiting him because we have criminal convictions for blowing the whistle on warrantless wiretapping and CIA torture, respectively.)
Even then, the few visitors he will have will be able to see him only through reinforced glass and with the use of an intercom. When Hale receives a letter, it will be scanned and then put on a monitor screen installed along the ceiling of his cell, where it will remain for five minutes while he reads it. At the end of five minutes, it will disappear permanently.
His Fellow Prisoners
There are only two full-fledged CMUs in America. One is at USP Marion and the other at USP Terre Haute, Indiana. Again, the purpose of a CMU is to keep the closest possible watch on a dangerous prisoner’s communication with the outside world. So who are some of the other prisoners in Marion’s CMU along with Hale?
They include convicted al-Qaeda terrorist Muhammad Saleh, a follower of the late “blind sheikh” Omar Abdul Rahman; Muhammad Rashed al-Owhali, convicted of terrorism in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya; Omar Rezaq, a member of the notorious Abu Nidal Organization and the last surviving hijacker of Egypt Air flight 648 in which 58 people were killed in 1985; and Victor Bout, the Russian arms dealer convicted of selling surface-to-air missiles to terrorist groups.
Does Daniel Hale belong with these people? Is society safer with him being housed with some of the most dangerous prisoners in America? Is solitary confinement in one of the most restrictive maximum-security penitentiaries in America what Judge O’Grady believed was “justice?” Is solitary confinement supposed to somehow “rehabilitate” Hale?
The obvious answer is no.
This is what the BOP does, however. The bureau’s leaders don’t care one whit what judges say at sentencing. I was supposed to be sentenced to a minimum-security work camp and instead was sent to a low-security prison—not an impossible situation, but still an honest-to-God prison. When I filed an internal appeal, I was told that the judge’s order was a “recommendation” that the BOP had chosen to ignore.
The situation is more serious with Hale, though. This isn’t just a case of the BOP ignoring a recommendation. There’s a huge difference between a low-security prison and a Supermax CMU. There’s a huge difference between a low-security prison and solitary confinement. And there’s a huge difference between a low-security prison and a complete lack of the medical and psychological support necessary to keep a prisoner alive.
What happens if, God forbid, Daniel can’t make it through the sentence and he harms himself? A BOP apology isn’t going to cut it. A letter to Congress attributing the disaster to “human error” won’t help him. This issue has to be fixed right now. Daniel Hale must be transferred to Butner and he has to get the help he needs.
John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
By Ben Austen and Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Oct. 23, 2021
Mr. Austen is working on a book about crime, punishment and parole. Dr. Muhammad is a professor of history, race and public policy at Harvard.
“Both of us have visited and studied prisons in other Western countries, where 20-year sentences are considered extreme and are exceptionally rare. In Germany, according to a 2013 Vera Institute of Justice report, fewer than 100 people have prison terms longer than 15 years; in the Netherlands, all but a tiny percentage are sentenced to four years or less. In U.S. prisons, life sentences are routine.”https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/23/opinion/sunday/illinois-parole-mass-incarceration.html
In 2018, at a maximum-security prison an hour outside of Chicago, a debate team gathered on a stage to argue the merits of reinstating parole in Illinois. Under current law — Illinois abolished discretionary parole in 1978 for all future offenders — none of the 14 members of the Stateville Correctional Center debate team would ever get to appear before a parole board.
Their coach, Katrina Burlet, who also led a team at an evangelical liberal arts college, invited the 177 members of the Illinois General Assembly to attend the debate. Around twenty of the lawmakers showed up in the prison’s theater.
Raul Dorado, who was 20 years into a life sentence, told the politicians that he and the other men on the debate team were imprisoned between the ages of 16 and 26. “There is a reason for this,” he said. “People simply age out of crime.”
The Bureau of Justice Statistics and countless studies show that Mr. Dorado was right about this. Arrest rates for both violent and nonviolent crimes generally peak when people are in their late teens and early 20s, and from there criminal behavior drops steadily. Mr. Dorado said that without parole he and his teammates were likely to die in prison. Half of them had been sentenced to life. Among the others, the shortest sentence was 40 years.
Oscar Parham, whose geniality had earned him the nickname Smiley, said that the most severe punishments should be restricted to the most egregious offenders, to the rare mass murderer or serial killer. Yet in prisons across the country, more than 200,000 people are serving life or virtual life sentences of 50 years or more.
“Was I a monster who threatened the very fabric of society like the natural-life sentence suggests?” he asked. Mr. Parham was a teenager in a gang when a friend killed two people during a drug deal. He was convicted of the double murder under the legal theory of “accountability,” which allows prosecutors to charge accomplices or associates as if they committed the actual offense. “Just as prisoners must change and reform, so must the system,” Mr. Parham said.
Weeks after the public debate, the prison disbanded the Stateville team. The coach was barred from entering any state prison in Illinois. One explanation came from the head of the Illinois Department of Corrections at the time, who said the coach didn’t follow “safety and security practices.”
But the team had already captured the attention of several of the visiting legislators. The debaters drafted a bill that would entitle everyone in prison in Illinois to a parole review. With supporters on the outside, five members of the team went on to form a group called Parole Illinois. They raised money and hired an organizer. Now Illinois lawmakers have an opportunity to pass a parole reform bill that is the result of the Stateville debate team’s years of work.
Senate Bill 2333 would entitle people imprisoned in the state who serve at least 20 years to a parole review. There are 2,500 people who have already spent two decades in prison in Illinois; many thousands more will eventually surpass that mark. Under the proposed law, they wouldn’t be automatically released; a parole board would evaluate them, assessing the risks and benefits of restoring their freedom.
Both of us have visited and studied prisons in other Western countries, where 20-year sentences are considered extreme and are exceptionally rare. In Germany, according to a 2013 Vera Institute of Justice report, fewer than 100 people have prison terms longer than 15 years; in the Netherlands, all but a tiny percentage are sentenced to four years or less. In U.S. prisons, life sentences are routine.
The pending Illinois law, if passed, might lead other states to follow suit, chipping away at one of the many pillars of mass incarceration. The legislation is a hopeful sign of changing sensibilities about people whose transformed lives have meant very little in the machinery of mass punishment.
Parole has a complicated history in this country, one that helps explain how we got into the crisis of mass incarceration and maybe how we might find a way out. When it began in the United States in the 19th century, parole was envisioned as a means of rehabilitating people in prison by encouraging good behavior with the possibility of early release.
By the 1970s, though, parole boards were under attack. Conservatives pointed to rising crime and civil disorder and denounced parole as overly lenient. They said discretionary release invariably sent dangerous people back onto the streets and encouraged more crime, since soft punishments failed as deterrents.
On the other end of the political spectrum, people behind bars were busy protesting prison conditions. They said parole boards lacked transparency and systematically discriminated against petitioners of color. They and their supporters believed that clearly defined fixed prison terms would be less susceptible to a parole board’s bias, racism and indifference, and that as a result these sentences would be shorter. They were wrong.
Sixteen states and the federal government eventually got rid of or severely curtailed their existing parole systems. Other states soon restricted parole eligibility to a small subset of their prison populations. But eliminating and restricting parole turned out to be the first of the sentencing reforms in the country’s punitive turn.
The floodgates opened onto mandatory minimums, truth-in-sentencing, three strikes and you’re out. More people were sentenced to prison, and the fixed terms grew longer and longer. The number of people in state and federal prisons ballooned to a peak of 1.6 million in 2009 from 200,000 in the 1970s. The numbers have fallen moderately since.
A large body of evidence has documented the destruction caused by long prison terms. Not only are people over 50 the fastest-growing segment in U.S. prisons, but they are also exposed to ever-greater mental and physical health risks with each passing year — a crisis made even more apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of us was a contributor to a 2014 National Research Council report on the creation and consequences of mass incarceration. The report recommends a return to a principle of parsimony, the sensible idea that a punishment should be only as severe as is required to prevent future offending. Too much punishment, the report noted, can have the opposite effect, when “justice institutions lose legitimacy.”
Many legal scholars and criminologists now agree that whatever prisons are supposed to accomplish — whether it’s incapacitation, accountability, rehabilitation or deterrence — it can be achieved within two decades. The nonprofit Sentencing Project argues that the United States should follow the lead of other countries and cap prison terms at 20 years, barring exceptional circumstances. The Model Penal Code of the American Law Institute, a century-old organization led by judges, law professors and legal experts, proposes reviewing long sentences for resentencing or release after 15 years.
In Virginia, there’s also a movement to reinstate parole eligibility. A bill in New York State would grant those 55 and older who have served at least 15 years the right to a hearing. Expanding parole consideration in Illinois and elsewhere won’t be enough to roll back the destructive effects of mass incarceration. But it would be an important step in continuing efforts to reduce prison numbers, and it could usher in other necessary changes.
Discretionary parole can’t succeed if brutal prison conditions aren’t improved, if there aren’t educational and rehabilitative opportunities and if those released from prison on parole are set up to fail. In 2010, a fifth of all people entering the country’s state prisons were there not for committing another crime but for technical violations of the conditions of their parole release.
Attending parole hearings, we’ve also seen that parole consideration offers the potential of achieving on a larger scale what the Stateville team pulled off at its debate: forcing a reckoning with the humanity of people in prison and with the injustice of extreme prison terms.
Senate Bill 2333 has a dozen sponsors and was endorsed by local celebrities like Chance the Rapper and Common. But in the first days of the legislative session in Illinois this month, John Connor, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Law Committee, did not bring the bill up for a vote because he didn’t think it could garner enough support. He also feared the possibility of even a single paroled sex offender going on to commit a grievous crime. Whether or not Illinois lawmakers decide to pass these reforms in the remaining days of the legislative session next week, they should keep trying — and not miss the opportunity to bring parole back.
Joseph Dole, the policy director of Parole Illinois, has served 23 years of a life sentence, including a decade in an Illinois supermax prison that was subsequently shuttered after it became known for its abusive forms of isolation and deprivation. In a recent email from Stateville, he explained that the substance of what he and his teammates said at the debate was less significant than what they demonstrated to the lawmakers in attendance: that they were real people with intelligence, ambitions and valid concerns.
“That,” Mr. Dole wrote, “did more than anything else to dispel the societal narrative that ‘prisoners’ are all ‘evil,’ irredeemable monsters that should be incarcerated unto death.”
The Defense Ministry said the groups work for leftist militants. Critics said the charge was aimed at quelling scrutiny of Israeli rights abuses.
By Patrick Kingsley, Published Oct. 22, 2021, Updated Oct. 23, 2021
“An Israeli counterterrorism law mandates jail terms for members of groups designated as terrorist organizations, as well as for people who express support for these groups.”
A rally organized by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in Gaza City, in June. Credit...Felipe Dana/Associated Press
JERUSALEM — Israel designated six major Palestinian rights watchdogs as terrorist organizations on Friday, a move that critics said would restrict the ability of Palestinian civil society to scrutinize and challenge Israeli government activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, ruled that the six groups were a front for a small leftist militant group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, that does not recognize the State of Israel. The group rose to prominence in the 1960s and ’70s for its hijacking of several passenger aircraft, and later claimed responsibility for suicide attacks during a Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s.
The six groups named were: Al Haq; Addameer; Defense For Children International-Palestine; Bisan; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees; and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.
The six are variously involved in highlighting rights abuses by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, as well as in promoting the rights of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, women, farmworkers and children.
Some of the groups were prominent in a campaign to prosecute Israeli leaders for war crimes at the International Criminal Court. They have often worked in partnership with leading global rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch; were frequently cited in international news outlets, including The New York Times; and have received funding from foreign countries and institutions, including the European Union.
The Ministry of Defense said in a statement that the groups used rights activism as a cover, “but in practice belong and constitute an arm” of the Popular Front, “the main activity of which is the liberation of Palestine and destruction of Israel.”
The statement said that the groups funneled their foreign funding to the Popular Front, and used it to promote terrorism.
The Popular Front is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries, as well as by the European Union.
An Israeli counterterrorism law mandates jail terms for members of groups designated as terrorist organizations, as well as for people who express support for these groups.
Israel has often targeted rights campaigners in the past: barring them from travel, raiding their offices, or deporting them. But international rights groups said the designations on Friday were a watershed.
In a joint statement, Amnesty and H.R.W. said: “This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations.”
The statement added: “They represent the best of global civil society. We stand with them in challenging this outrageous decision.”
A spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Ned Price, said in a statement that the United States had not been given advance notice about the designations and would ask Israel to clarify its reasoning.
Mr. Price said: “The U.S. believes respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible and responsive governance.”
He added: “We would refer you to the Government of Israel for an explanation of their rationale for making these designations.”
The highest-profile target of the designations was Al Haq, sometimes described as the leading Palestinian rights group. Its director, Shawan Jabarin, has frequently been accused by Israelis of being a member of the Popular Front, and he was jailed during the 1980s for his association with the group.
Mr. Jabarin denied the accusations in a telephone interview.
“This is a false claim, completely,” Mr. Jabarin said. “I am not a member, and I wasn’t.”
He added that his group was being targeted because of its efforts to hold the Israeli government to account, for example at the International Criminal Court.
“This is a very political decision,” he said. “This is because of the nature of the work we are doing at the international level.”
A spokesman for Defense for Children International-Palestine said the group rejected the claims and said that its critics in Britain had been forced to recant similar claims after a libel case in 2020.
Some of the groups did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The six groups have two months to appeal the decision. The Israeli Army declined to comment on whether a similar edict had been issued in the occupied territories, where all the groups are based.
Israeli rights activists criticized the designations, with some saying that it undermined the new Israeli government’s stated aim of “shrinking the conflict” with the Palestinians.
B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, said in a statement: “The current Israeli government is not one of change, but rather of a continuation of the violent apartheid regime.”
The Israeli government denies it runs an apartheid system in the West Bank, and says it is taking steps to improve the lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. In recent days, it has given identity papers to thousands of West Bank Palestinians who had been living without proper documentation for years, and issued an additional 3,000 work permits to Palestinians in Gaza.