11/23/2020

Bay Area United Against War Newsletter, November 23, 2020



Urgent Demand For Mumia's Release
Mumia Abu-Jamal #AM 8335
 
There is a serious outbreak of COVID 19 in Mahanoy Correctional Facility, where Mumia and 2,400 other men live.  As of now 20 guards have tested positive 4 COVID 19, and the prison is frantically testing those housed in the prison.  Obviously, this a a huge cause for concern.  Despite the prison being on lockdown, meaning no one leaves there cell except for showers and emergencies.  Food is brought to the cells. 

 

Needless, to say, Mumia quite worried as he should be.  He is 66, years old, has liver damage and prison personnel are the ones bringing in the virus. 

 

Please call Governor Tom Wolf to demand Mumia and other aging elders with underlying vulnerable health concerns be considered for compassionate release.  Clearly, there is no such thing as social distancing in prison.  The only way to stop this virus from spreading and killing those in its' path is to send our elders home
who pose no threat to our community. 

 

Governor Tom Wolf -1(717) 787-2500  Fax 1 (717) 772-8284
Office of the Governor
508 Main Capitol Building
HarrisburgPA  17120    
 
After calling the governor, send an online communication about our concerns.   https://www.governor.pa.gov/contact/#PhoneNumber
 
Let us know what there response was, Thank you.  Mobilization4Mumia@gmail.com
 
ONA MOVE
 

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Colin Kaepernick Supports Mumia!

 This message is from: the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

21 November 2020

Colin Kaepernick is a professional football quarter-back with a sterling record, but he is now an unemployed free agent. This could not be a more important indication of systemic racism in the US, nor a greater condemnation of the corporate worms that own football in this country.

In the 49ers' third preseason game in 2016 Kaepernick sat during the playing of the US  National anthem prior to the game, as a protest against police brutality and systematic oppression of blacks in this country. Throughout the regular season, Kaepernick continued his protest by kneeling during the anthem. During a post-game interview that year, Kaepernick explained his position stating, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Colin Kaepernick Speaks Out...and Gets Opposition

Since then, Kaepernick has continued his outrage against ongoing racist police murders of black people, such as that of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, among many others. This has, of course, not come without opposition. President Trump mobilized his racist base with comments such as this: NFL owners should "fire" players who protest during the national anthem. 

Kaepernick has been unemployed in professional football since the end of the 2016 season.

Kaepernick Supports Mumia Abu-Jamal

Now, Colin Kaepernick has come out with a statement in defense of one of the most important political prisoners in recent US history: Mumia Abu-Jamal. We say this not because other political prisoners are not important--they are--but because prisoners such as Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier are specifically singled out as enemies of the state...of the US government specifically. 

Mumia, falsely accused of killing a Philadelphia cop in 1981, and Peltier, also falsely accused, in his case of killing federal agents at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975, are both the victims of frame-ups that extend through all levels from the US Justice Department, the FBI, and to national, state and local politicians and officials. These cases are prime examples of a racist and class-divided society that is corrupt every inch of the way from top to bottom.

An Important Time for Prisoners 

Colin Kaepernick’s statement on former Black Panther and MOVE supporter Mumia Abu-Jamal is an accurate and riveting summary of the false case made against this determined anti-racist fighter, who continues his insightful commentaries from behind bars in his 39th year of incarceration for a crime he did not commit.

This statement comes at an important time for all prisoners in the US, particularly those in federal and state prisons, because of the Covid-19 virus pandemic. Prisoners have been denied protective measures, or sent to solitary confinement, or arbitrarily moved to other prisons resulting in the spread of infections in those prisons. 

The Labor Action Committee To free Mumia Abu-Jamal initiated several protests at San Quentin Prison beginning in May 2020. This work is now being carried forward by the No Justice Under Capitalism Coalition (NJUChttps://www.facebook.com/NoJusticeUnderCapitalism/ 

And for more information on Mumia Abu-Jamal, check http://www.freemumia.com/who-are-we/  and: www.laboractionmumia.org.

Colin Kaepernick’s Statement on Mumia:

 Free Mumia (6:52) Colin Kaepernick  

https://www.prisonradio.org/media/audio/mumia-abu-jamal-sci-mahanoy/free-mumia-652-colin-kaepernick

11/16/20

When I was invited to speak on behalf of Mumia, one of the first things that came to mind was how long he's been in prison. How many years of his life had been stolen away from him, his community, and his loved ones. He's been incarcerated for 38 years. Mumia has been in prison longer than I've been alive.

When I first spoke with Mumia on the phone, I did very little talking. I just listened. Hearing him speak was a reminder of why we must continue to fight. Earlier this year,  The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner issued a statement, noting that prolonged solitary confinement, the precise type often used in the United States, amounts to psychological torture.  Mumia Abu-Jamal has spent roughly 30 out of his 38 years in solitary confinement.

In his book Live From Death Row, Mumia wrote that prison is a second by second assault on the soul, a day-to-day degradation of the self, an oppressive steel and brick umbrella that transforms seconds into hours, and hours into days. He has had to endure this second-by-second assault on his soul for 38 years.

He had no record before he was arrested and framed for the death of a Philadelphia police officer. Since 1981, Mumia has maintained his innocence. His story has not changed. Mumia was shot, brutalized, arrested, and chained to a hospital bed. The first police officer assigned to him wrote in a report that the “Negro male made no comment” as cited in Philly Mag. Yet 64 days into the investigation, another officer testified that Mumia had confessed to the killing. Mumia’s story has not changed, but we're talking about the same Philadelphia Police Department whose behavior “shocks the conscience,” according to a 1979 DOJ report.  Behaviors like shooting nonviolent suspects, abusing handcuffed prisoners, and tampering with evidence.

It should therefore come as little surprise that, according to Dr. Johanna Fernandez, over one third of the 35 officers involved in Mumia's case, were subsequently convicted of rank corruption, extortion, and tampering with evidence to obtain convictions in unrelated cases. This is the same Philadelphia Police Department where officers ran racial profiling sweeps, like Operation Cold Turkey in March, 1985, targeting Black and Brown folks; and bombed the MOVE house in May of that year, killing 11 people, including five children and destroying 61 homes. 

The same Philadelphia police department, whose officers eight days before the 2020 presidential election, shot Walter Wallace Jr. dead in the streets in front of his crying mother. The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police has unrelentingly campaigned for Mumia’s execution. During their August, 1999, national meeting, a spokesperson for the organization stated that they will not rest until Abu-Jamal burns in hell. The former Philadelphia president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Richard Castello, went as far as to say that if you disagree with their views of Mumia, you can join him in the electric chair and that they will make it an electric couch.

The trial judge on Mumia's case in 1981, Albert Sabo was a former member of the Fraternal Order of Police. Court reporter Terry Maurer Carter even heard Judge Sabo telling a colleague “I'm going to help them fry the nigger.”

Found in December, 2018, in an inaccessible storage room of the DA's office, six boxes of documents for Mumia's case reveal previously undisclosed and highly significant evidence showing that Mumia’s trial was tainted by a failure to disclose material evidence in violation of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. In November, 2019, the Fraternal Order of Police filed a King's Bench Petition asking the court to allow the state attorney general, not the Philadelphia DA's office, to handle the upcoming appeals.

As the FOP president John McNesby said just last year, “Mumia should remain in prison for the rest of his life.” And a King's Bench order provides the legal angle for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to uphold Judge Sabo’s original wish, which was for Mumia ultimately to die in prison. 

Today we're living through a moment where it's acceptable to paint “end racism now” in front of the Philadelphia Police Department’s 26th district headquarters, and yet a political prisoner who has since the age of 14 dedicated his life to fighting against racism, continues to be caged and lives his life on a slow death row. We're in the midst of a movement that says Black Lives Matter. And if that's truly the case, then it means that Mumia’s life and legacy must matter. And the causes that he sacrifices life and freedom for must matter as well. 

Through all of the torture Mumia has suffered over the past 38 years, his principles have never wavered. These principles have manifested themselves in his writing countless books while incarcerated, in his successful radio show, and the time and energy he has poured into his mentorship of younger incarcerated folks and the continued concern for the people suffering outside of the walls. Even while living in the hells of the prison system, Mumia still fights for our human rights. We must continue to fight for him and his human rights.

Well, Mumia is 66 years old. He is a grandfather. He is an elder with ailments. He is a human being that deserves to be free. 

Free Mumia.


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SIGN PETITION: Don't reincarcerate Jalil Muntaquim


Support for Jalil Muntaqim petition from the Movement for Black Lives:

Please click the below link to sign & share widely.



Support for Jalil Muntaqim
STATEMENT OF COMMUNITY SUPPORT FOR JALIL MUNTAQIM We the undersigned fully support the New York State Parole Board’s decision to release Jalil Muntaqim. The parole process is meant to evaluate a person for release based on who they are today, not to extend one’s sentence into perpetuity. Mr. Muntaqim has been incarcerated since 1971, when he was 19 years old. During his 49 years in prison, Mr. Muntaqim has led education/mentorship programs for prisoners, earned several educational degrees and mentored many younger incarcerated men. He has been commended for preventing prisoner violence and promoting safety. As a result, hundreds of organizations and individuals have stepped forward to support his release including community and faith leaders, family members, and the NY State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus. The Board finally acted honorably in following the guidelines put forth by New York State Executive Law 259-(i). A 2011, bi-partisan amendment to the law passed by Republican and Democratic lawmakers makes it clear that an individual’s readiness for successful re-entry should take priority in the decision to grant release. Upon his release, Mr. Muntaqim was warmly welcomed by a large, diverse set of community leaders and residents of Rochester, New York. He reported to his parole officers and followed instructions to sign up for various social services required by all senior citizens in his position. He was handed a large stack of paperwork including a voter registration form. Muntaqim, eager to follow instructions, appropriately filled out and signed everything required of him. Now, the Rochester District Attorney is attempting to reincarcerate an elder recovering from COVID-19 because he filled out a form as instructed. We are statewide and national organizations, community and faith leaders, elected officials, civil rights organizations, public defenders, and residents of the Rochester area. We pledge our continuing support for Mr. Muntaqim and our assistance in facilitating his reintegration into society. We vehemently oppose any efforts to remove him from our community and/or place him back in prison.
Please click the below link to sign & share widely.


Charlie Hinton
No one ever hurt their eyes by looking on the bright side


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History, Great Britain, and Julian Assange

By Clifford D. Conner

Below are the comments Clifford D. Conner made at a September 8, 2020 press conference in front of the British consulate in New York City. Conner is an historian and author of Jean Paul Marat: Tribune of the French Revolution and The Tragedy of American Science: From Truman to Trump. The court in Britain is holding hearings on the Trump administration’s request to have Julian Assange, the Australian editor, publisher and founder of WikiLeaks, extradited. Assange would be tried in a Virginia court on 17 counts of espionage and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime. If convicted, he could face up to 175 years in prison.

In 2010 Assange had the audacity to post a video showing a U.S. Apache helicopter indiscriminately murdering a dozen civilians and two Reuters’ journalists in the streets of Baghdad.

Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower, testified in court on September 16 that Assange could not receive a fair trial in the United States. When he pointed out that the Collateral Murder video was clearly a war crime, the prosecution maintained that Assange was not wanted by Washington for it but for publishing documents without redacting names. Ellsberg pointed out that when he leaked the Pentagon Papers, he did not redact a single name.

Assange’s lawyer has since informed the London court that in 2017 former Republican U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher and Charles Johnson, a far-right political activist, relayed Trump’s offer to pardon Assange if he provided the source for the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. This was described to Assange as a “win-win” situation for all involved.

A National Committee to Defend Assange and Civil Liberties, chaired by Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, and Alice Walker has been set up. For further information, go to: www.facebook.com/CommitteeToDefendJulianAssangeThe press conference was organized by the New York City Free Assange Committee. The press conference was organized by the New York City Free Assange Committee: NYCFreeAssange.org

—Dianne Feeley for The Editors, Against the Current


Comments by Clifford D. Conner

I am here at the British Consulate today to protest the incarceration and mistreatment of Julian Assange in Belmarsh Prison in Great Britain, to demand that you immediately release him, and above all, to demand that you NOT extradite Julian Assange to the United States.

As a historian who has written extensively on the case of the most persecuted journalist of the 18th century, Jean Paul Marat, I am in a position to make historical comparisons, and in my judgement, Julian Assange is both the most unjustly persecuted journalist of the 21st century and arguably the most important journalist of the 21st century.

Julian Assange is being hounded and harassed and threatened with life in prison by the United States government because he dared to publish the truth about American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan for the whole world to see. This persecution of Julian Assange is an assault on the fundamental principles of journalistic freedom.

The sociopathic Donald Trump and his accomplice, Attorney General William Barr, are demanding that you deliver Assange to them to face false charges of espionage. Every honest observer in the world recognizes Trump and Barr as utterly incapable of acting in good faith. If they succeed in suppressing Julian Assange’s right to publish, it will be a devastating precedent for journalists and publishers of news everywhere—and above all, for the general public, who will lose access to the information necessary to maintaining a democratic society.

If you allow yourselves to become co-conspirators in this crime, History will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.

Last November, more than 60 doctors from all over the world wrote an open letter to the British government saying that Julian Assange’s health was so bad that he could die if he weren’t moved from Belmarsh Prison, where he was being held, to a hospital, immediately. Your government chose to ignore that letter and he was not hospitalized, then or later. History will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.

Of all crimes against humanity, the most unforgivable is torture. No nation that perpetrates torture has the right to call itself civilized. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, has unequivocally characterized Julian Assange’s treatment in Belmarsh Prison as torture. History will neither forget nor forgive that terrible moral transgression.

Furthermore, the exposure of the widespread use of torture by the United States military and the CIA at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, at Guantánamo Bay, and at so-called “black sites” all over the world, absolutely disqualifies the United States from sitting in moral judgement of anybody. If you deliver Julian Assange into the hands of torturers, history will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.

So, I join together today with human rights advocates and advocates of journalistic freedom around the world.

I stand with the Committee to Protect Journalists, which declared: “For the sake of press freedom, Julian Assange must be defended.”

I stand with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which said that the attempt to prosecute Julian Assange is “a worrying step on the slippery slope to punishing any journalist the Trump administration chooses to deride as ‘fake news’.”

And I stand with the ACLU, which said: “Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for WikiLeaks’publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations.”

History will not only record the names of the countries that collaborate in this travesty of justice, but also the names of the individuals—the judges, the prosecutors, the diplomats, and the politicians—who aid and abet the crime. If you, as individuals, choose to ally yourselves with the likes of Donald Trump and William Barr, be prepared for your names to be chained to theirs in infamy, in perpetuity.

History will certainly absolve Julian Assange, and it certainly will not absolve his persecutors.


Against the Current, November/December 2020

https://againstthecurrent.org/history-great-britain-and-julian-assange/



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From Across the Pond


Johnson the Invisible Brat

By John Blackburn

Johnson the invisible brat,

Thinks he’s better than us all,

For he’s a posh prime minister,

Who defies international law,

No matter how many graves get filled,

Or the cupboards are running bare,

You bet you can rely on this,

Johnson won’t be there.

 

Hancock, Priti, any sycophant,

It doesn’t matter who,

Can keep a straight face on camera,

While reading the lies on the autocue.

Nursing homes, schools there’s Covid everywhere,

But whenever there’s a crisis,

Johnson isn’t there

 

Depravity, depravity there’s no match for his depravity.

He is nastiness in human form, with not a shred of common humanity.

You may read him in a by-line, or see his face in the morning paper,

But when there’s a problem to deal with,

Boris Johnson won’t be seen till later.

 

Depravity, depravity the are no bounds to his depravity,

He’s already broken every law and conduct of normality,

His powers of crass dishonesty are way beyond compare,

He lies in every sentence and doesn’t seem to care,

You may look for him in Downing Street or in another lair,

But when a job is needing done,

Boris Johnson is never there.

 

He’ll sack anyone who happens in his way 

And tear up any treaty he doesn’t like today,

He is outwardly respectably but he cheats all his friends

He’ll trample over anyone to get to his own ends,

Or he’ll send his hoodlum Cummings to crush dissenting minds.

Lies, corruption, negligence we know he doesn’t care

But when there is money to be made,

This time,

Johnson and mates will be there.

 

In Britain he acts like a dictator doing just as he wants,

Ignoring real life tragedies while posing for photo stunts,

For all his fake bravado, he’s just another coward,

A liar, a bully a posh self-centred fraud.

He’s an invisible prime minister who is never here, 

But whenever there’s Trump’s arse to kiss,

You can be sure that,

Boris Johnson will reappear.

 

Calamity then catastrophe with grand theft larceny,

Another billion of our money flushed down the lavat’ry,

He cares not for our suffering our deaths and our pain,

Fake news and lies again and again,

When things go wrong and account is called,

It is always someone else’s fault,

What ever the problem no matter where

He always can claim that he wasn’t there.

 

Covid 19’s, coming, 

He says we’ll take it on the chin,

World beating, moonshot, track and trace,

Endless lies and spin

Just more meaningless hot air from this uncaring buffoon,

Exam results fiasco, yet he never showed his face.

Children going hungry a national disgrace

We must take matters in our own hands,

To make things proper here,

Have confidence in our own powers,

Make Johnson and his kind 

Completely disappear.



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Urgent Action: Garifuna leader and 3 community members kidnapped and disappeared in Honduras

Share This 
On the morning of Saturday, July 18, Garifuna leader Snider Centeno and other three members of the Triunfo de la Cruz community where kidnapped and disappeared by a group of men wearing bullet proof vests with the initials of the Honduran National Police (DPI in Spanish). The DPI is the Investigative Police Directorate and when it was formed years ago, was trained by the United States. As of this Monday Morning, there is still no word on the whereabouts of Mr. Centeno, Milton Joel Marínez, Suami Aparicio Mejía and El Pri (nickname).
Snider was the president of the elected community council in Triunfo de la Cruz and his community received a favorable sentence from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2015. However, the Honduran state has still not respected it. The kidnapping and disappearance of Snider and the 3 other men is another attack against the Garifuna community and their struggle to protect their ancestral lands and the rights of afro-indigenous and indigenous people to live.
National and international pressure forced the Honduran Ministry of Human Rights to put out a statement urging authorities to investigate and act. Your support can make the difference!
For more information and updated on what is happening in Honduras, please follow the Honduras Solidarity Network

Contact Us

Alliance for Global Justice
225 E 26th St Ste 1

Tucson, Arizona 85713-2925
202-540-8336
afgj@afgj.org
Follow Us 
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About Albert Einstein

In September 1946, (after the war, before the civil rights movement), Albert Einstein called racism America’s “worst disease.” Earlier that year, he told students and faculty at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the oldest Black college in the Western world, that racial segregation was “not a disease of colored people, but a disease of white people, adding, “I willl not remain silent about it.” 

His peers criticized this appearance. The press purposefully didn't cover it. He simply wanted to inspire young minds with the beauty and power of science, drawing attention to the power of ALL human minds, regardless of race.

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.” -Albert Einstein


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https://www.nlg.org/federalrepressionresources/

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. 

Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.

Emergency Hotlines

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: 

National Hotline

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. 

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: 

Center for Constitutional Rights

Civil Liberties Defense Center

Grand Jury Resistance Project

Katya Komisaruk

Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources

Tilted Scales Collective

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 JUSTICE INITIATIVE
Note: Below are comments from Ambassador Andrew Young, who is also the former Mayor of Atlanta. The Ambassador notes that Imam Jamil Al-Amin was wrongfully convicted and that it's time to 'rejudge'.

Below is also a correction in the title of the previous posting about Otis Jackson, who admitted to the killing of which Imam Jamil Al-Amin was falsely accused of committing. The article is included below with the title correction being, "There are demands for a new trial"

And again, please sign the petition for a new trial and ask your friends to do so as well.

August 10, 2020
Justice Initiative


"(There's one case) that weighs heavy on my heart because I really think he was wrongfully convicted."
 
This Man, a Muslim, helped "clean up" Atlanta's West End.
 
"I'm talking about Jamil Al-Amin," he said, "H. Rap Brown."
 
"I think it's time to rejudge. He's been dying of cancer and has been suffering away from his family in the worst prisons of this nation." 
 
Ambassador Andrew Young Jr. 
___

Otis Jackson Speaks - 
The Man Who Committed 
The Crime Imam Jamil Is Serving Life For
There are demands for a new trial for 
Imam Jamil Al-Amin
Please sign the petition for a new trial

The Confession - My Name Is James Santos aka Otis Jackson (We Demand A Retrial For Imam Jamil)
The Confession - My Name Is James Santos aka OtisJackson (We Demand A Retrial For Imam Jamil)


Otis Jackson is a self-proclaimed leader of the Almighty Vice Lord Nation (AVLN). Founded in the late 1950s, the AVLN is one of the oldest street gangs in Chicago.
According to Jackson, the group under his leadership was focused on rebuilding communities by pushing out drug dealers and violence.
In a never-before published sworn deposition, Jackson recalls the events of the night of Thursday, March 16, 2000, in vivid detail.
It was a cool night as Jackson remembers. He wore a knee-high black Islamic robe with black pants, a black kufi-Muslim head covering-underneath a tan hat, and a tan leather jacket. His silver sunglasses with yellow tint sat above his full beard and mustache.
He arrived at Mick's around 7PM, when he realized his schedule had changed. He was no longer the food expediter in the kitchen; his title was now dishwasher/cook, which meant he would wash dishes and then help close the kitchen at night.
Since his title changed, he wasn't required to work that Thursday night. It immediately dawned on him that he had a 10-hour window to do whatever he wanted. As a parolee under house arrest, the opportunity to have truly free time was rare if even existent. Jackson decided to fill his new found freedom like most people fill their free time-he ran a few errands.
His first stop was the West End Mall where he got a bite to eat, did some shopping and then headed toward the West End community mosque, led by Al-Amin. He knew it was a regular building off of Oak Street, but wasn't sure which one exactly.
He parked his black Cadillac in an open field and walked down toward a house that turned out to be the mosque. He passed a black Mercedes before he got to the mosque, where he met a man named Lamar "Mustapha" Tanner. They talked for a while during which Jackson explained to Tanner that he was looking for Al-Amin to talk about how the AVLN could help Al-Amin's community.
Tanner told Jackson to check the grocery store, since Al-Amin could usually be found there. Tanner then gave Jackson his phone number and hurried away to go pick up his wife. Jackson proceeded to the grocery store. He wanted to discuss with Al-Amin how his AVLN organization could help further clean the streets of drug dealers in the West End community.
By the time Jackson made his way to Al-Amin's store, it was already late. He was afraid the store would be closed since he didn't see anyone else on the street. His fear was affirmed; the store wasn't open.
Hoping that maybe the owner would be in the back closing up, he knocked on the door a few more times. No answer. As he turned to leave, Jackson saw a patrol car pull up. By the time Jackson walked by the black Mercedes, the patrol car was parked in front of it, nose-to-nose. The driver of the patrol car got out and asked Jackson to put his hands up.
Immediately, this scenario flashed through Jackson's head: Here he was, violating his parole by not being at work, with a 9mm handgun in his waist. Jackson was afraid the cops would think he was breaking into the store. That meant they would probably frisk him and find the gun. The gun would be a direct violation of his parole; he'd be sent back to prison in Nevada.
Jackson ignored the order to put his hands up and instead began to explain that he was not trying to break into the store. He stated that he wasn't trying to steal the Mercedes either; his car was parked down the street. Both officers were out of the car with guns drawn and demanding Jackson put his hands up. The cops were closing in and there was little space between them. Jackson made a quick decision. He backed up against the Mercedes, pulled out his gun and began to fire.
He fired off two shots. The officers, while retreating, returned fire. Jackson wasn't hit and bolted toward his car, where in the trunk he had an arsenal of other weapons. As Jackson explains, "the organization I was about to form, the Almighty Vice Lord Nation, we're anti-oppression, and we fight, you know, drug dealers and what not, so...we need artillery."
He quickly opened the trunk - the lock was broken and held together with shoe string-and grabbed a lightweight, semiautomatic carbine Ruger Mini-14 with an extended clip housing 40 .223 caliber rounds. Jackson then headed back toward the cops; one was moving for cover behind the Mercedes, the other was on the police radio screaming for backup.
Jackson approached the officer he thought was the most aggressive, who was using the Mercedes for cover and resumed firing his rifle. The officer returned fire, hitting Jackson in the upper left arm twice.
Jackson, now angered and fearful for his life, shot back, downing the officer. Jackson stood over him and shot him in the groin up to four times. The fallen officer, Deputy Kinchen, in a last attempt to plead with his killer, described his family, mother, and children to Jackson, hoping for mercy.
But Jackson admits that by this time, "my mind was gone, so I really wasn't paying attention." Jackson fired again at the officer on the ground. Dripping his own blood on the concrete where he stood, Jackson then turned his attention to Deputy English who was running toward the open field. Jackson believed English was flagging down another officer; he couldn't let him get away.
Jackson hit English four times. One shot hit him in the leg; he soon fell, screaming, thereby confirming Jackson's shot. After English went down, Jackson, in a state of shock, walked down pass the mosque.
Nursing his bleeding wounds, he tried to stop three passing cars on the road; no one dared pull over. He then walked back down the street and knocked on three different doors for assistance. Only one even turned the light on, but no one opened the door for Jackson. He then made his way back to his car and drove to his mother's home.
As he walked in the door, the phone rang. His mother was asleep, so Jackson hurriedly answered it in the other room. It was a representative from the Sentinel Company that provided the monitoring service for Jackson's ankle bracelet. The man on the phone asked where Jackson was; he responded that he was at work. The Sentinel representative explained that his unaccounted for absence would have to be marked down as a violation. Jackson agreed and quickly ended the conversation.
Although one bullet exited through the back of his arm, the other was still lodged in his upper left arm. Jackson called a couple of female friends, who were registered nurses. The women, who were informed by Jackson that he was robbed in the middle of the night, arrived at his house and worked for three hours to remove the bullet from his arm. Jackson then called Mustapha Tanner, whom he just met earlier in the evening, and asked him to come by his house.
Tanner arrived before 10am. Jackson explained what had happened the previous night and said he needed to get rid of the guns and the car. Jackson's car trunk contained enough artillery for a mini-militia: three Ruger Mini-14 rifles, an M16 assault rifle, a .45 handgun, three 9mm handguns and a couple of shotguns. Once Tanner left, Jackson called his parole officer Sarah Bacon and let her know that he "had been involved in a situation," but left out the details.
In the following days, Jackson was asked to report to the Sentinel Company. He checked in with the monitoring company and his parole officer, and was then given a ride back home. As they pulled onto his street, Jackson noticed many unmarked police cars. After entering his driveway, multiple police officers emerged. The police searched Jackson's house and found rounds of Mini-14, .223, 9mm, and M16 ammunition. Jackson's bloody clothes and boots from the shootout with the deputies the night before were left untouched in his closet.
On March 28, 2000, Jackson's parole was revoked and he was sent back to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence in Nevada. Upon his detainment in Florida and later transfer to Nevada, Jackson confessed the crime to anyone who would listen. Jackson claims that when he reached the Clark County Jail in Las Vegas, Nevada, he made numerous phone calls to the F.B.I., after which an agent arrived to discuss the incident with him. Jackson recalls telling his story to "Special Agent Mahoney."
Special Agent Devon Mahoney recalls documenting the confession, but not much beyond that. Mahoney remembers getting a call from a superior to "talk to someone" in a Las Vegas jail and then to "document it and file it up the chain of command." The confession was documented and filed on June 29, 2000.

Gray & Associates, PO Box 8291, ATLANTA, GA 31106
Constant Contact
Try email marketing for free today!

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Timeless words of wisdom from Friedrich Engels:



This legacy belongs to all of us:

“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forest to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. . . Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature–but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.” The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man 1876. —Friedrich Engels



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Still photo from Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove"released January 29, 1964

Enough is Enough: Global Nuclear Weapons 


Spending 2020

  In its report "Enough is Enough: Global Nuclear Weapons Spending 2020" the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has produced the first estimate in nearly a decade of global nuclear weapon spending, taking into account costs to maintain and build new nuclear weapons. ICAN estimates that the nine nuclear-armed countries spent $72.9 billion on their 13,000-plus nuclear weapons in 2019, equaling $138,699 every minute of 2019 on nuclear weapons, and a $7.1 billion increase from 2018.
These estimates (rounded to one decimal point) include nuclear warhead and nuclear-capable delivery systems operating costs and development where these expenditures are publicly available and are based on a reasonable percentage of total military spending on nuclear weapons when more detailed budget data is not available. ICAN urges all nuclear-armed states to be transparent about nuclear weapons expenditures to allow for more accurate reporting on global nuclear expenditures and better government accountability.
ICAN, May 2020
https://www.icanw.org/global_nuclear_weapons_spending_2020

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Shooting and looting started: 400 years ago

Shooting, looting, scalping, lynching,
Raping, torturing their way across
the continent—400 years ago—
Colonial settler thugs launched this
endless crimson tide rolling down on
Today…
Colonial settler thugs launched this
endless crimson tide leaving in-
visible yellow crime
scene tape crisscrossing Tallahassee
to Seattle; San Diego to Bangor… 
Shooting Seneca, Seminole, Creek,
Choctaw, Mohawk, Cayuga, Blackfeet,
Shooting Sioux, Shawnee, Chickasaw,
Chippewa before
Looting Lakota land; Looting Ohlone
Land—
Looting Ashanti, Fulani, Huasa, Wolof,
Yoruba, Ibo, Kongo, Mongo, Hutu, Zulu…
Labor.
Colonial settler thugs launched this
endless crimson tide—hot lead storms—
Shooting, looting Mexico for half of New
Mexico; a quarter of Colorado; some of
Wyoming and most of Arizona; Looting
Mexico for Utah, Nevada and California
So, next time Orange Mobutu, Boss Tweet,
is dirty like Duterte—howling for shooting;
Next time demented minions raise rifles to
shoot; Remind them that
Real looters wear Brooks Brothers suits;
Or gold braid and junk medals ‘cross their
chests. Real looters—with Capitalist Hill
Accomplices—
Steal trillions
Not FOX-boxes, silly sneakers, cheap clothes…
© 2020. Raymond Nat Turner, The Town Crier. All Rights Reserved.       


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From Business Insider 2018

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"The biggest block from having society in harmony with the universe is the belief in a lie that says it’s not realistic or humanly possible." 

"If Obama taught me anything it’s that it don’t matter who you vote for in this system. There’s nothing a politician can do that the next one can’t undo. You can’t vote away the ills of society people have to put our differences aside ban together and fight for the greater good, not vote for the lesser evil."

—Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)

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When faced with the opportunity to do good, I really think it’s the instinct of humanity to do so. It’s in our genetic memory from our earliest ancestors. It’s the altered perception of the reality of what being human truly is that’s been indoctrinated in to every generation for the last 2000 years or more that makes us believe that we are born sinners. I can’t get behind that one. We all struggle with certain things, but I really think that all the “sinful” behavior is learned and wisdom and goodwill is innate at birth.  —Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)



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Support Major Tillery, Friend of Mumia, Innocent, Framed, Now Ill




Major Tillery (with hat) and family


Dear Friends of the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia,

Major Tillery, a prisoner at SCI Chester and a friend of Mumia, may have caught the coronavirus. Major is currently under lockdown at SCI Chester, where a coronavirus outbreak is currently taking place. Along with the other prisoners at SCI Chester, he urgently needs your help.

Major was framed by the Pennsylvania District Attorney and police for a murder which took place in 1976. He has maintained his innocence throughout the 37 years he has been incarcerated, of which approximately 20 were spent in solitary confinement. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture has said that 15 days of solitary confinement constitutes torture.

When Mumia had Hepatitis C and was left to die by the prison administration at SCI Mahanoy, Major Tillery was the prisoner who confronted the prison superintendent and demanded that they treat Mumia. (see https://www.justiceformajortillery.org/messing-with-major.html). Although Mumia received medical treatment, the prison retaliated against Major for standing up to the prison administration. He was transferred to another facility, his cell was searched and turned inside out repeatedly, and he lost his job in the prison as a Peer Facilitator.

SCI Chester, where Major is currently incarcerated, has been closed to visitors since mid-March. Fourteen guards and one prisoner are currently reported to be infected with the coronavirus. Because the prison has not tested all the inmates, there is no way to know how many more inmates have coronavirus. Major has had a fever, chills and a sore throat for several nights. Although Major has demanded testing for himself and all prisoners, the prison administration has not complied.

For the past ten days, there has been no cleaning of the cell block. It has been weeks since prisoners have been allowed into the yard to exercise. The food trays are simply being left on the floor. There have been no walk-throughs by prison administrators. The prisoners are not allowed to have showers; they are not allowed to have phone calls; and they are not permitted any computer access. 

This coronavirus outbreak at SCI Chester is the same situation which is playing out in California prisons right now, about which the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia, along with other groups, organized a car caravan protest at San Quentin last week. Prisons are enclosed indoor spaces and are already an epicenter of the coronavirus, like meatpacking plants and cruise ships. If large numbers of prisoners are not released, the coronavirus will infect the prisons, as well as surrounding communities, and many prisoners will die. Failing to release large numbers of prisoners at this point is the same as executing them. We call for "No Execution by COVID-19"!

Major is close to 70 years old, and has a compromised liver and immune system, as well as heart problems. He desperately needs your help. 

Please write and call Acting Superintendent Kenneth Eason at:

Kenneth Eason, Acting Superintendent
SCI Chester
500 E. 4th St.
Chester, PA 19013

Telephone: (610) 490-5412

Email: keason@pa.gov (Prison Superintendent). maquinn@pa.gov (Superintendent's Assistant)
Please also call the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections at:Department of Corrections
1920 Technology Parkway
Mechanicsburg, PA 17050

Telephone: (717) 737-4531
This telephone number is for SCI Camp Hill, which is the current number for DOC.
Reference Major's inmate number: AM 9786

Email: ra-contactdoc@pa.gov
Demand that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections immediately:

1) Provide testing for all inmates and staff at SCI Chester;
2) Disinfect all cells and common areas at SCI Chester, including sinks, toilets, eating areas and showers;
3) Provide PPE (personal protective equipment) for all inmates at SCI Chester;
4) Provide access to showers for all prisoners at SCI Chester, as a basic hygiene measure;
5) Provide yard access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
6) Provide phone and internet access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
7) Immediately release prisoners from SCI Chester, including Major Tillery, who already suffers from a compromised immune system, in order to save their lives from execution by COVID-19.

It has been reported that prisoners are now receiving shower access. However, please insist that prisoners be given shower access and that all common areas are disinfected.


In solidarity,

The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal




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Kiah Morris

May 7 at 6:44 AM

So, in MY lifetime....

Black people are so tired. 😓

We can’t go jogging (#AhmaudArbery).

We can’t relax in the comfort of our own homes (#BothemJean and #AtatianaJefferson).

We can't ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride).

We can't have a cellphone (#StephonClark).

We can't leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).

We can't play loud music (#JordanDavis).

We can’t sell CD's (#AltonSterling).

We can’t sleep (#AiyanaJones)

We can’t walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).

We can’t play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).

We can’t go to church (#Charleston9).

We can’t walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).

We can’t hold a hair brush while leaving our own bachelor party (#SeanBell).

We can’t party on New Years (#OscarGrant).

We can’t get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).

We can’t lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).

We can't break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).

We can’t shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford)p^p.

We can’t have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).

We can’t read a book in our own car (#KeithScott).

We can’t be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover).

We can’t decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).

We can’t ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).

We can’t cash our check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).

We can’t take out our wallet (#AmadouDiallo).

We can’t run (#WalterScott).

We can’t breathe (#EricGarner).

We can’t live (#FreddieGray).

We’re tired.

Tired of making hashtags.

Tired of trying to convince you that our #BlackLivesMatter too.

Tired of dying.

Tired.

Tired.

Tired.

So very tired.

(I don’t know who created this. I just know there are so many more names to be added and names we may never hear of.)

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1) Alexander Hamilton, Enslaver? New Research Says Yes

A paper by a researcher at the Schuyler Mansion finds overlooked evidence in letters and Hamilton’s own account books indicating that he bought, sold and personally owned slaves.

By Jennifer Schuessler, Nov. 9, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/09/arts/alexander-hamilton-enslaver-research.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
A statue of Alexander Hamilton in front of the United States Treasury in Washington. Credit...Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The question has lingered around the edges of the pop-culture ascendancy of Alexander Hamilton: Did the 10-dollar founding father, celebrated in the musical “Hamilton” as a “revolutionary manumission abolitionist,” actually own slaves?

 

Some biographers have gingerly addressed the matter over the years, often in footnotes or passing references. But a new research paper released by the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site in Albany, N.Y., offers the most ringing case yet.

 

In the paper, titled “‘As Odious and Immoral a Thing’: Alexander Hamilton’s Hidden History as an Enslaver,” Jessie Serfilippi, a historical interpreter at the mansion, examines letters, account books and other documents. Her conclusion — about Hamilton, and what she suggests is wishful thinking on the part of many of his modern-day admirers — is blunt.

 

“Not only did Alexander Hamilton enslave people, but his involvement in the institution of slavery was essential to his identity, both personally and professionally,” she writes.

 

“It is vital,” she adds, “that the myth of Hamilton as ‘the Abolitionist Founding Father’ end.”

 

The evidence cited in the paper, which was quietly published online last month, is not entirely new. But Ms. Serfilippi’s forceful case has caught the eye of historians, particularly those who have questioned what they see as his inflated antislavery credentials.

 

Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of history and law at Harvard and the author of “The Hemingses of Monticello,” called the paper “fascinating” and the argument plausible. “It just shows that the founders were nearly all implicated in slavery in some way,” she said.

 

Joanne Freeman, a professor of history at Yale and editor of the Library of America edition of Hamilton’s writings, said that the detailed evidence remained to be fully weighed. But she said the paper was part of a welcome reconsideration of what she called “the Hero Hamilton” narrative.

 

“It’s fitting that we are reckoning with Hamilton’s status as an enslaver at a time that is driving home how vital it is for white Americans to reckon — seriously reckon — with the structural legacies of slavery in America,” she wrote in an email.

 

Ms. Serfilippi’s research “complicates his story, and in so doing, better reflects the central place of slavery in America’s Founding,” she said. “It also more accurately reflects Hamilton.”

 

But Ron Chernow, whose 2004 biography calls Hamilton an “uncompromising abolitionist,” said the paper presented a lopsidedly negative view.

 

The paper, he said in an email, “seems to be a terrific research job that broadens our sense of Hamilton’s involvement in slavery in a number of ways.” But he said he was dismayed at the relative lack of attention to Hamilton’s antislavery activities. And he questioned what he called her sometimes “bald conclusions,” starting with the claim that slavery was “essential to his identity.”

 

“I don’t fault Jessie Serfilippi for her tough scrutiny of Hamilton and slavery,” he said. “The great figures in our history deserve such rigor. But she omits all information that would contradict her conclusions.”

 

Hamilton married into the powerful Schuyler family in 1780. Slavery was common among New York State’s elite, and the Schuylers were some of the largest slaveholders in their area, with more than 40 people enslaved at the Albany mansion and another estate over the years.

 

In recent years, the mansion has done extensive research into “the servants” (as the enslaved people of the household were usually referred to), which has been incorporated into its tours. That the Schuylers were enslavers does not necessarily shock visitors, Ms. Serfilippi said. But the extent of Hamilton’s connections with slavery is a different story.

 

“There are some people who come here knowing he wasn’t exactly an abolitionist,” she said. “But there is surprise when I talk about the details of the research.”

 

Travis Bowman, the senior curator for the New York State Bureau of Historic Sites, who supervised the internal review of Ms. Serfilippi’s paper, said the relative lack of research on enslaved people in Hamilton’s household partly reflects the overall paucity of scholarship on Northern slavery. And the complexities of gradual abolition (New York’s gradual abolition law of 1799 phased slavery out over decades) makes tracking enslaved people, and clearly determining their status, particularly difficult.

 

“It’s a very odd period,” Mr. Bowman said. “Many people were granting half-freedom. If enslaved people walked away, they didn’t go after them.”

 

The idea that Hamilton stood apart from the institution goes back to the very first biography of him, by his son John Church Hamilton, who asserted in 1841 that his father “never owned a slave.”

 

That claim was flatly contradicted by Hamilton’s grandson, Allan McLane Hamilton. In his 1910 biography, he called it “untrue,” noting that Hamilton’s own account books included entries showing him purchasing slaves for himself and others.

 

But the idea of a resolutely antislavery Hamilton has endured, and has become more pronounced in recent decades. It’s certainly an image that appeals to contemporary readers seeking a founding father relatively untainted by slavery.

 

In her paper, Ms. Serfilippi challenges what she suggests are persistent myths, starting with the much-repeated claim that his childhood exposure to the brutalities of slavery on St. Croix left him with what Mr. Chernow, in his biography, calls “a settled antipathy to slavery.”

 

“To date,” she writes, echoing other scholars, “no primary sources have been found to corroborate” the notion that Hamilton’s childhood instilled a hatred of slavery.

 

Hamilton did criticize slavery at different points in his life, and compared with most white contemporaries held enlightened views on the abilities of Black people. He was also an early member of the New-York Manumission Society, founded in 1785 to advocate gradual abolition and encourage voluntary freeing of the enslaved. (A number of members, including Philip Schuyler, his father-in-law, were slave owners.)

 

But Ms. Serfilippi also notes documented cases of Hamilton consulting with legal clients on slavery-related issues. Hamilton would not likely have been hired for such work, she argues, “if he were known amongst his peers as having only abolitionist leanings.”

 

That Hamilton helped legal clients and family members, including his sister-in-law Angelica Schuyler Church, buy and sell enslaved people, has been noted by biographers. But whether Hamilton enslaved people in his own household is a murkier question.

 

Some modern biographers, Ms. Serfilippi notes, do address the question, if often briefly. In his biography, Mr. Chernow writes that Hamilton and his wife, Elizabeth, “may have owned one or two household slaves,” citing “three oblique hints in his papers.” But she offers a more definitive reading, arguing that a range of primary sources “prove Hamilton purchased enslaved people for himself.”

 

Her case rests in large part on notations in his cash books and in family letters. For example, in May 1781, six months after his marriage to Elizabeth, Hamilton wrote to George Clinton, mentioning waiting for a sum of money “to pay the value of the woman Mrs. H[amilton] had of Mrs. Clinton.”

 

Some historians, she writes, have read this as paying for the value of her labor. But Hamilton, Ms. Serfilippi argues, was clearly “exchanging money for the woman herself.”

 

She also cites a number of similar references in other letters, corroborated, she asserts, by information in the cash books. For example, in an August 1795 letter to Hamilton, Philip Schuyler refers to “a Negro boy and woman engaged for you.” In March 1796, Hamilton’s cash books record a payment of $250 to Schuyler for “2 Negro servants purchased by him for me.”

 

Ms. Serfilippi also cites several letters by Philip Schuyler referring to “maids” traveling with Elizabeth and the Hamilton children, at a time when Hamilton’s cash books, she argues, show no record of wages to maids — an indication, she says, that they were enslaved.

 

In another entry in the cash book, from June 1798, Hamilton records receiving $100 for the “term” of a “Negro boy.” That Hamilton could lease him out to another person — a common practice — “absolutely indicates that Hamilton enslaved the boy,” Ms. Serfilippi writes.

 

And the Hamiltons, Ms. Serfilippi contends, appear to have enslaved people up until the time of Hamilton’s death.

 

She points to a piece of paper included near the end of the cash book, giving an inventory of Hamilton’s property apparently made after his death in the duel with Aaron Burr in July 1804. The inventory lists his house (valued at 2,200 pounds) and his furniture and books (300 pounds). There are also “servants,” valued at 400 pounds.

 

Hamilton’s own inventory, which he made shortly before the duel, includes no reference to servants. But Ms. Serfilippi believes the posthumous inventory, drawn up to settle his affairs, is more likely to be accurate.

 

“The Hamiltons were in debt,” she said. “It would make sense to include everything within their possession.”

 

It remains to be seen if Ms. Serfilippi’s firm conclusions will be broadly accepted by scholars. To her, what’s at stake is more than just how we see Hamilton.

 

“When we say Hamilton didn’t enslave people, we’re erasing them from the story,” she said. “The most important thing is they were here. We need to acknowledge them.”


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2) Meet Maria Bakalova, the Breakout Star of the ‘Borat’ Sequel

The actress, who plays the title character’s daughter, Tutar, talks about body hair, her “nonbiological father” Sacha Baron Cohen, and that scene with Rudy Giuliani.

By Dave Itzkoff, Nov. 11, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/11/movies/maria-bakalova-borat.html?surface=most-popular&fellback=false&req_id=520549558&algo=bandit-all-surfaces&imp_id=204746685&action=click&module=Most%20Popular&pgtype=Homepage
Bakalova in West Hollywood, Calif. In her native Bulgaria, she was a “super-disciplined” child who hadn’t seen the original “Borat.” Credit...Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times

Sacha Baron Cohen may be the star of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” but it is Maria Bakalova who has emerged its hero.

 

In this raucous prank comedy, now streaming on Amazon, Bakalova plays Tutar Sagdiyev, the downtrodden 15-year-old daughter of the titular Kazakh journalist portrayed by Baron Cohen. Raised in a barn and miseducated by her oblivious father, Tutar contrives a way to accompany Borat on his latest journey to the United States, becoming both the bait and the co-conspirator in her father’s schemes to deliver her to Vice President Mike Pence.

 

Through numerous awkward encounters with unsuspecting marks — including a now-infamous interview with Rudolph W. Giuliani — Tutar discovers her self-worth while calling attention to the quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) misogyny around her.

 

It is a breakthrough performance for Bakalova, a 24-year-old Bulgarian actress whose previous film and television work (including the Italian TV crime drama “Gomorrah”) had yet to bring her the kind of acclaim that one gains for playing a naïve teen who is unaware that women can read, drive or masturbate.

 

As Bakalova explained in a Zoom conversation on Tuesday, she sees the “Borat” sequel as being fundamentally the story of Tutar’s education and liberation. “It’s a movie of how a girl can grow up and should grow up,” she said, speaking from Los Angeles, where she currently lives. “How people can treat you as not equal because you’re a woman and what kind of options you have.”

 

For Bakalova, a prominent role in a major American film is also a satisfying opportunity to honor her home country.

 

“Things like that are not happening to people like us, Bulgarians,” she said. “Most of the time, there is eventually a small, small extra part in a movie, two or three lines as like a prostitute or a Mafia guy. I will be really grateful to Sacha for giving this platform to an Eastern European, to play a strong and complicated character who’s not just one thing.”

 

Bakalova spoke further about the making of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” her work with Baron Cohen and her highly scrutinized scene with Giuliani. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.

 

What was your upbringing in Bulgaria like? How did you get into performing?

 

I started singing at the age of 5 or 6 and then I started flute lessons. But at some point, I wanted to explore more. I wanted to escape from reality. Because in acting, you can become anybody. You can do everything. You can live on Mars. I was really obsessed with Scandinavian cinema and the Dogme 95 movement, and inspired by actresses like Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Natalie Portman — how strong they can be and the important stories they can tell.

 

Were you ever a prankster or practical joker?

 

Actually, no. I was a super-disciplined child. I was reading too many books. I was obsessed with Dostoyevsky, at like 15, 16. When the first “Borat” movie was released [in 2006], I was 10, so I never even watched it before they gave me the part. But even if I had, I for sure wouldn’t have understood it.

 

How did you come to be cast in the sequel?

 

I heard from a friend there was an open call for the lead role in a Hollywood movie. And I was like, that’s not possible. We are Bulgarians. Nobody can actually see us in lead roles. I sent out self-tapes, then they called me for a screen test in London. But the project was so confidential, I was like, is this actually a project? I was sure it was going to be a human trafficking situation. I had no idea I was going to meet Sacha — it was a surprise.

 

How did you prepare with him in London?

 

There were three days of screen tests. The first one, we had a small rehearsal; the second one, we started working with real people. They had to believe that we’re real people, that we are not actors, for this to work for the movie. We had to stay undercover.

 

So it’s you and Sacha playing Tutar and Borat together. Who were you acting opposite and how did you pick them?

 

It was at a house and there was a super-sweet, nice old couple from England. And we went at them in our crazy way. I’m not quite sure that I know how they actually did it. At the same time, let’s not break the idea of how the magic is happening. Sacha is the person who knows how this whole machine is running.

 

As you started making the film, how did Sacha describe the character of Tutar to you?

 

Sacha explained that Tutar should be as crazy as Borat, maybe even crazier. She should be completely disoriented — what is right, what is wrong — and through this journey, she should learn how to be a normal human. It’s a satirical movie, it’s over the top, but he got me thinking about me what it would be like, living this life, even if it’s fake. He’d be like, would you be happy if people treated you this way — if the whole purpose of your life was to get married and live in a cage?

 

And how her perspective would be warped by a sexist manual that misinforms her about her own body?

 

The manual is a metaphor for how society and the patriarchy are asking us to behave and what people are expecting. Should I be ashamed that I menstruate? Should I be ashamed that I have body hair? Should I be ashamed that I’m a woman? That’s what Tutar has believed from the beginning, and Sacha wanted to show that in 2020, this is a moment when people should start treating each other equally.

 

When we first meet Tutar, she is in an extremely degraded state. How did you approach those scenes?

 

It’s something like hypnosis. You’re just going for it. We actually decided that I would grow out my real body hair. L.A.’s hot almost all the time. Every time I’m supposed to wear a dress or a top, you were able to see my armpit hair and leg hair. It was kind of gross. My facial hair never grows. I tried my best. But my eyebrows are never growing out. The facial part is because of my makeup artist, Katy Fray, but everything else is completely natural. It was so interesting when I finally shaved — I was able to feel the wind on my arms and my legs.

 

Were there ever times when it was hard for you to stay in character?

 

When Sacha starts doing his thing, and you’re right next to him, he has this super serious face. I have to act like it’s the most normal thing ever. But he’s so funny. There were moments when the scene was extremely funny and you just can’t stop laughing. It’s bad, because people were able to realize that it’s a joke. He taught me a trick to cross my fingers, to put pressure on my fingers, to stop laughing.

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Were there any marks that you sympathized with? Jeanise Jones, the woman hired as Tutar’s babysitter, was extremely kind to you — did you feel you were deceiving her?

 

We spent maybe five, six hours with Jeanise and she is the person you see onscreen. She is just incredible. She’s not an actress — she just wanted to help Tutar and for Tutar to appreciate herself, to follow her dreams and educate herself. We need people like Jeanise. She is an angel.

 

Were there ever times when you felt that you were in physical danger?

 

Sacha, he’s my nonbiological father and he will be like that forever. So I trusted him from the beginning and I knew he would never put me in a dangerous situation. At the same time, we had a security team that was able to save us in a moment. Maybe the scene when we were at the hotel and Rudy Giuliani called the police, I was kind of scared that something would happen. But fortunately, we escaped.

 

Did you know who Giuliani was before you recorded your interview with him?

 

I knew who he was, because 9/11 is something everybody should know. It’s one of the hardest moments in recent history. But I’m not American, I don’t get into American politics. I don’t think I’m that informed with the situation in America and its political system. Sacha has been living here for a long time. I trust him.

 

How did you and Sacha prepare to shoot that scene?

 

We’d been talking a lot about different scenarios. How should I act, this way or this way? What should I do? What is smarter? But in all of the scenarios, I was confident that Sacha will save me and he will save the scene, so it’s not going to be a disaster. He’s my guardian angel.

 

Were you still nervous about filming it?

 

Yeah. I was nervous. My heart was racing. But Sacha was like, you should be nervous in this situation. So use your nerves. Convert them and accept them and they’re going to help you through everything.

 

Giuliani has said that he was never inappropriate to you and that he was tucking in his shirt, but other viewers believe he was doing something illicit. What happened in that scene?

 

[Laughs] I saw everything that you saw. If you saw the movie, that’s our message. We want everybody to see the movie and judge for themselves.

 

But did you come to a conclusion yourself as to what he was doing?

 

I believe it’s my back [to the camera] there, we can see what he’s doing in the mirror.

 

What do you think was taking place? You’re the only other person who was in the room. Did you have any other indication as to what he was doing?

 

[Long pause] What do you think he was doing?

 

I can see how either interpretation could be correct. But I wasn’t there, and you were. Do you have an opinion either way?

 

Sacha jumped into the room quickly, because he’s been worried about me. So, if he were late, I don’t know how things were going to go. But he came just in time.

 

Did Giuliani think that Tutar was 15 years old when he agreed to do the interview?

 

I’m not the person who is actually booking these people, so when we get to the scene, I’m just doing the scene, without introducing myself. I’m not sure what he knows or does not know.

 

Giuliani has been widely mocked and criticized for being duped by you and the “Borat” filmmakers. Do you feel bad at all for that?

 

Movies like this are showing people’s true colors. It’s going to show Jeanise’s true colors. It’s going to show the real character of [Judith Dim Evans], the lady in the synagogue. It’s going to show Rudy’s real character. You’re responsible for your own decisions. So, no, I don’t feel bad.

 

What have you since learned about Americans, living among them after the film’s release?

 

I was extremely happy to see how happy people were over the weekend [following the presidential election]. Because in my country, there has been years and years, through different systems, when people haven’t had the right to vote. Now seeing that people are actually voting, and all over the streets people were celebrating and crying and dancing and singing. It was probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life. It was really inspiring, seeing that there is, for the first time in history, a woman as vice president. Like in the movie, women can do anything. And sometimes we can do it better.



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3) Leave Fat Kids Alone

The “war on childhood obesity” has only caused shame.

By Aubrey Gordon, Nov. 13, 2020

Ms. Gordon is the author of the forthcoming book “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/13/opinion/childhood-obesity-health.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

Angie Wang


I was in the fourth grade, sitting in a doctor’s office, the first time my face flushed with shame. I was, I had just learned, overweight.

 

I will remember the pediatrician’s words forever: It’s probably from eating all that pizza and ice cream. It tastes good, doesn’t it? But it makes your body big and fat.

 

I felt my face sear with shame.

 

There was more: Just imagine that your body is made out of clay. If you can just stay the same weight, as you grow, you’ll stretch out. And once you grow up, you’ll be thin and beautiful. Won’t that be great?

 

I learned so much in that one moment: You’re not beautiful. You’re indulging too much. Your body is wrong. You must have done it. I’d failed a test I didn’t even know I’d taken, and the sense of failure and self-loathing it inspired planted the seeds of a depression I would live with for many years.

 

As the holiday season approaches, with its celebratory family meals and seasonal treats, I worry about the children across the country who will endure similar remarks, the kind that shatter their confidence, reject their bodies and usher them into a harsh new world of judgment.

 

For the rest of my childhood, I weathered the storm of conversations like the one I had at the doctor’s office. Well-meaning, supportive adults eagerly pointed out my perceived failings at every turn. As the years went on, more and more foods, I was told, were off limits.

 

It wasn’t just that I shouldn’t eat them; it was that they were sinful, bad, tempting. Many of those foods — eggs, nuts, avocados — would later fall back into the good graces of healthy eating. At the time, though, they were collateral damage in a crusade to cut calories at all costs. Fiber, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, protein — they were all sacrificed at the altar of calories in, calories out. The focus was never on enjoying nutritious foods, just on deprivation, will and lack.

 

My life was filled with self-flagellation, forced performances to display my commitment to changing an unacceptable body. Adults asked openly about what I had eaten, when I had exercised and whether I knew how to do either correctly. After all, if I was still fat, it must be my fault.

 

My body wasn’t just a body, the way a thinner one might have been. It was perceived as a burden, an inconvenience, a bothersome problem to solve. Only thinness would allow me to forget my body, but despite my best efforts, thinness never came.

 

The more I and others tried to change my size, the deeper my depression became. Even at such a young age, I had been declared an enemy combatant in the nation’s war on childhood obesity, and I felt that fact deeply. Bodies like mine now represented an epidemic, and we were its virus, personified.

 

The war on obesity seemed to emerge, fully formed, near the turn of the millennium, but its roots run deeper than that. C. Everett Koop, surgeon general under President Ronald Reagan, made fatness a priority for his office in the 1980s. In 2004, nearly three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Surgeon General Richard Carmona compared the war on obesity to the war on terror. Suddenly, fat people weren’t just neighbors, friends or family members — we were enemies to be feared.

 

The war on childhood obesity reached its zenith with the 2010 introduction of the national “Let’s Move!” campaign, “dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation.” It was a campaign against “childhood obesity” — not specific health conditions or the behaviors that may contribute to those health conditions. It wasn’t a campaign against foods with little nutritional value, or against the unchecked poverty that called for such low-cost, shelf-stable foods. It was a campaign against a body type — specifically, children’s body types.

 

In 2012, Georgia began its Strong4Life campaign aimed at reducing children’s weight and lowering the state’s national ranking: second in childhood obesity. Run by the pediatric hospital Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, it was inspired in part by a previous anti-meth campaign. Now, instead of targeting addiction in adults, the billboards targeted fatness in children. Somber black-and-white photographs of fat children stared at viewers, emblazoned with bold text. “WARNING: My fat may be funny to you but it’s killing me. Stop childhood obesity.” “WARNING: Fat prevention begins at home. And the buffet line.” “WARNING: Big bones didn’t make me this way. Big meals did.”

 

The billboards purported to warn parents of the danger of childhood fatness, but to many they appeared to be public ridicule of fat kids. Strong4Life became one of the nation’s highest-profile fat-shaming campaigns — and its targets were children.

 

These declarations of an obesity epidemic and a war on childhood obesity all doggedly pursued one question, and one question only: How do we make fat kids thin? In other words, how do we get rid of fat kids?

 

Overwhelmingly, childhood anti-obesity programs hinged on shame and fear, a scared-straight approach for fat children. As of 2017, fully half of the states required that schools track students’ body mass index. Many require “B.M.I. report cards” to be sent home to parents, despite the fact that 53 percent of parents don’t actually believe that the reports accurately categorize their child’s weight status. And observational studies in Arkansas and California have shown that the practice of parental notification doesn’t appear to lead to individual weight loss or an overall reduction in students’ B.M.I.s. One eating disorder treatment center called the report cards a “pathway to weight stigma” that would most likely contribute to the development of eating disorders in predisposed students.

 

Experiencing weight stigma has significant long-term effects, too. A 2012 study in the journal Obesity asked fat adults to indicate how often they had experienced various weight-stigmatizing events. Seventy-four percent of women and 70 percent of men of similar B.M.I. and age reported others’ making negative assumptions. Twenty-eight percent of women and 23 percent of men reported job discrimination. The effects of stigma were especially dire for young people, very fat people and those who started dieting early in life. To cope, 79 percent of all respondents reported eating, 74 percent isolated themselves, and 41 percent left the situation or avoided it in the future. Rather than motivating fat people to lose weight, weight stigma had led to more isolation, more avoidance and less support.

 

Despite ample federal and state funding, multiple national public health campaigns and a slew of television shows, the war on obesity does not appear to be lowering Americans’ B.M.I.s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1999 there has been a 39 percent increase in adult obesity and a 33.1 percent increase in obesity among children.

 

Weight stigma kick-starts what for many will become lifelong cycles of shame. And it sends a clear, heartbreaking message to fat children: The world would be a better place without you in it.

 

Yet, despite its demonstrated ineffectiveness, the so-called war on childhood obesity rages on. This holiday season, for the sake of children who are told You’re not beautiful. You’re indulging too much. Your body is wrong. You must have done it, I hope some parents will declare a cease-fire.

 

Aubrey Gordon, who has written under the pseudonym “Your Fat Friend,” is a columnist for Self magazine, a co-host of the podcast “Maintenance Phase” and the author of the forthcoming book “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat.”


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4) Farcical Coverage of Julian Assange’s Farcical Hearing

JOSHUA CHO, NOVEMBER 13, 2020

https://fair.org/home/farcical-coverage-of-julian-assanges-farcical-hearing/

Julian Assange leaving court in 2019 (photo: Jack Taylor/Gerry Images)


US corporate media have buried coverage of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition hearing in the UK, despite its being the media “Trial of the Century” (FAIR.org, 9/25/20). But even in the scarce coverage that does exist of this unprecedented case with immense implications for freedom of expression, one would hardly get the impression that the US and British governments are involved in an illegal conspiracy—in violation of their own laws—to punish Assange for the “crime” of journalism.

 

Coverage before and at the start of the trial by establishment media outlets like the New York Times (9/7/20), Wall Street Journal (9/7/20), USA Today (9/6/20) and the Associated Press (9/6/20) largely omitted simple facts, like Assange displaying signs of abuse. Of these reports, only USA Today cited Nils Melzer, a UN special rapporteur on torture, who observed that when he visited him last year, Assange displayed symptoms of “psychological torture,” likely caused by extreme stress, chronic anxiety and isolation.

 

AP framed Assange’s visible and prolonged abuse at the Belmarsh maximum security prison in London and the Ecuadorian embassy—where he sought asylum for seven years—in a partisan way, presenting it as a charge of his “supporters” rather than the judgment of professionals:

 

Supporters say the ordeal has harmed Assange’s physical and mental health, leaving him with depression, dental problems and a serious shoulder ailment.

In fact, Melzer’s assessment is corroborated by other experts. The Lancet (2/17/20) published an open letter by 117 doctors and psychologists calling for the end to what they called the “torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange.” Dr. Sondra Crosby, one of the first doctors to independently examine Guantánamo captives, who possesses extensive experience treating torture victims around the world, later testified at Assange’s hearing that he met “all of criteria for major depression,” and is at “high risk of completing suicide if he were to be extradited” to the US (Shadowproof, 9/24/20).

 

Torture and arbitrary detention are human rights violations of international conventions that both the US and Britain have signed, which obligates them to conduct prompt and impartial investigations whenever there are reasonable grounds to believe someone has been and is being tortured. In Assange’s case, these violations have been downplayed or even celebrated by US and British media (FAIR.org, 4/18/19). AP (9/22/20) reported on psychiatric expert Michael Kopelman of King’s College London testifying to Assange’s “intense suicidal preoccupation” and “auditory hallucinations,” without once noting the obvious connection to psychological torture.

 

Another human right enshrined in international conventions and in US and British domestic law is the right to a fair trial, which is precisely what has been and is currently being denied to Assange, although one wouldn’t know this from corporate media coverage. Establishment media omitted, for example, that Assange was sent to these hearings by a judge who ruled on his case despite having several undisclosed conflicts of interest.

 

Before the hearing, journalists Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis of Declassified UK published several damning reports revealing that Emma Arbuthnot—the chief magistrate who had previously overseen Assange’s extradition proceedings before informally stepping aside in December, 2019 for “perception of bias”—had failed to disclose several conflicts of interest before delivering two rulings that prevented Assange from taking up asylum in Ecuador. Kennard and Curtis (11/14/19) reported that Arbuthnot had been receiving gifts and hospitality from Bechtel, a US military and cybersecurity company that had been exposed by WikiLeaks.

 

She has also taken part in junkets, along with her husband, paid for by two partner organizations of the British Foreign Office, which has long taken an anti-Assange position (Declassified UK, 2/21/20). (Her husband, James Arbuthnot, is a former Conservative Defense minister who has also worked closely with the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society—Declassified UK, 9/4/20). One of the junkets involved a meeting between James Arbuthnot and Turkish Energy Minister Berat Albayrak—the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—whose personal emails were published by WikiLeaks.

 

Arbuthnot’s son, Alexander Arbuthnot, is the vice president of Vitruvian Partners, a private equity firm heavily invested in Darktrace—a company founded by GCHQ and MI5 to stop data leaks, which is staffed by veterans of the NSA and CIA, intelligence agencies behind the US government’s persecution of Assange (Declassified UK, 11/15/19).

 

Although UK legal guidance requires British judges to declare any conflicts of interest before the courts, Arbuthnot has a history of stepping aside from adjudicating cases only after media investigations expose them. Because she refused to disclose her conflicts of interest and only informally stepped away from Assange’s case, her previous rulings in February 2018 and June 2019—which brought Assange to his extradition hearings in 2020—couldn’t be revisited by his defense. Although she is no longer personally hearing Assange’s extradition proceedings, she remains the chief magistrate, and is still responsible for supporting and guiding the junior judges in her jurisdiction, like Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who presided over Assange’s extradition hearings and is responsible for delivering her verdict on January 4, 2021.

 

But can any of this scandalous information make it through the filters of US media? Aside from trivial reporting that focused on technical “glitches” on the first day of the hearing (New York Times, 9/16/20; Washington Post, 9/7/20), the media blackout from establishment outlets like the Times, Post, Journal, USA Today and CNN has largely forced US audiences to rely on reprinted AP reports to get any idea of what was going on during the trial.

 

To AP’s credit, it has covered important topics that other US outlets have ignored, such as US whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg’s defense of Assange (9/16/20), and testimony confirming that the US prosecution was lying when it claimed Assange wouldn’t be held in solitary confinement if he were to be extradited (9/29/20). It also covered crucial testimony from whistleblowers at the Spanish security firm UC Global, revealing that for their “American friends,” the firm had covertly installed in the Ecuadorian embassy microphones, cameras and special stickers that disrupt white noise machines (9/30/20).

 

As British media watchdog Media Lens (10/7/20) pointed out in its critique of the British media blackout, the mere fact that Assange’s confidential conversations with his lawyers had been violated under the auspices of the CIA “should have been sufficient to throw out any court case against Assange.” Journalist Kevin Gosztola (Shadowproof, 10/3/20) later reported that in the UK, the FBI had enlisted the Ecuadorian government’s help in stealing legally privileged material from Assange’s lawyers, which made it more difficult for his lawyers to prepare a defense for his extradition hearing.

 

However, when it came to the substance of what was actually argued by both the defense and prosecution, and the case’s evolving implications for the future of journalism, even the AP joined in the atrocious US media blackout. Without indispensable coverage from outlets like Shadowproof, Consortium News and former UK ambassador Craig Murray’s blog updates, one wouldn’t know that the prosecution had shifted its arguments from the claim that Assange isn’t a journalist—making a specious distinction between his behavior and those of other media professionals—to asserting the US government’s “right” to prosecute, under the 1917 Espionage Act, all journalists around the world who publish classified US information. These new US government charges could criminalize even receiving classified information, which is standard practice in journalism.

 

The prosecution was forced to do this because their unsubstantiated arguments collapsed under their own lies, such as when they falsely charged Assange with aiding whistleblower Chelsea Manning in a “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion,” or that WikiLeaks disclosures resulted in material harm, in order to dodge claims that the trial is politically motivated (Shadowproof, 9/26/20; Independent, 10/5/20).

 

At other times, AP reports focused on relatively trivial matters compared to reports by other observers at the extradition hearings. For example, AP (9/8/20) published an article focusing on Judge Baraitser instructing Assange to stop interrupting witnesses. On that same day, Craig Murray (9/8/20) reported on Baraitser’s blatantly inappropriate practice of reciting pre-written judgments prepared before she heard any lawyers argue their case in front of her, and preventing the defense from having adequate time to prepare for superseding indictments and present their case in court. Eyewitnesses to the trial, like Australian journalist John Pilger (Arena, 10/2/20), described it less as due process and more as “due revenge.”

 

AP, and corporate US news outlets more generally, never followed up on Consortium News’ revelation (9/28/20) that the US government’s lawyers had been relying not on actual witnesses but on a 2011 book by two Guardian journalists, Luke Harding and David Leigh, who are known to be hostile to Assange. Neither of them have been called to give evidence under oath about the contents of their book, which would require them to be cross-examined by Assange’s lawyers. Yet when the defense called former Der Spiegel journalist John Goetz to give evidence under oath refuting the book’s claim that Assange had remarked that informants deserved to die—a comment supposedly made at a dinner Goetz attended—Baraitser sided with the prosecution to prevent Goetz from giving firsthand testimony about the allegation (Consortium News, 9/16/20).

 

From top to bottom, the trial itself is a farce, since no one should be prosecuted for working with a whistleblower to expose war crimes, yet there are few reports questioning its legitimacy (FAIR.org, 4/12/19). On the contrary, it appears that major US news organizations have buried all the ways that the US and UK governments have already stacked the deck against Assange, in order to give the illusion that he’s receiving a fair trial.


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5) Mold, Possums and Pools of Sewage: No One Should Have to Live Like This

Before she died of Covid-19, Pamela Rush opened her home to show the world what poverty looks like. "This year, Covid-19 has swept through Lowndes County like a brush fire. Poor people, and especially poor Black people, fell victim in alarming numbers. Brazen politicians have actually called for people to die to protect the economy. In Lowndes County, that’s exactly what has happened. Poor essential workers are dying to save the very economic and social structures that trap them in poverty."

By Catherine Coleman Flowers, Nov. 14, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/14/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-poverty-us.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

Katherine Lam


My story starts in Lowndes County, Ala., a place that’s been called Bloody Lowndes because of its violent, racist history. It’s part of Alabama’s Black Belt, a broad strip of rich, dark soil worked and inhabited largely by poor Black people who, like me, are descendants of slaves. Our ancestors were ripped from their homes and brought here to pick the cotton that thrived in the fertile earth.

 

I grew up here, left to get an education and followed a range of professional opportunities. But something about that soil gets in your blood. I came back hoping to help good, hard-working people rise up out of the poverty that bogs them down like Alabama mud.

 

A big part of my work now is educating people about rural poverty and environmental injustice — about how poor people around the United States are trapped in conditions no one else would put up with. Those conditions — polluted air, tainted water, untreated sewage — make people sick.

 

I take activists, donors and politicians to see such conditions for themselves. We visit families crowded into run-down homes that lack heat in the winter and plumbing in all seasons. We visit homes with no means of wastewater treatment, because septic systems cost more than most people earn in a year and tend to fail anyway in the impervious clay soil. Families cope the best they can, mainly by jury-rigging PVC pipe to drain their toilet’s sewage into cesspools in the woods or yard outside, where they breed parasites and disease right by where children and pets play.

 

An estimated 90 percent of Lowndes households have failing or inadequate wastewater systems, although no one took the time to count until my organization, the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, conducted a door-to-door survey in 2011 and 2012.

 

The head of one of those households for years was Pamela Rush. Pam, who was a 42-year-old mother with a cautious smile when I met her in 2018, greeted visitors at the door of the faded blue, single-wide trailer she shared with her two children. Senator Bernie Sanders, as well as famous activists like Jane Fonda and the Rev. Dr. William Barber II of the Poor People’s Campaign, traveled down the dusty road to Pam’s home, where they saw a picture that was hard to shake.

 

In 2018, I described her living conditions in an essay for The Times. The trailer barely protected Pam and her children, now 11 and 16, from the elements. Gaps in the walls had let opossums and other wild animals squeeze in, so Pam had stuffed rags in the holes and set traps outside the front door. She cautioned visitors to watch their step on the sloping, flimsy floors, which were soft underfoot.

 

Her monthly checks — less than $1,000 a month from disability and child support payments — didn’t stretch far enough to cover repairs. Still, Pam did her best to make a comfortable home for her children, shopping secondhand at the Salvation Army stores. The trailer was musty, poorly ventilated and dimly lit, with water-stained popcorn ceilings and exposed electrical wiring. But Pam had arranged an old sofa and chairs in a cozy semicircle around the television set and hung framed prints on the mildew-streaked walls. A mobile of three brown-skinned angels, bearing the words “Angels live here,” hung from the wall.

 

She shared a bed with her daughter, whose bedroom was uninhabitable because of mold that thrived in the damp environment. The child suffered from asthma and needed a CPAP machine to breathe at night. Her son slept on the couch.

 

At the rear of the home, overlooking a small yard and dense woods, was a collapsed deck. Beside the deck a pipe spewed raw sewage onto the ground. The toilet paper and feces told a story of the lost American dream much more clearly than Pam ever could. The pride and independence of homeownership came to rest there, in that stinking pool.

 

Why didn’t she move, people sometimes asked me. A look at her mortgage papers provided one reason. She had paid about $113,000 for the trailer in 1995, with an interest rate of 10 percent. Twenty-four years later, she still owed $13,000, but the trailer was worthless. Despite this, payments came due each month. A septic system was out of the question. New ones in Lowndes, with its impermeable soil, can easily cost more than $15,000. That’s an example of the structural poverty that traps good, hard-working people where they are.

 

This year, Covid-19 has swept through Lowndes County like a brush fire. Poor people, and especially poor Black people, fell victim in alarming numbers. Brazen politicians have actually called for people to die to protect the economy. In Lowndes County, that’s exactly what has happened. Poor essential workers are dying to save the very economic and social structures that trap them in poverty.

 

It wasn’t long before Lowndes County had the highest rate of coronavirus cases in Alabama. Many people were infected at the factories, warehouses, nursing homes or stores where they worked. They didn’t have the luxury of telecommuting.

 

Others caught it from family members who didn’t know they had the virus or had no means of social distancing. They couldn’t afford to check into a motel. They had no second homes to retreat to. In the absence of coherent public policy, people did what they could to help one another, leaving food and other supplies on the front porches of those who were infected. In one of our last conversations this spring, Pam told me she was fixing some greens for a sick relative.

 

After two years of working with Pam, my nonprofit had finally raised the money to help her buy a new mobile home. We were all anticipating her move with joy, but the pandemic had put it on hold.

 

Then, like a heat-seeking missile, the coronavirus zeroed in on Pam. When she developed breathing problems in June, she was admitted to a Selma hospital, and then transferred to the University of Alabama Medical Center in Birmingham. That’s where she fought for her life for a few days before she lost her battle on July 3. The official cause of death was Covid-19, but the underlying causes of her suffering were poverty, environmental injustice, climate change, race, and health disparities. They would never be listed on a death certificate.

 

I felt powerless, unable even to visit Pam in the hospital in Birmingham where she’d been taken. My heart ached for her and for her family. At one point the hospital asked for a picture of Pam, maybe so the staff could see her as she was before Covid. I sent pictures of her with Mr. Sanders and Dr. Barber. I wanted them to know that this struggling patient was an important woman.

 

Before Covid-19, we thought we had a solution to Pam’s plight. After years of living in horrible conditions, Pam and her children would finally have a livable home with a working septic system. Sadly, Pam never got to live there.

 

In the end, it didn’t matter that Pam had opened her life and shown the world what inequality looks like, or that influential Americans had walked through her home and left in disbelief. Senator Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, had climbed her rickety front steps. Senator Sanders had told her story in a video shown across the nation. He’d promised to work on policies to address her problems. But that would take time that Pam didn’t have. It didn’t even matter that Pam had testified before Congress. The forces of structural poverty were too strong.

 

I’m still hoping Pam’s children will live in the home and enjoy the better life she envisioned for them.


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6) Disappearance and Death of Louisiana Teen Raises Questions About Police Response

Quawan Charles was found dead in a field in rural Louisiana days after he had vanished. Now his family is asking whether his death could have been prevented with a faster response.

By Marie Fazio, Nov. 14, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/14/us/quawan-charles-bobby-louisiana.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
Demonstrators held a vigil for Quawan Charles at Foley Square in Manhattan on Friday. Credit...Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

Days after his family had reported him missing, 15-year-old Quawan Charles was found dead in a sugar cane field, more than 20 miles from his home in Baldwin, La., his face badly disfigured.

 

A preliminary autopsy found that his death had most likely been caused by drowning. But the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, and the local police’s slowness to take action, have prompted the boy’s family to commission an independent autopsy and question whether his death could have been prevented.

 

“It appears that something hateful happened to Bobby,” Ron Hall, a lawyer for the family, said in an interview, using Quawan’s nickname. “Whether this was an intentional act or grossly negligent indifference for human life, it’s still horrible.”

 

On Oct. 30, Quawan’s mother had planned to pick him up from his father’s home for a haircut at 3 p.m., but he didn’t answer his phone, according to Mr. Hall. When he hadn’t responded by 7 p.m., his parents began to worry. His father forced down his locked bedroom door, realized he was missing and called the Baldwin Police Department, Mr. Hall said.

 

The police assured Quawan’s parents that he was probably at a football game or with friends, Mr. Hall said. No Amber Alert was issued.

 

Frustrated, the family took matters into their own hands and learned that Quawan had been picked up by Janet Irvin and her son, without his parents’ permission, Mr. Hall said. He was taken to their home in the neighboring Iberia Parish, he said.

 

It is unclear when, why or how Quawan left the Irvin home, Mr. Hall said. Ms. Irvin did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday, and the Baldwin Police Department, which is investigating Quawan’s disappearance, did not respond to questions.

 

Quawan’s parents contacted the authorities in neighboring Iberia Parish on Nov. 3 to involve them in the search.

 

Within hours of being notified that Quawan might be in their jurisdiction, Iberia Parish sheriff’s deputies discovered the body of a teenage boy around 6 p.m. in a muddy field near Loreauville, a small rural community not far from the Irvins’ home, after they pinged Quawan’s cellphone, Mr. Hall said.

 

After they located the body, the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office opened a homicide investigation that included interviewing those who were believed to have been with Quawan before his disappearance and searching their home, the office said in a statement on Saturday. A spokeswoman declined to answer whether that included Ms. Irvin and her son.

 

“We interviewed these same individuals and are currently tracking their whereabouts,” the statement said. Video evidence recorded near the area where his body was found indicates that Quawan was alone for some time before and after he was seen on the recording, according to the statement.

 

A preliminary autopsy report released by the Iberia Parish coroner on Friday said the cause of Quawan’s death was drowning, citing muddy water found in his airways and hyperinflated lungs. In the report, the coroner attributed the scratches and wounds on Quawan’s face to “aquatic animal activity” and said that the boy had not sustained the injuries before his death.

 

A toxicology report has not yet been released.

 

There are several bodies of water near the sugar cane field where Quawan was found, Mr. Hall said, but none deeper than two feet.

 

“If in fact he did die of drowning — and we’re saying that as an if — we’re calling into question how exactly that would have happened,” Mr. Hall said. “Can somebody who’s 5-foot-6 typically drown in two feet of water? No, not unless there’s another cause associated with that.”

 

The Baldwin Police Department, which also did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday, said in a statement on Tuesday that it would handle the investigation into his disappearance. Quawan’s death would be investigated — as a homicide — by the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office. The Police Department added that “proper protocol was used to report the juvenile as missing.”

 

The family has commissioned an independent autopsy and has sent an investigator to capture drone footage of the fields where Quawan was found, Mr. Hall said.

 

Quawan was a quiet teenager who had seven siblings, according to Mr. Hall. He had an understated sense of humor that would come out as he got to know a person and had recently adopted a dog he named My Baby, according to The Washington Post.

 

“Like a lot of teenagers, he was just at that age where you’re trying to figure out your place in this world,” said Andre Arceneaux, a local activist who founded Stand Black, an advocacy group. “He was just a good kid and something happened to him that we don’t know the ins and outs of yet.”

 

When his family saw photos of Quawan taken at the coroner’s office the night he was found — a quarter of his mangled face gone, revealing half his teeth in a gruesome, forced grin — they likened his appearance to that of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black youth who was killed in 1955, recalled Mr. Arceneaux, who was with them at the time.

 

Quawan’s mother decided to release one of the photos, Mr. Arceneaux said.

 

“She somehow had the bravery to say, ‘The world needs to see my child; the world needs to see what he looks like,’” Mr. Arceneaux said. “Sometimes it takes something like that for people to see the severity of what happened.”

 

On a GoFundMe page for Quawan’s family, Mr. Till and Mr. Charles are displayed side by side, their faces captioned “1955” and “2020.” By Saturday afternoon, more than $235,000 had been raised for autopsy and funeral costs.

 

Quawan’s death has not been deemed racially motivated by the authorities or his family, Mr. Hall said.

 

Mr. Arceneaux said the failure of the police to immediately look for Quawan at the football game or to issue an Amber Alert was indicative of a larger issue.

 

“Regardless of whether this was racially motivated or not, regardless of what the situation surrounding his death may be, the fact that the police departments didn’t act the way they would’ve acted if Quawan was a 15-year-old white girl named Katie, that’s the problem,” Mr. Arceneaux said.

 

The American Civil Liberties Union has backed the call for an independent and transparent investigation, according to a statement from Alanah Odoms Hebert, executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Louisiana.

 

“The disrespect and lack of transparency demonstrated by local officials in response to Bobby’s tragic and suspicious death is unacceptable,” Ms. Odoms Hebert said in a statement. “We join the family in demanding a full and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bobby’s death.”

 

Quawan’s family has organized demonstrations outside the Baldwin Police Department and the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office to call for justice and answers. They feel that if action had been taken sooner, Quawan could be alive today, Mr. Hall said.

 

“He’s still a kid,” he said. “If there’s a 1 percent chance at preventing what happened to Bobby — whatever that was — if you put full resources into finding this kid, then you take that chance.”


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7) Covid-19 Is a Desperate Cry From the Suffering Natural World

If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we cannot escape the world we have shaped.

By Margaret Renkl, Contributing Opinion Writer, Nov. 16, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/16/opinion/coronavirus-minks-wildlife-environment.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Ole Jensen/Getty Images

It was the photo of the mink in Denmark, soon to be slaughtered, that hit me the hardest. In it, the animals peer from their cages with open curiosity, ears pricked forward, clever fingers grasping the wire of the cage doors as they study their surroundings. They are clearly trying to figure out what is happening.

 

What’s happening, it turns out, is that mink can catch Covid-19 from human beings and from each other. Several other species — dogs, cats, hamsters, tigers, monkeys and ferrets — have contracted the virus from people, but only mink, so far, have passed the virus back to us.

 

Mink are native to North America, but they are farmed by the millions around the world, including here in the United States. (Let’s be clear: “Farmed,” in this context, means the animals are kept in cages until they are killed and skinned for the fur industry.) Few people come into contact with mink, so the news about Covid-19 on mink farms hasn’t elicited the kind of public terror that would no doubt ensue if dog parks became potential superspreaders.

 

What makes the news from Europe so alarming is that Covid-19 can mutate as it jumps between humans and mink and back again. So far these mutations have not made the virus more easily transmissible or more likely to cause severe infection. But because one set of mutations in one variant of the virus has the potential, at least theoretically, to limit the effectiveness of a Covid-19 vaccine, Danish officials made the extraordinary decision to kill every mink in the country — some 17 million animals.

 

It’s a heart-wrenching story of mass slaughter and mass graves. The outcry in Denmark, the world’s largest producer of mink pelts, has focused largely on the shaky legal framework for the government’s order, and on its financial devastation to fur farmers. The real question is why such farms exist in the first place.

 

It’s not news that life on earth is out of balance. We already know that human behavior — not just in burning fossil fuels but also in food production, wilderness fragmentation, habitat degradation and overpopulation, among other planetary depredations — has imperiled everything from global biodiversity to the actual weather. In the general public, however, warnings from scientists and environmental activists have fallen mostly on deaf ears, even when those depredations come with a cost to us.

 

We have known for decades what happens when we put pressure on wild animals by degrading their habitats, interrupting their ecosystems, keeping them in cages or otherwise failing them. H.I.V., Lyme, bubonic plague, anthrax, Ebola — all are among the many animal pathogens that now infect human beings. The coronavirus pandemic is just the most recent example of what nature has been telling us all along.

 

“When diseases move from animals to humans, and vice versa, it is usually because we have reconfigured our shared ecosystems in ways that make the transition much more likely,” Ferris Jabr wrote in The New York Times Magazine back in June. “Deforestation, mining, intensive agriculture and urban sprawl destroy natural habitats, forcing wild creatures to venture into human communities. Excessive hunting, trade and consumption of wildlife significantly increase the probability of cross-species infection.”

 

The conversation around conservation traditionally pits people who care about the natural world against people who say that nature is great so long as it doesn’t interfere with their plans to build a new subdivision or buy a cheap hamburger or drive a giant SUV or eat raspberries year round. So long as it doesn’t inconvenience them in any way.

 

The earth is paying the price for our convenience. Headlines of the last few weeks have included reports of the United States officially leaving the Paris climate agreement (followed by a record high temperature of 83 degrees Monday here in Nashville); the continuing decline of coral reefs; a devastating hurricane season; coastal plastic pollution caused by Americans; and the Trump administration’s decision to remove gray wolves from the protected species list.

 

Our mistake was only partly in believing that the natural world was ours for the taking. Our mistake was also in failing to understand that we ourselves are part of the natural world. If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we cannot escape the world we have shaped. We must begin right now to make preserving biodiversity a priority, to make protecting wildlife habitats a priority, to make living in closer harmony with our wild neighbors a priority. Keeping ourselves safe from a future of ever-renewing pandemics will mean completely reframing the way we think about the natural world.

 

“Animals don’t exist in order to teach us things, but that is what they have always done, and most of what they teach us is what we think we know about ourselves,” the British naturalist Helen Macdonald writes in her transcendent new essay collection, “Vesper Flights.” For far too long, human beings believed they’d been given dominion over all the Earth. Now the slaughtered minks in Denmark — and all the creatures who are dying in this human-wrought and rapidly accelerating extinction — are teaching us what we need to do to save them and ourselves, too: We must change our lives.


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8) Recession With a Difference: Women Face Special Burden

Hit hard by job losses and the pandemic’s effect on schooling and childcare, American women face short-term difficulties and long-term repercussions.

By Patricia Cohen, Nov. 17, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/17/business/economy/women-jobs-economy-recession.html
“Work is so much more than what you’re taking home as payment,” Laci Oyler said. But when cutting her hours wasn’t enough to deal with childcare, she quit her job. Credit...Sara Stathas for The New York Times

For millions of working women, the coronavirus pandemic has delivered a rare and ruinous one-two-three punch.

 

First, the parts of the economy that were smacked hardest and earliest by job losses were ones where women dominate — restaurants, retail businesses and health care.

 

Then a second wave began taking out local and state government jobs, another area where women outnumber men.

 

The third blow has, for many, been the knockout: the closing of child care centers and the shift to remote schooling. That has saddled working mothers, much more than fathers, with overwhelming household responsibilities.

 

“We’ve never seen this before,” said Betsey Stevenson, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan and the mother of a second grader and a sixth grader. Recessions usually start by gutting the manufacturing and construction industries, where men hold most of the jobs, she said.

 

The impact on the economic and social landscape is both immediate and enduring.

 

The triple punch is not just pushing women out of jobs they held, but also preventing many from seeking new ones. For an individual, it could limit prospects and earnings over a lifetime. Across a nation, it could stunt growth, robbing the economy of educated, experienced and dedicated workers.

 

Inequality in the home — in terms of household and child care responsibilities — influences inequality in the workplace, Misty L. Heggeness, a principal economist at the Census Bureau, concluded in a working paper on the pandemic’s impact for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Without a more comprehensive system of support, she said, “mothers will forever be vulnerable to career scarring during any major crisis like this pandemic.”

 

The latest jobs report from the Labor Department showed that some of the damage was reversed last month as the service industry revived, nudging down the jobless rate for women to 6.5 percent, slightly below men’s. But there were still 4.5 million fewer women employed in October than there were a year ago, compared with 4.1 million men.

 

And according to the Census Bureau, a third of the working women 25 to 44 years old who are unemployed said the reason was child care demands. Only 12 percent of unemployed men cited those demands.

 

Laci Oyler has felt that pressure. Her husband, employed by a large printing company, was already working from home when the pandemic shuttered day care and schools in Milwaukee. But after two days of taking care of their two young sons, “he said, ‘Absolutely no way,’” Ms. Oyler explained. So she cut her weekly hours as a mental health counselor for Alverno College, a small Catholic institution, to five from 32.

 

In August, when she learned that public schools would continue to offer only online classes for the fall, Ms. Oyler decided she had little choice but to take an unpaid leave.

 

This month, she decided to resign.

 

“Work is so much more than what you’re taking home as payment,” Ms. Oyler said. “But when you look at that bottom line of risk versus reward, it doesn’t seem worth it,” she added, referring to the cost of child care combined with the possibility of coronavirus infection for her or her children.

 

As a licensed professional, Ms. Oyler does not expect to have difficulty returning to the work force when she is ready. But for most working women, dropping out to take care of children or other family members exacts a sizable toll, several studies have shown. Rejoining is hard, and if women do, they generally earn less and have less security. And the longer someone is out of work, the tougher it is to get back in.

 

Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard, said this was the first recession where the economy was so intertwined with the network of child care.

 

“During the Great Depression, no one cared about the care sector,” she said. “Women weren’t in the labor force, and they weren’t supposed to be.”

 

One reason that Congress started giving financial assistance to poor households headed by women in the 1930s, under a program originally titled Aid to Dependent Children, was so they could stay home with their children and not compete with men for jobs, Ms. Goldin said.

 

Only during World War II, when women were urgently needed in factories and offices to replace men who were in the military, did the government establish a far-reaching federally subsidized network of nurseries and child care centers in nearly every state. Once the war ended, so did the support.

 

“You cannot have a contented mother working in a war factory if she is worrying about her children, and you cannot have children running wild in the streets without a bad effect on the coming generations,” Senator Carl Hayden, an Arizona Democrat, testified in 1943.

 

Women make up roughly half of the country’s work force. They range from entry-level to professional, they live in urban, suburban and rural areas, and they often care for toddlers and teenagers. But the burdens of the pandemic-induced recession have fallen most heavily on low-income and minority women and single mothers.

 

Members of these overlapping groups often have the most unpredictable schedules, and the fewest benefits, and are least able to afford child care. They fill most of the essential jobs that cannot be done from home and, therefore, carry the most risk for exposure to the virus. At the same time, they make up a disproportionate share of the service industries that have lost the most jobs. The jobless rate is 9.2 percent for Black women and 9 percent for Hispanic women.

 

When the pandemic caused housecleaning jobs to dry up, Andrea Poe was able to find cleaning work at a resort in Orange Beach, Ala., about a 45-minute drive from Pensacola, Fla., where she and her 14-year-old daughter, Cheyenne Poe, had moved in with an older daughter, her fiancé and their five children.

 

The families were behind in the rent and threatened with eviction when Hurricane Sally ripped through the coast in September. To escape the floods, they piled into two cars, drove to Biloxi, Miss., and spent five nights in a Walmart parking lot.

 

Now Ms. Poe and Cheyenne, now 15, are in Peoria, Ariz., living in a room in her mother’s trailer.

 

She said she was applying for jobs every day, so far without luck. And the bills keep coming. Ms. Poe has missed two consecutive loan payments on her car and worries that it will be repossessed.

 

“I’m just hoping my unemployment checks come through so my car doesn’t get taken away,” she said. “If I lose my car, I’ll never be able to get a job.”

 

Women with more resources are in a better position, but they struggle in other ways.

 

When the pandemic ripped through Seattle and compelled Kenna Smith, 37, to work from home, she initially saw one upside — a chance to spend more time with her 3-year old son.

 

“At first, I thought I’d just focus on my child,” said Ms. Smith, who had just started a branding and design company, Wildforth Creative. “It was fun for a while, but then the stress was intense.”

 

Like many families who were worried about the risk of infection or short of money and space, Ms. Smith and her husband let their son’s nanny go. Her husband, project manager for a general contractor, worked out of their bedroom.

 

“I’m not sure why it totally fell on me,” Ms. Smith said of child care. “I’m out in the living room, dining room area with a whole bunch of toys strewn about, with my laptop, trying to run my business.

 

“I was wanting to work and wanting my business to succeed so badly,” she said. “I didn’t realize. …” She paused, interrupted by a voice: “Mommy, I want some applesauce.”

 

The couple recently decided to hire a part-time nanny, concluding that despite the expense, it was the only way both could keep working. (Ms. Smith’s sister is also helping out.)

 

From 2015 until the pandemic, women’s increasing participation in the work force was a primary driver of the economy’s expansion, said Ms. Stevenson, the Michigan economist. “It’s why the economy grew the way it did, why employers could keep hiring month after month,” she said.

 

Since February, women’s participation in the labor force has been falling, with the biggest decreases among women without college degrees who have children.

 

Changes forced on women by the pandemic elicit a mixture of anxiety and hope.

 

Many women worry that the changes will sharply narrow women’s choices and push them unwillingly into the unpaid role of full-time homemaker.

 

And the impact could stretch over generations, paring women’s retirement savings, and reducing future earnings of children now in low-income households.

 

“We are creating inequality 20 years down the line that is even greater than we have today,” said Ms. Stevenson, who was a member of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “This is how inequality begets inequality.”

 

Yet there is also the possibility that the mounting pressures could create momentum to complete the unfinished project of fully integrating women into the work force by providing a system of family support — like affordable child care and paid parental and sick leave.

 

“I think we’re really at a crossroads,” said Julie Kashen, director for women’s economic justice at the Century Foundation and one of the authors of a new report on the pandemic and working women. “We’ve never built a workplace that worked for people with caregiving responsibilities.”

 

Gillian Friedman contributed reporting.


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9) The Thanksgiving Myth Gets a Deeper Look This Year

For many Native Americans, the Covid-19 toll and the struggle over racial inequity make this high time to re-examine the holiday, and a cruel history.

By Brett Anderson, Published Nov. 17, 2020, Updated Nov. 18, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/17/dining/thanksgiving-native-americans.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage
Dana Buckles, whose Native name is White Dog, bowed his head in prayer before a buffalo hunt in early November in Montana, a form of thanksgiving. Credit...Tailyr Irvine for The New York Times

FORT PECK INDIAN RESERVATION, Mont. — On a frigid November morning inside a tractor barn in northeast Montana, 10 members of the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes joined in song to bless a thirty-aught-six hunting rifle, and to lift up the spirit of a buffalo they were preparing to kill. One man played a painted hand drum. Others passed around burning sage.

 

The hunt that followed took place on Turtle Mound Buffalo Ranch, 27,000 acres of rolling pasture on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Every stage of the hunt was marked by a ceremony to give thanks for a buffalo that descends from animals killed to near-extinction by white settlers in the late 19th century.

 

The mass killing was part of a government-approved effort to seize land from Native Americans who depended on the animal to survive. The brutality of settlers’ expansion into the Great Plains and American West has been drastically underplayed in popular myths about the founding and growth of the United States.

 

Arguably the best-known of those myths is the story of the first Thanksgiving, a holiday Robert Magnan, who led the buffalo hunt at Fort Peck, does not observe. “Thanksgiving is kind of like Columbus Day for Native people,” he said. “Why would we celebrate people who tried to destroy us?”

 

It is now widely accepted that the story of a friendship-sealing repast between white colonists and Native Americans is inaccurate. Articles debunking the tale have become as reliable an annual media ritual as recipes for cornbread stuffing.

It is now widely accepted that the story of a friendship-sealing repast between white colonists and Native Americans is inaccurate. Articles debunking the tale have become as reliable an annual media ritual as recipes for cornbread stuffing.

 

“I’ve seen a growing awareness, a wake-up, to the systemic oppression of people of color,” said Ms. LaDuke, an enrolled member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation. “There is a movement toward justice for Native people. People want to listen.”

 

Thanksgiving, of course, is a time for listening, a welcome opportunity for prayer, reflection and looking back, and many Indigenous people celebrate it in their own way. But the problem with its origin story, Ms. LaDuke and others say, goes beyond misrepresentations about what was served on Cape Cod in 1621. (There is no evidence that turkey was on the menu, and pie couldn’t have been, because there was no flour or butter available for crust.)

 

Linda Coombs is a Wampanoag historian and a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. Wampanoag people attended the harvest ceremony that later became known as the first Thanksgiving.

 

“There was an event that happened in 1621,” Ms. Coombs said. “But the whole story about what occurred on that first Thanksgiving was a myth created to make white people feel comfortable.”

 

The caricature of friendly Indians handing over food, knowledge and land to kindhearted Pilgrims was reinforced for generations by school curriculums, holiday pageants and children’s books. These stories were among the few appearances made by Native Americans in popular historical narratives, effectively erasing history-altering crimes, like the killing of tens of millions of buffalo, from the country’s consciousness. That massacre led to the mass starvation of Indigenous people.

 

“Erasure isn’t taking down a conquistador statue,” said Ms. LaDuke, 61. “Erasure is when you don’t even know the name of the people who own the land where you live.”

 

Work to reverse this historical amnesia has spanned decades. The National Day of Mourning dates back to 1970, established on Thanksgiving by activists in New England to recognize the suffering of Native Americans. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day, recasting a holiday that honored an explorer who presided over the enslaving and killing of Indigenous people.

 

Dana Thompson and her partner, Sean Sherman, an award-winning chef, are co-owners of the Sioux Chef, an organization in the Twin Cities devoted to revitalizing Native American cuisine. In the period between Indigenous People’s Day and Thanksgiving, she said she is “inundated with people who might have some awareness with the pain over the characterizations that comes with this time.”

 

She urges anyone who asks to focus on “the true Indigenous wisdom that is behind the philosophy of Thanksgiving — it’s about not taking, but about giving back.”

 

Today, it’s more common than it once was for stories by and about Native Americans to find mainstream audiences. Tommy Orange, a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nations of Oklahoma, and David Heska Wanbli Weiden, an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation, are two of the most critically acclaimed young novelists working now.

 

These developments follow years in which Native American history and culture gradually became more widely taught, in schools and elsewhere. Lyz Jaakola, 52, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, recalls the catharsis she felt as a young woman watching the movie “Addams Family Values,” a dark comedy released in 1993.

 

In one scene, the Wednesday character, cast as Pocahontas in a children’s Thanksgiving play, goes off script to take violent revenge on the Pilgrims. “You have taken the land which is rightfully ours,” she calmly seethes. “Years from now, my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans and drink highballs.”

 

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, other people get it, too,’” said Ms. Jaakola, a musician and teacher who was elected this month to the City Council in Cloquet, Minn. “They realize how ridiculous the whole image of Thanksgiving is.”

 

Christian Taylor-Johnson, 28, is a descendant of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota, and attended Leech Lake Tribal College. He said the education he received wasn’t available to older relatives, who were forced to assimilate and prohibited from speaking their native language.

 

“I actually speak more Ojibwe than either of my parents,” Mr. Taylor-Johnson said.

 

Mr. Taylor-Johnson said his family’s Thanksgiving traditionally features dishes like turkey, wild rice, fry bread and green bean casserole, his personal favorite. In recent years, he has encouraged family members to use the holiday to acknowledge the plight of their ancestors.

 

“Last year, we called it Takesgiving,” he said.

 

Cross-generational education also occurs in non-Native American households. Alice Julier, director of the Center for Regional Agriculture, Food and Transformation at Chatham University, in Pittsburgh, has incorporated Native American history in her teaching for nearly 30 years.

 

She said there’s a term used in academic circles to describe what happens when students like hers bring new knowledge home for the holiday: the Thanksgiving massacre.

 

“You come home armed with this information about how the world works,” Dr. Julier said, “and then you come back to your professors and say, ‘Well, that didn’t go well.’”

 

Indigenous studies is growing increasingly popular in academia, particularly among scholars whose work sits, as Dr. Julier’s does, at the intersection of food, race, class and gender.

 

Hiʻilei Julia Hobart, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin, said current events allow students to see more clearly the shared legacies of African-Americans, many of whose enslaved ancestors were forced to work land stolen from Native Americans, whose agricultural know-how was also co-opted.

 

“I always start with histories of dispossession as a way of contextualizing why food sovereignty has become such an urgent contemporary project,” said Dr. Hobart, 39, a Kanaka Maoli from Hawaii who has a Ph.D. in food studies. “Now we have this understanding about the fragility of our food system that has come in the wake of the pandemic.”

 

She added that frontline food workers are disproportionately exposed to the virus, and that “those workers are mostly Black and brown.”

 

For most of her professional life, LeAnn Littlewolf didn’t give much thought to how past injustices affected the people she serves as an educator and activist. That changed after she attended the Food Sovereignty Summit last year in Green Bay, Wis.

 

“When I got back from the conference, I thought about how much land we used to have access to, and how much food we used to produce,” said Ms. Littlewolf, a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. “And I got so angry.”

 

Ms. Littlewolf has since led the American Indian Community Housing Organization in Duluth, Minn., where she serves as the economic development director, to build a rooftop garden at its headquarters and buy a former corner grocery. The group is in the process of converting the space into Niiwin Indigenous Foods Market, which will feature food from Native American producers on its shelves and on a deli menu.

 

“Native people haven’t had access to retail space,” said Ms. Littlewolf, 47. “We want our people to feed our people.”

 

That notion was part of what compelled Mr. Magnan, who led the hunt at Fort Peck, to help spearhead a long-term effort to restore buffalo to tribal lands across the United States and into Canada.

 

The project began more than 20 years ago. The buffalo, transported from Yellowstone National Park, descend from the few that survived the mass slaughter that, by the late 1800s, had reduced the population from more than 30 million to a few hundred. The first buffalo arrived at Fort Peck from Yellowstone in 2012.

 

“Native people feel that buffalo are our four-legged relatives,” said Mr. Magnan, 66. “By getting genetically pure buffalo, we’re getting our oldest ancestors back to us. They were here back before the United States was even a country.”

 

Mr. Magnan is director of the Fort Peck Tribes’ fish and game department, as well as its buffalo program. He oversees two herds. Revenue from the 250-head “business” herd, raised through the sale of buffalo and fees charged to hunters, is used to maintain the 350-head “cultural” herd, which the tribe plans to grow as part of its restoration effort.

 

The cultural herd passes through a quarantine system to prevent the spread of brucellosis, a disease feared by cattle ranchers. Fifty-five bulls graduated from the quarantine in July, and were distributed to 16 tribes in nine states.

 

“The ones that went to Alaska we dubbed Operation Buffalo Wings,” said Mr. Magnan, “because they rode on a plane from Seattle to Anchorage.”

 

Fort Peck tribal members enter a lottery for the right to hunt one buffalo from the cultural herd, which needs to be culled in order to keep it at the 350 head that the land will support; during this hunting season, from Sept. 15 to Dec. 20, Mr. Magnan leads at least one hunt every day. One of the primary benefits of the buffalo program is that it allows the Fort Peck community to feed its own.

 

“I told our tribal council, ‘What would ever happen if the government went bankrupt, or they cut these social programs, how would we feed our people?’” Mr. Mangan said. “Going back to being with the buffalo again would be one way.”

 

After blessing the rifle, Mr. Magnan led a convoy of four-by-four trucks over snow-covered hills in search of a buffalo to kill. He rode with Dana Buckles, whose Native name is White Dog. Mr. Buckles was asked by the lottery-winner, Larry Beauchamp, a tribal elder, to shoot the buffalo on his behalf.

 

The convoy stopped at the top of a hill overlooking dozens of grazing buffalo. The crack of the rifle was followed by a loud yelp. The men quickly drove down a steep incline to the fallen 1,400-pound animal.

 

Mr. Beauchamp tucked sage grass into the buffalo’s mouth and between its toes, as Mr. Buckles and his stepson, Roger White Jr. (Little Eagle), sang a song of thanks.

 

After loading the buffalo onto the back of a truck and driving it to a nearby hayfield, Mr. Magnan gutted it with a small knife and an electric saw. With impressive speed, he harvested the prized organs, some of which were placed in an empty Huggies diaper box. They, and the buffalo meat, will feed Mr. Beauchamp’s extended family through the winter.

 

“They say when Native people hunt buffalo, the coyotes starve,” said Mr. Magnan, gesturing to the relatively small pile of innards the group was leaving behind.

 

In another expression of ceremonial thanksgiving, Mr. Buckles and Mr. White ate pieces of the buffalo’s liver, still warm. Mr. White’s brother, Robert, let loose a war whoop as they chewed. In the cold morning air, it sounded like a cheer.


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10) Virus Cases Rise, but Hazard Pay for Retail Workers Doesn’t

They were hailed as heroes during the first wave of the pandemic, but wage increases were fleeting, and companies, whose businesses are booming, have been slow to pay out more.

By Michael Corkery and Sapna Maheshwari, Nov. 19, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/19/business/retail-workers-hazard-pay.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
An Amazon warehouse in Kent, Wash. Amazon said last month that its quarterly profit had nearly tripled, but it ended its $2-an-hour pay raise for workers this spring. Credit...Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

With coronavirus cases rising across the country, retailers are preparing for another rush from shoppers worried about new lockdowns and pandemic shortages.

 

But many retail workers, heralded as heroes during the first wave of the pandemic, are not being provided with the same level of bonuses and raises this time, even as the health risks for them increase. Even as some companies have announced new hazard pay in recent days, some industry observers say many retailers are not sharing enough of the profits they have earned during the pandemic with their workers, but are instead benefiting shareholders through stock buybacks.

 

Amazon, which said last month that its quarterly profit had increased nearly 200 percent, ended its $2-an-hour pay raise for workers earlier this year and then provided a pandemic-related bonus in June, but a spokeswoman said no new hazard pay was planned.

 

Walmart, which reported another big increase in quarterly sales on Tuesday, had paid a series of special cash bonuses, but the company has not raised wages broadly as a way to reward workers during the pandemic.

 

The grocery chain Kroger offered raises at the start of the pandemic and bonuses through mid-June, but those have ended. Employees nationwide have staged protests outside stores asking Kroger to reinstate the pay, especially given its booming business — sales are soaring, and it recently said its 2021 business results “will be higher than we would have expected prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.” This week, the company told workers that they would receive discounts at its fuel centers and a $100 store credit as a “holiday appreciation.”

 

On Wednesday, Lowe’s said in its quarterly earnings report that it had already paid more than $800 million in pandemic-related benefits to employees. At the same time, the company said it expected to buy back about $3 billion of its own stock in the fourth quarter, after spending about $1 billion on buybacks and dividends in the third quarter.

 

“We ask workers with the least to sacrifice the most, and they are not even getting compensated in return,” said Molly Kinder, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, who is preparing a report that ranks which largest retailers have been most generous to their workers during the pandemic. “The companies have the money to do this.”

 

The issue of hazard pay for retail workers reflects the harsh reality of the pandemic economy — a case of shifting supply and demand. In March and April, when retailers were overrun with customers and workers were calling in sick or quitting, the companies needed to give incentives to employees to stay on the job.

 

But when the additional unemployment benefits, totaling $600 a week, expired at the end of July, many more Americans needed jobs, making it easier for retailers to attract and retain workers.

 

The public attention has also waned, as news media accounts of workers getting sick from the virus faded and focus turned to protests over police violence and the election. “The headlines have moved on,” Ms. Kinder said.

 

But the risks to retail workers have not. As the number of new infections hits daily records, retail workers must spend hours inside, dealing with customers who may refuse to wear masks or wear them incorrectly. A large part of this burden has fallen on female, Black and Hispanic employees, who make up a sizable proportion of retail workers.

 

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents nearly one million grocery workers, said that 108 of its grocery workers had died as a result of Covid-19 and that more than 16,300 had been infected or exposed to the virus.

 

Some leaders in government have tried to step in and compensate retail workers for the risks they are taking. But efforts to include hazard pay for frontline workers in the various rounds of federal stimulus bills have all failed, including a proposal from Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican.

 

Calling it “Patriot Pay,” Mr. Romney had proposed that essential workers receive raises of up to $12 an hour from May through July. That was meant to make up for any difference between what workers would earn on the job and what they were receiving in additional unemployment assistance. Mr. Romney’s proposal was never approved, and Congress remains at a stalemate over a new round of stimulus.

 

There may be other issues preventing retailers from continuing to offer pandemic pay raises. Even temporary raises, ostensibly limited to the extraordinary circumstances of 2020, can set expectations for higher pay permanently. Some analysts say retailers opt for bonuses instead of raises because they can be given out at random and do not normalize higher pay.

 

But a few big retailer have increased wages. Best Buy, which offered “appreciation pay” to hourly frontline workers starting in March, raised its starting rate for U.S. employees to $15 an hour on Aug. 2, the day after the additional pay was set to end.

 

Home Depot said on Tuesday that it would transition from paying a temporary weekly bonus to associates in stores and warehouses to permanently increasing wages for its hourly frontline workers. It’s not clear how generous those raises will prove for each worker. The company, which noted that average wages varied across the country, said it would invest $1 billion on the raises on an annualized basis.

 

The momentum behind higher pay in the retail industry appears to have picked up during the pandemic. Unions representing retail workers say they feel emboldened to push for significant pay increases as they enter various contract negotiations over the coming year, bolstered by what they see as the shopping public’s new appreciation for low-wage workers.

 

In Florida, where President Trump won this month, more than 60 percent of voters supported a measure that will raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour from $8.56 by 2026. And multiple polls conducted during the pandemic show growing support among Democrats and Republicans to raise the minimum wage.

 

Pay bumps tied to the pandemic have been relatively modest, but raising wages a few dollars an hour can amount to a large increase in a retail worker’s take-home pay. Kroger gave a $2-an-hour pay raise from the end of March to mid-May and gave employees a bonus of $150 or $300, based on their part- or full-time status. In May, it offered a separate bonus of $200 or $400.

 

Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, a roughly 370-store discount chain that has seen its sales and earnings boom, said on a recent earnings call that it stopped its “premium pay” of $1.50 an hour for frontline associates at the end of the second quarter and would replace it with some type of monthly “discretionary bonus.”

 

Absent federal action, some states have allocated funds that they received as part of the giant stimulus package, known as the CARES Act, to frontline workers.

 

In Vermont, retailers are invited to apply for state grants that can benefit their workers who have stayed on the job during the pandemic. Companies like CVS and Shaw’s, a regional grocery chain, have signed up for the grants, according to the state. The employers pass the money through to the workers, acting only as conduits.

 

But some retailers — wary of being perceived as accepting aid in place of struggling businesses — have blocked their workers from accessing the money, baffling state lawmakers.

 

Tim Ashe, president of the Vermont Senate, who proposed the grants, said it meant many local workers would go without a substantial check — totaling as much as $2,000.

 

“Imagine being told by your manager that corporate won’t fill out the paperwork that could get you $2,000,” Mr. Ashe said.

 

Dollar General, which reported $1 billion in operating profit in the second quarter, is one retailer that is turning down the state’s offer to compensate its employees for working through the pandemic. Mr. Ashe said the state official overseeing the program had told him that Dollar General “seemed completely uninterested.”

 

A company spokeswoman initially said Dollar General would not apply for the grants because “we believe these limited funds should support the small-business community,” but then said on Wednesday that the company was looking to apply.

 

Dollar General said on Tuesday that it had spent $73 million on employee bonuses and planned to spend an additional $100 million this year, twice what it had initially planned.

 

“To demonstrate our ongoing gratitude and support for our employees directly serving our customers and communities during this pandemic, we are proud to double our initial plans for second-half bonuses,” Dollar General’s chief executive, Todd Vasos, said in a statement.

 

By comparison, Dollar General spent $602 million repurchasing its stock in the second quarter and has authorized the purchase of an additional $2 billion in stock.

 

Walmart, which operates six stores in Vermont employing hundreds of workers, had originally declined to apply for the grants. Like Dollar General, Walmart initially told Vermont officials that the money should go to smaller businesses. But on Tuesday, a Walmart spokeswoman said the company had changed its mind.

 

“After further discussions with local and state officials, we’re pleased to hear there was sufficient funding to provide bonuses to all small and medium-sized businesses in Vermont and that there are remaining funds for employees of larger companies,” the spokeswoman said.

 

In total, Walmart has spent $1.1 billion on bonuses rewarding its employees who worked during the pandemic. Full-time workers have received a series of three cash payments of up to $300 each. Walmart paid workers a bonus in September related to store performance, but has not indicated whether any additional bonuses related to the pandemic would be granted.


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11) Why Charges Against Protesters Are Being Dismissed by the Thousands

Prosecutors declined to pursue many of the cases because they concluded the protesters were exercising their basic civil rights.

By Neil MacFarquhar, Nov. 19, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/19/us/protests-lawsuits-arrests.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage

Kentucky state troopers dressed in riot gear took protesters who were violating curfew in Louisville, Ky., into custody in June. Credit...Luke Sharrett for The New York Times


LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Matt Kaufmann loved bringing real-world issues into his classroom, but he never expected he would become a lesson himself. The headlines, however, made it hard to avoid: “Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year Arrested,” blared the local news after he was detained on May 31.

 

An English teacher at Marion C. Moore School at that time, Mr. Kaufmann was among more than 800 people swept up by the police in Louisville during the many months of demonstrations prompted by the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

 

Mr. Kaufmann and his fiancée, protest novices, joined a large downtown crowd in late May, he said, when police officers began to break up the demonstration by firing tear gas and charging from all sides. With a helicopter thumping overhead, he suddenly found himself lined up on the ground with dozens of other protesters, then hauled off to a crowded jail cell.

 

“I had never experienced anything like that before,” Mr. Kaufmann, 41, said. “It was scary.”

 

Now, more than five months later, as Mr. Kaufmann’s case and those of thousands of others finally land in courts across the United States, a vast majority of cases against protesters are being dismissed. Only cases involving more substantial charges like property destruction or other violence remain.

 

Prosecutors called the scale of both the mass arrests and mass dismissals within a few short months unrivaled, at least since the civil rights protests of the early 1960s. With the police detaining hundreds of people in major cities, the arrests this year ended up colliding with the limitations of the court system.

 

In the aftermath, prosecutors declined to pursue many of the cases because they concluded that the protesters were exercising their basic civil rights. Cases involving free speech or free assembly rarely succeed in court, according to prosecutors across the country, and the coronavirus pandemic also played a role in the decision. A wave of thousands of minor cases threatened to capsize courts already floundering under hefty lockdown backlogs.

 

There was also the recognition that law enforcement officers often use mass arrests as a technique to help clear the streets, not to confront illegal behavior.

 

For those handling the cases, the task has felt Sisyphean. “Every day I would think I was done and the next morning there would be 50 or 100 cases to tally,” said Mary Ellen Heng, a deputy city attorney for Minneapolis. So far the city is pursuing about 75 of 666 cases.

 

“What’s happened in the last few months here is nothing like I have seen in my 23 years when it comes to the volume of cases,” she said.

 

Most charges in the almost 300 federal protest cases involve arson or assaulting police officers, as do the state and municipal cases.

 

“This is the hangover from months of protests,” said Ted Shouse, a criminal defense attorney in Louisville who helped to organize more than 100 volunteer defense attorneys.

 

Protest leaders and defense attorneys nationwide accuse the police of piling on charges to try to halt the demonstrations. “It was to squelch dissent,” said Attica Scott, the only Black woman in the Kentucky State Legislature and one of the protest organizers detained by the police.

 

The arrest of Ms. Scott in September has become one of the most contentious cases in Louisville because she and several other protest leaders were initially accused of trying to ignite a library, a felony, and of violating a 9 p.m. curfew.

 

The Jefferson County attorney, Mike O’Connell, appeared in court himself to ask that the felony charges be dropped after reviewing the evidence, including a live Instagram broadcast by Ms. Scott with a time stamp showing that the arrests came before curfew.

 

Defense attorneys working on cases in numerous cities said more people of color than white people were charged, but it was not a universal pattern. “Even adjusting for the racial makeup of the protests, Black people have been charged out of proportion,” Mr. Shouse in Louisville said.

 

A recent study by The Louisville Courier-Journal found that Black people constituted 53 percent of those arrested there during the four months starting May 29, but that they faced 69 percent of the felony charges. In Portland, Ore., which is predominantly white, white defendants constituted 65 percent of the more than 140 cases moving forward, while 32 percent were from other racial groups.

 

Sgt. John Bradley, a spokesman for the Louisville Metro Police Department, said that officers made arrests on the basis of Kentucky law, and that it was up to the county attorney whether to prosecute.

 

Precise numbers on both arrests and dismissals nationwide are elusive amid the complicated patchwork of law enforcement agencies and the state, county or city prosecutors involved.

 

In Los Angeles County, for example, the district attorney declined to file criminal charges against 334 people but is pursuing 257 cases of people arrested between the end of May and the beginning of August, said Greg Risling, a spokesman.

 

But not all jurisdictions in Los Angeles County are dismissing cases. Beverly Hills is pursuing misdemeanor charges against a group of 25 people stemming from one protest in June and plans to pursue others from another protest in July, said Rachel Steinback, the coordinator for the National Lawyers Guild of Los Angeles’s Mass Defense Committee.

 

In Portland, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office boiled its numbers down into a neat chart: District Attorney Mike Schmidt has rejected 721 cases, is pursuing 144 and has 165 under review.

 

Based on the example of Occupy Wall Street protesters a decade ago, Mr. Schmidt knew that judges would toss out most cases or impose small sentences. “Seventy to 80 percent would not survive constitutional challenges,” said Mr. Schmidt, who added that the costs far outweighed any benefit to public safety.

 

Adding 1,000 cases to the yearly average of under 20,000 would be daunting, he said. The same is true for the Minneapolis city attorney, whose office handles some 15,000 misdemeanors annually. “Even if Covid was not a problem, it would be a monstrous task for us to prosecute 500 additional cases,” Ms. Heng said.

 

Walk into virtually any large courthouse in America and the strain of dealing with the case backlog is palpable.

 

In Louisville, those cases are referred to as being in the “parking lot.” There are some 22,000 such cases over all, with just four of 10 trial courts functioning in the Jefferson County Courthouse. Across two days in late October, 300 protest case arraignments were jammed onto the calendar, about 10 times the normal rate.

 

Judge Lisa Langford briefly lost track of which cases were in the courtroom and which were on Zoom. “He has been waving at me, I thought he was just happy to see me,” she joked after locating a lawyer on Zoom.

 

Prosecutors have moved to dismiss 219 protest cases, said Josh Abner, the spokesman for the Jefferson County attorney.

 

“We don’t have a magic wand that we can wave in connection with all these cases,” said Mr. O’Connell, noting that a team of four prosecutors was combing through them.

 

After mass arrests during the 2000 Republican National Convention, Philadelphia legislated a lesser charge to get people off the streets. Police officers started issuing summonses outside regular courts. Misdemeanors and felonies go to the district attorney, while summonses do not.

 

Larry Krasner, the city’s district attorney, said that his office was reviewing 586 cases and that the city was dropping up to 2,000 summonses. Cases being reviewed involve incidents like breaking into stores or torching police vehicles.

 

Prosecutions there and elsewhere were also curtailed by the chaotic nature of the demonstrations, especially during the first few weeks when most arrests occurred. With the police working double shifts, paperwork lagged, so finding reports or witnesses for some cases proved impossible.

 

In Louisville, as the months drag on with the charges dangling overhead, many protesters feel stuck in limbo.

 

Kelly Parry, 33, both a volunteer defense attorney and a defendant, was among some 76 protesters arrested while blocking an avenue in July. “It is mentally draining not knowing what might happen to you,” she said. “You are constantly thinking, ‘Is this a small situation or will it become something bigger?’”

 

Mr. Kaufmann, the teacher, was charged with a curfew violation, a misdemeanor, but tried to ignore it. “I don’t want to give in to fear,” he said, focusing instead on his new job within the Jefferson County school system that involves helping to develop a social justice curriculum.

 

He and Stephanie Kornexl-Kaufmann, then his fiancée and now his wife, decided to join the protesters after hearing the recording of the 911 call that Kenneth Walker, Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, made as the police broke into her apartment during a botched drug raid.

 

“We were dumbfounded, we were shocked,” Mr. Kaufmann said. “The country does not live up to the values that we have been teaching in class.”

 

Mr. Kaufmann had been named the state’s high school teacher of the year partly for building classroom discussions around real-world issues like the #MeToo movement. But none had hit quite so close to home.

 

News of his arrest spread at lightning speed.

 

Kaelyn Goatley, 17, a senior at Marion C. Moore School, had to explain to her grandmother, who was initially appalled, why Mr. Kaufmann’s arrest was a good thing.

 

“I was proud that I had a teacher who was out on the streets fighting for justice,” she said. “He has this big title being high school teacher of the year and the fact that he was out there protesting and being arrested meant that he risked that. It shows how adamant he is about making change.”

 

In late October, Mr. Kaufmann learned that the charges against him, his wife and a former student who was with them would be dropped. He was elated but noted that hundreds of cases were still pending.

 

“My young Black male and female friends who I met through the protests were in greater danger than I was and some of them are still dealing with these charges,” he said. “It is not fair, it is not consistent and we have to do better.”



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12) America Is Letting the Coronavirus Rage Through Prisons

It’s both a moral failure and a public health one.

By The Editorial Board

The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom. Nov. 21, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/21/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-prisons-jails.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


As Americans grapple with how — or whether — to gather with loved ones this holiday season, the roughly two million people confined in the nation’s prisons and jails face an even grimmer challenge: how to stay alive inside a system being ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Like the nation overall, U.S. correctional facilities are experiencing record spikes in coronavirus infections this fall. During the week of Nov. 17, there were 13,657 new coronavirus infections reported across the state and federal prison systems, according to the Marshall Project, which has been tracking these numbers since March. The previous week saw 13,676 new cases. These are by far the highest weekly tolls reported since the pandemic began. With winter descending, the situation threatens to grow bleaker still.

 

The American penal system is a perfect breeding ground for the virus. Squabbles over mask wearing and social distancing are essentially moot inside overcrowded facilities, many of them old and poorly ventilated, with tight quarters and with hygiene standards that are difficult to maintain. Uneven testing, inadequate medical resources and the constant churn of staff members, visitors and inmates further speed transmission. Crueler still, inmates suffer disproportionately from comorbidities, such as high blood pressure and asthma, putting them at an elevated risk for complications and death.

 

Eight months into the pandemic, the precise shape and scope of the devastation remains difficult to pin down. But the available data is heartbreaking. As of mid-November, more than 196,600 coronavirus infections had been reported among state and federal prisoners. More than 1,450 of those prisoners had died. The case rates among inmates are more than four times as high as those of the general public, and the death rate is more than twice as high.

 

Inmates are not the only ones trapped with the virus. The correctional system employs more than 685,000 people — guards, nurses, chaplains and so on. There have been more than 45,470 reported coronavirus infections and 98 deaths among staff members to date. Their case rates are three times as high as for the general public.

 

Remember: These are the reported cases. The real numbers are assumed to be higher. The virus ripples outward from these hot spots, engulfing the families and communities of inmates and workers. The coronavirus does not respect prison walls any more than it respects state or national borders. It will not be confined.

 

This spread poses a particular problem for rural communities — 40 percent of prisons are in counties with fewer than 50,000 residents — which typically lack the health care infrastructure to deal with such outbreaks. Even a modest outbreak can quickly overwhelm local hospitals with scant numbers of ventilators and I.C.U. beds.

 

Local jails face additional challenges. While prisons report much larger case numbers, the rapid turnover in jails — where many people are confined for only a few days or even hours — enables the virus to circulate swiftly between inmates and the larger community, and makes tracking all the more difficult. In a report last month on outbreaks in the Mountain West, The Times noted that in Cascade County, Mont., infections at the local jail made up about a quarter of all known cases in the county. Over two months, the facility knowingly released 29 people who were considered actively infected.

 

As with so much about the pandemic, this is a problem that should have been dealt with more aggressively early on. In the spring, Attorney General Bill Barr was among those calling on correctional facilities to mitigate risk, with a focus on reducing overcrowding through early release and other decarceration measures. While some progress has been made, it has been uneven and inadequate.

 

“Prisons and jails experienced declines in total population (approximately 11 percent of the incarcerated population) in the first half of 2020,” according to a report on decarceration put out by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The report notes that “these reductions appear to be mainly the result of declines in arrests, jail bookings and prison admissions related to lockdowns and the closure of state and local courts.” It continues: “The releases among sentenced jail and prison populations that have occurred have, for the most part, occurred on a case-by-case basis and have been procedurally slow and not well suited to crisis situations.”

 

While many jails saw a population drop during the first few months of the pandemic, the numbers of people being held in jails began climbing again over the summer, according to a September briefing by the Prison Policy Initiative, which analyzed 451 county jails. “In 88 counties, jail populations are higher now than they were before the pandemic” the briefing notes.

 

Some states have taken legislative action to speed the decarceration process. A bill signed by New Jersey’s governor last month permits prisoners with less than a year left on their sentences to be released up to eight months early. This has already prompted the release of more than 2,000 people, with another 1,000 or more releases anticipated.

 

All too often, continued foot-dragging or dysfunction by prison officials requires the courts to step in. In the spring and summer, the San Quentin State Prison in California had a major coronavirus outbreak. Built in the mid 1800s and early 1900s, the outdated facility suffered from overcrowding, inadequate medical staffing, “exceedingly poor ventilation, extraordinarily close living quarters and inadequate sanitation,” according to a panel of medical experts from the University of California, Berkeley, who were brought in to assess the situation in June. By late July, the number of active cases had topped 1,600. Tents were erected to house the sick. Before the outbreak faded, around 2,200 inmates had confirmed coronavirus infections, and 28 had died. In addition, 298 staff members were infected, resulting in one death.

 

The problem continued to fester. In late October, a state appeals court ruled that the prison authorities’ efforts to address the issue had been insufficient and that inmates’ constitutional protection from cruel and unusual punishment was still being violated. To deal with the emergency, the prison was ordered to cut its population by around half, through a mix of releases and transfers. (The original outbreak was sparked by the transfer to San Quentin of infected inmates from another prison.)

 

Clearly, more needs to be done. The report by the National Academies outlines best practices for reducing the incarcerated population, broken down into short-term and longer-term solutions. The suggested measures start with a systemic commitment to diversion efforts such as “noncustodial penalties” for minor infractions, including probation and parole violations, and the limiting of pretrial detentions through means such as reducing or eliminating bail.

 

In addition to offering guidance on a bolder decarceration effort, the report stresses the importance of minimizing risks to the families and communities involved, such as “offering testing prior to release, a place to quarantine in the community, and examination of parole and probation policies and procedures.” More comprehensive and more standardized testing and reporting requirements are also needed.

 

Managing this kind of crisis is not a one-and-done effort, the report emphasizes. It is a process requiring “sustained engagement” by a wide array of actors at all levels.

 

It is all too easy for many Americans to ignore the horrors of what is happening inside the nation’s prisons and jails. Inmates are isolated from the broader populace, their suffering kept out of sight. But their welfare in this pandemic remains inextricably linked to everyone else’s. The nation’s continued failure to bring the virus to heel among this vulnerable population is both a public health catastrophe and a moral one.


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13) Fatal Shooting of 2 Black Teenagers by Florida Deputy Is Under Investigation

Relatives are demanding answers about the shooting deaths of Angelo Crooms, 16, and Sincere Pierce, 18, by a sheriff’s deputy in Cocoa, Fla.

By Johnny Diaz and Michael Levenson, Nov. 22, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/22/us/angelo-crooms-benjamin-crump-video.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
Screenshots from a video released by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office in Florida of a deputy fatally shooting two Black teenagers. Credit...Brevard County Sheriff's Office

The authorities are investigating the fatal shooting by a Florida sheriff’s deputy of two Black teenagers who were in a moving car during an encounter with law enforcement.

 

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the Nov. 13 shooting of the teenagers, Angelo Crooms, 16, and Sincere Pierce, 18, both of Cocoa, Fla., Jessica Cary, a department spokeswoman, said on Friday. She declined to discuss details, citing the need to protect the integrity of the investigation.

 

The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office released a video on Nov. 17 of the encounter.

 

At about 10:30 a.m., two deputies, Jafet Santiago-Miranda and Carson Hendren, were following up on what they thought was a possible stolen car that had “fled from another Deputy in the Cocoa area,” Sheriff Wayne Ivey of Brevard County wrote in a Facebook post.

 

Dashcam video showed the deputies in each of their cruisers following a car as it turned onto a street and then into the driveway of a house in a residential neighborhood in Cocoa, which is about 45 miles east of Orlando. It was not clear how long the deputies had been following the car.

 

The deputies got out of their cars “in an attempt to make contact with the occupants,” Sheriff Ivey said.

 

The video showed the car backing out of the driveway and moving in the direction of the deputies, whose cruisers were parked on each side of the street.

 

“Stop the vehicle!” Deputy Santiago-Miranda repeatedly told the driver, who was later identified as Mr. Crooms.

 

The police said that Mr. Crooms then drove at Deputy Santiago-Miranda, who fired his gun “in an attempt to stop the deadly threat of the car from crashing into him.” On the video, at least eight shots could be heard striking the car.

 

Deputy Santiago-Miranda was the only deputy who opened fire, Tod Goodyear, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said.

 

Mr. Crooms and Mr. Pierce were taken to hospitals, where they were later pronounced dead, the police said. A third occupant, who was not identified and who was not injured, was interviewed and released, Mr. Goodyear said.

 

Two firearms were found in the car, the police said.

 

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the teenagers’ families, said on Twitter that the teenagers were “terrified” and trying to drive around the deputies.

 

“Out of harm’s way, the deputy moved closer to get a better shot,” and fired with the “intent to kill,” and “then kept firing as the car passed by,” Mr. Crump wrote.

 

Eric Smith, Mr. Crooms’s father, said the family hoped the deputies would be prosecuted.

 

“It’s obvious what we’re looking for — justice,” Mr. Smith said. “We’re looking for answers. There’s nothing justifiable about what the Brevard County sheriffs did.”

 

The family buried Mr. Crooms on Saturday, mourning a teenager whom Mr. Smith described as a “good kid” who liked football and was trying to figure out what he wanted to do in life.

 

Natalie A. Jackson, a lawyer for Mr. Pierce’s great-aunt and legal guardian, Cynthia Green, said the car that the teenagers were in belonged to Mr. Crooms’s girlfriend and was not stolen.

 

In an interview, Ms. Green recalled what happened on the morning the teenagers were killed.

 

She said Mr. Pierce had gotten into the back seat of the car outside the house in Cocoa, where she and Mr. Pierce lived. Ms. Green said she was also leaving at that time and was getting into her car when she saw the deputies drive by.

 

She was concerned that the deputies might harass Mr. Pierce and his friends, so she said she decided to follow them in her own car.

 

Ms. Green, who had cared for Mr. Pierce since he was 2 days old, said she saw the deputies point their guns at the car minutes later.

 

“Please, don’t shoot! Please, don’t shoot! My baby’s in that car!” she recalled screaming. Deputy Santiago-Miranda then fired, even though the car with the teenagers inside was turning away from him, she said.

 

“My baby left home at 10:31, and at 10:33 he was dead,” Ms. Green said. “That man just kept shooting.”

 

Ms. Jackson, the lawyer, said that if the deputies were concerned that the car had been stolen, they could have checked the license plate instead of drawing their weapons.

 

Mr. Pierce, who was known as Spud, loved music and cracking jokes, Ms. Green said.

 

“Sincere was a lovable child,” she said. “And he was one of the best dancers as a little child I could ever imagine.”

 

The deputies have been placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation. Once the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has concluded its investigation, it will present its findings to the state attorney, Ms. Cary said.

 

Last week, dozens of Cocoa residents held a rally and vigil for the teens. People carried signs and flags that read “Black Lives Matter.”


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14) These Items in Your Home Are Harming America’s Sea Animals

A new report examines how plastic waste affects marine wildlife.

By Catrin Einhorn, Nov. 19, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/19/climate/plastic-ocean-animals.html?surface=home-discovery-vi-prg&fellback=false&req_id=375813036&algo=identity&imp_id=231949603&action=click&module=Science%20%20Technology&pgtype=Homepage
A green sea turtle on Midway Atoll in the Pacific. Credit...Caleb Jones/Associated Press

How severely the world’s plastic waste crisis is affecting marine wildlife is not fully understood, despite decades of research and gruesome images of whales’ bellies filled with plastic and a turtle with a straw lodged in its nostril. A new report by Oceana, a conservation group, illustrates some of what we know about how plastic affects sea turtles and marine mammals in United States waters.

 

The findings offer a glimpse of a larger problem.

 

The authors focused on sea turtles and marine mammals for practical reasons. These animals are federally protected, so when they are found in distress or wash up dead on a beach, responders are required to document it. By collecting data from government agencies and marine life organizations around the country, the authors found almost 1,800 cases of plastic entanglement or ingestion affecting 40 species since 2009.

 

But the report notes that the number is “a gross underestimate” because humans observe a tiny fraction of animal deaths in the ocean. Even so, of the nation’s 23 coastal states, it found cases in 21.

 

“This is the first time we’re looking at the problem from a U.S. perspective,” said Kimberly Warner, the report’s author and a senior scientist at Oceana. “This brings the problem home.”

 

In 2016, the United States produced more plastic waste than any other nation, and more of that plastic entered the ocean than previously thought, according to a recent study. As of 2015, less than a tenth of the world’s cumulative plastic waste had been recycled.

 

The Oceana report found that in the reported cases, 90 percent of the animals had swallowed plastic, and the rest were entangled in it. Necropsies often showed that the animals had died from blockages or lacerations. Other times, ingesting plastic may have simply weakened the animal or played no role in its death. Over all, in 82 percent of the cases, the animals died.

 

The culprits go beyond the usual suspects.

 

In the 1980s, environmental activists warned of the devastating effects of six-pack rings ensnaring sea animals. People started dutifully cutting them before disposal, and in 1994 the Environmental Protection Agency mandated that six-pack rings must be degradable, though the process may take months. Consumers have also been warned about releasing balloons, which can harm marine animals.

 

Recently some municipalities, counties and states have banned single-use plastic bags, one of the biggest contributors to ingestion and entanglements, according to the report. Plastic packing straps were found constricting the necks or bodies of seals and sea lions, naturally curious animals who may have gotten entangled while trying to play. Manatees ingested lots of fishing line.

 

But the report also found many more surprising items caused harm. Along the Gulf Coast, mesh produce bags were found in the guts of sea turtles and also entangling their bodies. In 2015, a loggerhead turtle in Georgia was found with a toothbrush and fork in its digestive tract, among other items. Two years later, another turtle was found in New York with a plastic dental flosser inside it. Food wrappers, sandwich bags, sponges, and even decorative plastic Easter grass were among the items discovered. A bottlenose dolphin in North Carolina had its head stuck in the hole of a flying disc. In Virginia, a DVD case lacerated the stomach of a sei whale.

 

Many of the victims are endangered or threatened.

 

More than a dozen species at risk of extinction — including sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals and sei whales — ingested or were tangled in plastic. Manatees, those gentle, slow-moving giants that graze on seagrass, made up 700 cases. The report quotes Brandon Bassett, a biologist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, describing part of what he found inside one dead manatee: “Imagine a ball of plastic bags in the stomach, about the size of a cantaloupe, and then a bunch of plastic bags that were wrapped and almost like a rope that was about 3 feet long.”

 

Scientists are learning more about why animals consume plastic. To sea turtles, a floating plastic bag may resemble a jellyfish meal, but that doesn’t explain the bottle caps and hard plastic shards found in their digestive tracts or stool. One study suggested that plastic starts to smell appetizing as it becomes coated in algae and microorganisms.

 

In South Carolina, one ailing loggerhead passed almost 60 pieces of plastic through its digestive system during its rehabilitation at a sea turtle center. Juveniles are more at risk because of their size and undeveloped gastrointestinal tract. More than 20 percent of the sea turtles that had ingested plastic were just months old. Some were only a few days old. A recent Australian study found that just 14 pieces of plastic in their digestive tracts significantly increased sea turtles’ risk of death.

 

Still, plastic waste is not the biggest killer of marine life.

 

Humans have created all kinds of dire problems for sea animals: rising sea temperatures, fishermen hauling in unintended species, ships striking them, other marine pollution and habitat degradation.

 

“Plastic in and of itself may not be as big of a threat as we’re led to believe,” said Jesse Senko, an assistant research professor and senior sustainability scientist at Arizona State University. “The scientific community has not done a good enough job of really assessing these questions, looking beyond how it affects an individual animal.”

 

He believes that images of decomposing sea birds with bellies full of plastic lead the public and media to focus on plastic even when other threats are more significant.

 

Ultimately, plastics and rising sea temperatures are connected; after all, the vast majority of plastic is derived from fossil fuels.

 

The Oceana report calls on national, state and local governments to restrict the production of single-use plastics and it asks companies to offer consumers plastic-free options.

 

“I’m old enough to remember a time when it didn’t permeate everything in my life,” Dr. Warner said. “And yet it’s built up at an alarming rate.”


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