Well, certainly picked a strange holiday marketing strategy.


Please note below (sentence enlarged) that they are only stocking and selling 1-pound propane canisters! All normal grills use at least 15-pound canisters. This is a purposeful attack on the Water Protectors who are trying to survive in sub-freezing weather in North Dakota. Everyone should demand they keep their stores in the area stocked up fully! Human lives depend on it! This is outrageous! --Bonnie Weinstein, bauaw.org

Oak Brook, Ill.,




Ace Hardware statement on North Dakota protest and product sales

Update: As of Thursday, Dec. 1 at 10 a.m. local time, Ace Hardware stores in Bismarck, N. D., are in-stock and selling 1 lb. propane canisters. 

At Ace, our local store owners take great pride in serving their neighbors and it is our policy to serve all customers without discrimination and to follow all laws in each respective community.

We understand the concerns that have been shared with us regarding product sales related to the recent protests in North Dakota and have been working very hard to gather all of the facts from our locally-owned Ace stores that operate in the area and local authorities. To be candid, we've been working feverishly to unearth all of the facts, which have been cloudy at times.

In an effort to clear any misunderstanding and/or misinformation, Ace Hardware can now confirm that there is no ban on the sale of products at our locally-owned Ace stores; customers should feel free to check with their local store for inventory availability. 




North Dakota: Stop Using Cold Water to Blast Unarmed Protestors in Sub-Freezing Temperatures


14,000 GOAL

As we gear up to celebrate Thanksgiving, Native Americans are fighting for their right to their own land, clean water and now, their lives. On Sunday night, Dakota Access Pipeline unarmed protesters were blasted with tear gas, mace, rubber bullets and water cannons for hours in 23-degree weather, all while simply trying to clear the road for emergency services.

While all of this violence is unacceptable, the freezing cold water cannons are especially cruel given the temperature; protesters could easily get hypothermia and even die! Please join the Standing Rock medics in begging Morton County law enforcement to stop the use of water cannons on peaceful protesters immediately.

Protesters were simply trying to clear the road to allow emergency services to get to their camp when the militarized police force assaulted them for hours on end. The medics at the scene said 300 people were injured, 23 of whom ended up in the hospital. The majority of the injured got hypothermia from the freezing water cannons.

Frontline journalists were also targeted and shot with rubber bullets, press drones were shot down and some protectors were shot in the head with rubber bullets and fell unconscious.

This dangerous, potentially lethal treatment of peaceful protesters cannot stand. These people are using legal and unarmed tactics to simply protect their water supply and Morton County may end up killing them. Add your name to ask them to cut the worst of their tactics out: using a freezing water cannon in sub-freezing temperatures.

Sign Petition Here:




Message from the National Boricua Human Rights Network 



Hi all:

We are asking all organizations, communities, unions, churches, activists, political parties- to CALL ON THEIR INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS to sign this petition and spread the word- this is a time-sensitive request!

We must try to achieve the signing of 100,000 signatures by December 11.

No matter how many petitions you have signed- SIGN THIS ONLINE PETITION and get everyone else to do the same. Do not let anyone tell you they have signed petitions or letters before- this is the one that will be highlighted.



Coordinating Committee

National Boricua Human Rights Network

2739 W. Division Street

Chicago IL 60622



International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity





Black Children Punished for Anthem Protests

After young 11 and 12-year-boys of the Beaumont Bulls football knelt during the anthem to protest police violence against Black youth, their local executive board canceled their entire football season, suspended the coaching staff, and threatened to arrest their parents if they attended any future games, practices or events.

For these young Black kids, the plight of injustice in America is their own. Instead of supporting the boys and their protests, their executive board and league officials abandoned them. The board has decided to strip these kids of the team that they love to punish them for asking for basic rights and dignities. This is about the board reinforcing that police violence in our communities doesn't matter, that our issues aren't important and that speaking onthem makes you subject to punishment.

These kids are brave for refusing to give in to the executive board and for standing against injustice. We need to support the fight of these children and show them that their protest is heard.

To the Beaumont Bulls Executive Board,

Immediately reinstate the Beaumont Bulls coaching staff, apologize to the boys and their parents, and allow them to finish their season.


We need to support the fight of these children and show them that their protest is heard. 





Bay Area United Against War Newsletter

Table of Contents:










Eyewitness Aleppo Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett reports Also Gerry Condon US Peace Council delete to Syria, VP Vets for Peace


Dear Friends,

Important Bay Area antiwar tour. Don't miss independent Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett's eyewitness account of Aleppo and Syria today –  a stunning refutation of the U.S. government and corporate media's warmongering propaganda…  In solidarity,  Jeff Mackler

Inline image

Independent Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett, newly arrived from Syria, will report on her experiences in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, as will Gerry Condon, US Veterans for Peace VP and member of the US Peace Council Delegation to Syria. You will definitely hear much that you have not heard elsewhere, and perhaps question what you think you know about Syria.  Eva lived in Gaza for three years and was one of the few western reporters present during the Israeli attacks that killed thousands of Palestinians.

Wednesday, Dec. 14, 7 PM

Peace United Church of Christ, 900 High St., Santa Cruz, CA

Thursday, Dec. 15, 7 PM

Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland, CA  (between Broadway and Telegraph, 19th St. BART), with brief intro from Jeff Mackler of UNAC

Friday, Dec. 16, 7 PM

Eric Quezada Center, 518 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA (16th & Mission BART), with brief intro from Jeff Mackler of UNAC

Admission: $10-20 sliding scale.  No one turned away for lack of funds.

Organizers, sponsors and co-sponsors: International Action Center (IAC), United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), US Peace Council, Syria Solidarity Movement, Socialist Action, Workers World Party, Resource Center for Non Violence Palestine/Israel Action Committee, ANSWER – SF Bay Area, Cindy Sheehan Soapbox, Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center, Peace and Freedom Party (Marin), Peace and Freedom Party (San Francisco), Project Censored, Media Freedom Foundation

To add your group, or for more info: solidarity@ syriasolidaritymovement.org or (925) 324-3358.



Trump and the National Park Service are trying to shut down Inauguration protests – don't let them win! 

I am writing you to sound the alarm about an effort underway to create a free speech buffer zone that would allow Donald Trump, in the weeks following his inauguration, to ban the American people from conducting mass assembly protests against his extremist political agenda in historic spaces of Washington, D.C., including Lafayette Park and the Ellipse (both the front and back of the White House), the White House sidewalk, Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall.


On Dec. 7, the ANSWER Coalition held a joint press conference in Washington, D.C., with attorneys from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund to expose the unprecedented and unconstitutional efforts by the National Park Service (NPS) to act as a surrogate for the Trump Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) to extinguish mass assembly protest and dissent in the weeks following Trump's inauguration on January 20, 2017, by issuing to itself, on behalf of the Trump PIC, an omnibus blocking permit in almost all the historic spaces of Washington.

We are fighting back. No matter what we are going to be in the streets in Washington, D.C., to Say NO to the Trump Agenda because the only thing standing in the way of Trump's extremist plan to carry out mass deportations, assault the Muslim community and eviscerate women's rights is the mobilization of huge parts of the population.

Trump wants to start shutting down free speech on Day 1 – but we are marching

The refusal to grant permits to the many groups organizing activities is creating disarray in people's plans to march on January 21. We have heard from so many people across the country who are planning to come but need to know where they can assemble and march. 

Here's our response to the thousands of ANSWER constituents who are coming: We are marching!

In addition to our Inauguration Day protest on Friday, January 20 at Freedom Plaza we are marching the next day in the streets on Saturday, January 21 starting at 10:00 a.m. in front of the Trump International Hotel at 12th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW. We will then march on Pennsylvania Avenue toward Trump's White House. As other groups' plans are finalized we will coordinate joining in collective assembly.


We are not required to get a permit for a street protest on Pennsylvania Avenue because the street is under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police Department and not the National Park Service. As a result of litigation by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund over the years, the law allows us to march on Pennsylvania Avenue. 

Background: How the NPS Created "fake news" to cover up their de facto ban on mass assembly protest against Trump

Through the efforts of our attorneys at the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund it has been revealed that the federal government is illegally giving the Trump Presidential Inaugural Committee, which is a private profit making entity that is soliciting tens of millions of dollars in "donations" from Corporate America, the right of first refusal to the use of all the historic public spaces not just on Inauguration Day but for weeks afterward.

Even if the Trump PIC doesn't use these spaces they can just hold on to the permit and refuse to allow demonstrators access for mass assembly protest. And that is precisely what is happening now.

The National Park Service last week even created a "fake news" story blaming different protest groups for their refusal to issue permits to other organizations planning protests during the inaugural time period. The fake news was designed to conceal the fact that the National Park Service has issued to itself an omnibus permit on behalf of the Trump Presidential Inaugural Committee as a way of blocking mass assembly protests in the traditional areas for such activity before, during and after the Presidential Inauguration on January 20.

It would be a terrible precedent for Donald Trump to get away with quashing the free speech rights of those who wish to protest his far-right government of Generals and oligarchs. We will not let that happen. Join us in Washington, D.C., on Friday, January 20 and Saturday, January 21 to show that people of conscience will not be intimidated.


January 20, 2017, 7:00 A.M.

Freedom Plaza

1355 Pennsylvania Ave N.W.

(14th Street and Pennsylvania Ave.)

Washington, D.C.

Here in San Francisco:

Fri. Jan. 20, 5pm
SF Protest: Say NO to Trump and the Trump Program on Inauguration Day
Fight Racism, Sexism and Bigotry—Defend Immigrants!
UN Plaza, near Civic Center BART, San Francisco

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Sign up to volunteer! Become an organizer in the fightback movement against Trump!

n8 sf

Progressive people from all over the country will be descending on Washington, D.C. on January 20, 2017, to stage a massive demonstration along Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day along with corresponding actions in San Francisco and other West Coast cities.

Trump's appointees are a motley and dangerous crew of billionaires, white supremacists and other extreme rightwingers. They have nothing good in mind for anyone but the banks, oil companies and the military-industrial complex.

It is more important than ever that we keep building the grassroots movement against war, militarism, racism, anti-immigrant scapegoating and neoliberal capitalism's assault against workers' living standards and the environment.

Real social change comes from the bottom, the mobilized grassroots, and not from the centers of institutional power, the professional politicians or the capitalist elites.

This country needs a real political revolution. Millions of people feel entirely disenfranchised by a political system that delivered the least favorable and trusted candidates in U.S. history. Many hoped that the Bernie Sanders campaign would represent a new direction and opportunity to take on entrenched power and extreme inequality, for a higher minimum wage, to defend Social Security, rebuild the labor movement, provide universal health care and free tuition.

Donald Trump is a racist, sexist bigot. On Inauguration Day, thousands will be in the streets to give voice to the millions of people in this country who are demanding systemic change and who reject Trump's anti-people program.

Join us on January 20, 2017, for a massive mobilization of the people!

More info: www.ANSWERsf.org or 415-821-6545. 



Read more about this action at:




ACLU, LGBT groups ask Obama to approve Chelsea's clemency request


Support Chelsea's White House
petition today!

Sign the whitehouse.gov petition in
support of Chelsea's request today!

Chelsea Manning Support Network
coming to an end

Read more









Defying the Tomb: Selected Prison Writings and Art of Kevin "Rashid" Johnson featuring exchanges with an Outlaw Kindle Edition

by Kevin Rashid Johnson (Author), Tom Big Warrior (Introduction), Russell Maroon Shoatz(Introduction)




Join the Fight to Free Rev. Pinkney!

Click HERE to view in browser



Today is the 406th day that Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Michigan

languishes in prison doing felony time for a misdemeanor crime he did not

commit. Today is also the day that Robert McKay, a spokesperson for the

Free Rev. Pinkney campaign, gave testimony before United Nations

representatives about the plight of Rev. Pinkney at a hearing held in

Chicago. The hearing was called in order to shed light upon the

mistreatment of African-Americans in the United States and put it on an

international stage. And yet as the UN representatives and audience heard

of the injustices in the Pinkney case many gasped in disbelief and asked

with frowns on their faces, "how is this possible?" But disbelief quickly

disappeared when everyone realized these were the same feelings they had

when they first heard of Flint and we all know what happened in Flint. FREE


Please send letters to:

Marquette Branch Prison

Rev. Edward Pinkney N-E-93 #294671

1960 US Hwy 41 South

Marquette, MI 49855

Please donate at http://bhbanco.org (Donate button) or send checks to BANCO:

c/o Dorothy Pinkney

1940 Union St.

Benton Harbor, MI 49022

Contributions for Rev. Pinkney's defense can be sent to BANCO at Mrs Dorothy Pinkney, 1940 Union St., Benton Harbor, MI 49022

Or you can donate on-line at bhbanco.org.



State Seeks to Remove Innocent PA Lifer's Attorney! Free Corey Walker!

The PA Office of the Attorney General (OAG) filed legal action to remove Corey Walker's attorney, Rachel Wolkenstein, in November 2014. On Tuesday, February 9, 2016 the evidentiary hearing to terminate Wolkenstein as Corey Walker's pro hac vice lawyer continues before Judge Lawrence Clark of the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas in Harrisburg, PA.

Walker, assisted by Wolkenstein, filed three sets of legal papers over five months in 2014 with new evidence of Walker's innocence and that the prosecution and police deliberately used false evidence to convict him of murder. Two weeks after Wolkenstein was granted pro hac vice status, the OAG moved against her and Walker.

The OAG claims that Wolkenstein's political views and prior legal representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal and courtroom arrest by the notorious Judge Albert Sabo makes it "intolerable" for her to represent Corey Walker in the courts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Over the past fifteen months the OAG has effectively stopped any judicial action on the legal challenges of Corey Walker and his former co-defendant, Lorenzo Johnson against their convictions and sentences to life imprisonment without parole while it proceeds in its attempts to remove Wolkenstein.

This is retaliation against Corey Walker who is innocent and framed. Walker and his attorney won't stop until they thoroughly expose the police corruption and deliberate presentation of false evidence to convict Corey Walker and win his freedom.

This outrageous attack on Corey Walker's fundamental right to his lawyer of choice and challenge his conviction must cease. The evidence of his innocence and deliberate prosecutorial frame up was suppressed for almost twenty years. Corey Walker must be freed!

Read: Jim Crow Justice – The Frame-up Of Corey Walker by Charles Brover

Go to FreeCoreyWalker.org to provide help and get more information.



TAKE ACTION: Mumia is sick

Judge Robert Mariani of the U.S. District Court has issued an order in Mumia's case, granting Mumia's lawyers Bret Grote and Robert Boyle's motion to supplement the record. 

New medical records documenting Mumia's deteriorated condition from February and March, will be presented June 6th. Judge Mariani has also instructed the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to provide any updates and changes in DOC hep C treatment and policies which affect the plaintiff's treatment.

Calling into Prison Radio, Mumia noted: 

"My friends, my brothers, it ain't over 'til it's over, but there is some motion. It means that we're moving closer to hopefully some real treatment not of my symptoms, but of my disease. I thank you all for being there. And freedom is a constant struggle. I love you all. From what used to be death row, this is Mumia, your brother."

Mumia remains quite ill. While stable, his curable hepatitis C is still active and progressive. The only treatment Mumia has received over the last 14 months to this day is skin ointment and photo therapy. He has not received the medically indicated treatment for hep C, the very condition that put him in the Intensive Care Unit in March 2015. 

Hepatitis C is a progressive disease that attacks Mumia's organs, skin and liver. Unless the court orders the new hepatitis C treatment - one pill a day for 12 weeks, with a 95% cure rate - Mumia's health will remain at serious risk.

Before the court is the preliminary injunction motion, which demands immediate medical care.

The exhaustion of administrative remedy and the procedural hurdles make it extremely difficult for people in prison to actually get their grievances heard through the review process. The Prison Litigation Reform Act was passed specifically to create these very almost insurmountable barriers to access to the courts.

Please read the New Yorker article, Why it is Nearly Impossible for Prisoners to Sue Prisons.

In Abu-Jamal vs. Kerestes, one very telling point was when the DOC's Director of Medical Care, Dr. Paul Noel, took the stand. He said that he had never testified before in court! He has worked for the DOC for over a decade.   

That meant that no prisoner had access to adversarial cross examination. Before Mumia's day in court in late December 2015, no prisoner ever had the opportunity to expose the PA DOC's blatant lies. Lies so bold that Dr. Noel disavowed his own signed affidavit, and in court he stated that he "did not sign it and it was false and misleading". The knowingly false and fabricated document was put in the record by Laura Neal, Senior DOC attorney.

Take Action for Mumia

Call prison officials to demand immediate treatment!

Dr. Paul Noel-Director of Medical Care, DOC
717-728-5309 x 5312

John Wetzel- Secretary of DOC
717+728-2573 x 4109

Dr. Carl Keldie-Chief Medical Officer, Correct Care Solutions
800-592-2974 x 5783

Theresa DelBalso-Superintendent, SCI Mahanoy
570-773-2158 x 8101

    Tom Wolf, PA Governor 

    Phone  717-787-2500

    Fax 717-772-8284

    Email governor@pa.gov

    Sign the Petition now to demand Mumia's right to life-saving hepatitis C care.

    Help Mumia's lawyers prepare to demand access to Mumia's medical records from court!

    Thank you for keeping Mumia in your heart and mind,

    Noelle Hanrahan

    Director, Prison Radio


    The Oasis Clinic in Oakland, CA, which treats patients with Hepatitis-C (HCV), demands an end to the outrageous price-gouging of Big Pharma corporations, like Gilead Sciences, which hike-up the cost for essential, life-saving medications such as the cure for the deadly Hepatitis-C virus, in order to reap huge profits. The Oasis Clinic's demand is:







    This message from:

    Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

    PO Box 16222 • Oakland CA 94610 • www.laboractionmumia.org

    06 January 2016

    Mumia Is Innocent!  Free Mumia!




    Imam Jamil (H.Rap Brown) moved

    Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown) was moved by bus from USP Canaan in Waymart, PA. to USP Tucson, Arizona.  His mailing address is:  USP Tucson United States Penitentiary P.O. Box Tucson, AZ. 85734  (BOP number 99974555)

    Sign the Petition:

    DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, THE Bureau of Prisons, The Governor of Georgia

    We are aware of a review being launched of criminal cases to determine whether any defendants were wrongly convicted and or deserve a new trail because of flawed forensic evidence and or wrongly reported evidence. It was stated in the Washington Post in April of 2012 that Justice Department Officials had known for years that flawed forensic work led to convictions of innocent people. We seek to have included in the review of such cases that of Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. We understand that all cases reviewed will include the Innocence Project. We look forward to your immediate attention to these overdue wrongs.

    ASAP: The Forgotten Imam Project

    P.O. Box 373

    Four Oaks, NC 27524


    Luqman Abdullah-ibn Al-Sidiq




    Major Battles On

    For over 31 years, Major Tillery has been a prisoner of the State.

    Despite that extraordinary fact, he continues his battles, both in the prison for his health, and in the courts for his freedom.

    Several weeks ago, Tillery filed a direct challenge to his criminal conviction, by arguing that a so-called "secret witness" was, in fact, a paid police informant who was given a get-out-of-jail-free card if he testified against Tillery.

    Remember I mentioned, "paid?"

    Well, yes--the witness was 'paid'--but not in dollars. He was paid in sex!

    In the spring of 1984, Robert Mickens was facing decades in prison on rape and robbery charges. After he testified against Tillery, however, his 25-year sentence became 5 years: probation!

    And before he testified he was given an hour and a ½ private visit with his girlfriend--at the Homicide Squad room at the Police Roundhouse. (Another such witness was given another sweetheart deal--lie on Major, and get off!)

    To a prisoner, some things are more important than money. Like sex!

    In a verified document written in April, 2016, Mickens declares that he lied at trial, after being coached by the DAs and detectives on the case.

    He lied to get out of jail--and because he could get with his girl.

    Other men have done more for less.

    Major's 58-page Petition is a time machine back into a practice that was once common in Philadelphia.

    In the 1980s and '90s, the Police Roundhouse had become a whorehouse.

    Major, now facing serious health challenges from his hepatitis C infection, stubborn skin rashes, and dangerous intestinal disorders, is still battling.

    And the fight ain't over.

    [©'16 MAJ  6/29/16]

    Major Tillery Needs Your Help and Support

    Major Tillery is an innocent man. There was no evidence against Major Tillery for the 1976 poolroom shootings that left one man dead and another wounded. The surviving victim gave a statement to homicide detectives naming others—not Tillery or his co-defendant—as the shooters. Major wasn't charged until 1980, he was tried in 1985.

    The only evidence at trial came from these jailhouse informants who were given sexual favors and plea deals for dozens of pending felonies for lying against Major Tillery. Both witnesses now declare their testimony was manufactured by the police and prosecution. Neither witness had personal knowledge of the shooting.

    This is a case of prosecutorial misconduct and police corruption that goes to the deepest levels of rot in the Philadelphia criminal injustice system. Major Tillery deserves not just a new trial, but dismissal of the charges against him and his freedom from prison.

    It cost a lot of money for Major Tillery to be able to file his new pro se PCRA petition and continue investigation to get more evidence of the state misconduct. He needs help to get lawyers to make sure this case is not ignored. Please contribute, now.


      Financial Support: Tillery's investigation is ongoing, to get this case filed has been costly and he needs funds for a legal team to fight this to his freedom!

      Go to JPay.com;

      code: Major Tillery AM9786 PADOC

      Tell Philadelphia District Attorney

      Seth Williams:

      Free Major Tillery! He is an innocent man, framed by police and and prosecution.

      Call: 215-686-8711 or

      Write to:

      Major Tillery AM9786

      SCI Frackville

      1111 Altamont Blvd.

      Frackville, PA 17931

        For More Information, Go To: Justice4MajorTillery/blogspot


        Rachel Wolkenstein, Esq. (917) 689-4009RachelWolkenstein@gmail.com



        Commute Kevin Cooper's Death Sentence

        Sign the Petition:


        Urge Gov. Jerry Brown to commute Kevin Cooper's death sentence. Cooper has always maintained his innocence of the 1983 quadruple murder of which he was convicted. In 2009, five federal judges signed a dissenting opinion warning that the State of California "may be about to execute an innocent man." Having exhausted his appeals in the US courts, Kevin Cooper's lawyers have turned to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights to seek remedy for what they maintain is his wrongful conviction, and the inadequate trial representation, prosecutorial misconduct and racial discrimination which have marked the case. Amnesty International opposes all executions, unconditionally.

        "The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man." - Judge William A. Fletcher, 2009 dissenting opinion on Kevin Cooper's case

        Kevin Cooper has been on death row in California for more than thirty years.

        In 1985, Cooper was convicted of the murder of a family and their house guest in Chino Hills. Sentenced to death, Cooper's trial took place in an atmosphere of racial hatred — for example, an effigy of a monkey in a noose with a sign reading "Hang the N*****!" was hung outside the venue of his preliminary hearing.

        Take action to see that Kevin Cooper's death sentence is commuted immediately.

        Cooper has consistently maintained his innocence.

        Following his trial, five federal judges said: "There is no way to say this politely. The district court failed to provide Cooper a fair hearing."

        Since 2004, a dozen federal appellate judges have indicated their doubts about his guilt.

        Tell California authorities: The death penalty carries the risk of irrevocable error. Kevin Cooper's sentence must be commuted.

        In 2009, Cooper came just eight hours shy of being executed for a crime that he may not have committed. Stand with me today in reminding the state of California that the death penalty is irreversible — Kevin Cooper's sentence must be commuted immediately.

        In solidarity,

        James Clark
        Senior Death Penalty Campaigner
        Amnesty International USA

          Kevin Cooper: An Innocent Victim of Racist Frame-Up - from the Fact Sheet at: www.freekevincooper.org

          Kevin Cooper is an African-American man who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in 1985 for the gruesome murders of a white family in Chino Hills, California: Doug and Peggy Ryen and their daughter Jessica and their house- guest Christopher Hughes. The Ryens' 8 year old son Josh, also attacked, was left for dead but survived.

          Convicted in an atmosphere of racial hatred in San Bernardino County CA, Kevin Cooper remains under a threat of imminent execution in San Quentin.  He has never received a fair hearing on his claim of innocence.  In a dissenting opinion in 2009, five federal judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals signed a 82 page dissenting opinion that begins: "The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man." 565 F.3d 581.

          There is significant evidence that exonerates Mr. Cooper and points toward other suspects:

            The coroner who investigated the Ryen murders concluded that the murders took four minutes at most and that the murder weapons were a hatchet, a long knife, an ice pick and perhaps a second knife. How could a single person, in four or fewer minutes, wield three or four weapons, and inflict over 140 wounds on five people, two of whom were adults (including a 200 pound ex-marine) who had loaded weapons near their bedsides?

            The sole surviving victim of the murders, Josh Ryen, told police and hospital staff within hours of the murders that the culprits were "three white men." Josh Ryen repeated this statement in the days following the crimes. When he twice saw Mr. Cooper's picture on TV as the suspected attacker, Josh Ryen said "that's not the man who did it."

            Josh Ryen's description of the killers was corroborated by two witnesses who were driving near the Ryens' home the night of the murders. They reported seeing three white men in a station wagon matching the description of the Ryens' car speeding away from the direction of the Ryens' home.

            These descriptions were corroborated by testimony of several employees and patrons of a bar close to the Ryens' home, who saw three white men enter the bar around midnight the night of the murders, two of whom were covered in blood, and one of whom was wearing coveralls.

            The identity of the real killers was further corroborated by a woman who, shortly after the murders were discovered, alerted the sheriff's department that her boyfriend, a convicted murderer, left blood-spattered coveralls at her home the night of the murders. She also reported that her boyfriend had been wearing a tan t-shirt matching a tan t-shirt with Doug Ryen's blood on it recovered near the bar. She also reported that her boyfriend owned a hatchet matching the one recovered near the scene of the crime, which she noted was missing in the days following the murders; it never reappeared; further, her sister saw that boyfriend and two other white men in a vehicle that could have been the Ryens' car on the night of the murders.

          Lacking a motive to ascribe to Mr. Cooper for the crimes, the prosecution claimed that Mr. Cooper, who had earlier walked away from custody at a minimum security prison, stole the Ryens' car to escape to Mexico. But the Ryens had left the keys in both their cars (which were parked in the driveway), so there was no need to kill them to steal their car. The prosecution also claimed that Mr. Cooper needed money, but money and credit cards were found untouched and in plain sight at the murder scene.

          The jury in 1985 deliberated for seven days before finding Mr. Cooper guilty. One juror later said that if there had been one less piece of evidence, the jury would not have voted to convict.

          The evidence the prosecution presented at trial tying Mr. Cooper to the crime scene has all been discredited…         (Continue reading this document at: http://www.savekevincooper.org/_new_freekevincooperdotorg/TEST/Scripts/DataLibraries/upload/KC_FactSheet_2014.pdf)

               This message from the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal. July 2015




          Sign the Petition:


          Dear President Obama, Senators, and Members of Congress:

          Americans now owe $1.3 trillion in student debt. Eighty-six percent of that money is owed to the United States government. This is a crushing burden for more than 40 million Americans and their families.

          I urge you to take immediate action to forgive all student debt, public and private.

          American Federation of Teachers

          Campaign for America's Future

          Courage Campaign

          Daily Kos

          Democracy for America


          Project Springboard

          RH Reality Check


          Student Debt Crisis

          The Nation

          Working Families



          Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson

          Updates from Team Lorenzo Johnson

          Dear Supporters and Friends,

          Show your support for Lorenzo by wearing one of our beautiful new campaign t-shirts! If you donate $20 (or more!) to the Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson, we will send you a t-shirt, while supplies last. Make sure to note your size and shipping address in the comment section on PayPal, or to include this information with a check.

          Here is a message from Lorenzo's wife, Tazza Salvatto:

          My husband is innocent, FREE HIM NOW!

          Lorenzo Johnson is a son, husband, father and brother. His injustice has been a continued nightmare for our family. Words cant explain our constant pain, I wish it on no one. Not even the people responsible for his injustice. 

          This is about an innocent man who has spent 20 years and counting in prison. The sad thing is Lorenzo's prosecution knew he was innocent from day one. These are the same people society relies on to protect us.

          Not only have these prosecutors withheld evidence of my husbands innocence by NEVER turning over crucial evidence to his defense prior to trial. Now that Lorenzo's innocence has been revealed, the prosecution refuses to do the right thing. Instead they are "slow walking" his appeal and continuing their malicious prosecution.

          When my husband or our family speak out about his injustice, he's labeled by his prosecutor as defaming a career cop and prosecutor. If they are responsible for Lorenzo's wrongful conviction, why keep it a secret??? This type of corruption and bullying of families of innocent prisoners to remain silent will not be tolerated.

          Our family is not looking for any form of leniency. Lorenzo is innocent, we want what is owed to him. JUSTICE AND HIS IMMEDIATE FREEDOM!!! 

                                    Lorenzo's wife,

                                     Tazza Salvatto

          Lorenzo is continuing to fight for his freedom with the support of his lead counsel, Michael Wiseman, The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, and the Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson.

          Thank you all for reading this message and please take the time to visit our website and contribute to Lorenzo's campaign for freedom!

          Write: Lorenzo Johnson

                      DF 1036

                      SCI Mahanoy

                      301 Morea Rd.

                      Frackville, PA 17932

           Email: Through JPay using the code:

                        Lorenzo Johnson DF 1036 PA DOC


                        Directly at LorenzoJohnson17932@gmail.com


                        Directly on ConnectNetwork -- instructions here

          Have a wonderful day!

          - The Team to Free Lorenzo Johnson

          Write: Lorenzo Johnson

                      DF 1036

                      SCI Mahanoy

                      301 Morea Rd.

                      Frackville, PA 17932

           Email: Through JPay using the code:

                        Lorenzo Johnson DF 1036 PA DOC


                        Directly at LorenzoJohnson17932@gmail.com













          1)  For Blacks Facing Parole in New York State, Signs of a Broken System

           DEC. 4, 2016




          Jaimie Davenport and Billy Cassell had their first hearings before the New York State Board of Parole earlier this year. Both were serving a maximum of six years on a burglary conviction, Mr. Cassell for breaking into storage units, Mr. Davenport for stealing cellphones.

          The men are in their 30s and told the board that they had struggled for years with substance abuse — Mr. Cassell with drugs, Mr. Davenport with alcohol.

          Each had served a prior sentence for theft, and each had done a stretch in solitary confinement for breaking prison rules.

          Mr. Cassell was set free. But not Mr. Davenport. The board turned him down, extending his prison term for at least another two years.

          For all their similarities, there was a telling difference: Mr. Cassell is white; Mr. Davenport is black.

          And in New York, black men going before the parole board are at a marked disadvantage.

          An analysis by The New York Times of thousands of parole decisions from the past several years found that fewer than one in six black or Hispanic men was released at his first hearing, compared with one in four white men.

          It is a disparity that is particularly striking not for the most violent criminals, like rapists and murderers, but for small-time offenders who commit property crimes like stealing a television from a house or shoplifting from Duane Reade — precisely the people many states are now working to keep out of prison in the first place.

          Since 2006, white inmates serving two to four years for a single count of third-degree burglary have been released after an average of 803 days, while black inmates served an average of 883 days for the same crime.

          The racial disparity in parole decisions in the state is perhaps the most dramatic manifestation of a broken system. Intended as a progressive tool to promote good behavior, parole has devolved into a hurried, often chaotic procedure. Inmates typically get less than 10 minutes to plead their cases before they are sent back to their cells.

          The parole board has not been fully staffed for years and rarely sees a prisoner in person. Inmates are usually glimpsed from the shoulders up on a video screen.

          Commissioners — as board members are called — often read through files to prepare for the next interview as the inmate speaks. The whole process is run like an assembly line. They hear cases just two days a week and see as many as 80 inmates in that time.

          Board members are mainly from upstate, earn more than $100,000 annually and hold their positions for years. They tend to have backgrounds in law enforcement rather than rehabilitation. Most are white; there is currently only one black man, and there are no Latino men.

          In short, they have little in common with the black and Latino inmates who make up nearly three-quarters of the state prison population.

          At a September board meeting, one commissioner, Marc Coppola, complained that he had trouble keeping track of which inmate he was interviewing. "We were a mess," Mr. Coppola said, according to video of the meeting. "We didn't even know who was in the chair."

          Tina Stanford, the board's chairwoman, agreed. "There are others among us who've had similar concerns, just for what their experience in terms of the caseload has been," she said.

          While it is not possible to know whether race is a factor in any particular parole decision, a pattern of racial inequity is clear when the data are examined on a large scale. The Times analyzed 13,876 parole decisions for male inmates over a three-year period ending in May.

          The analysis included only first-time appearances before the board, which take place after inmates complete their minimum sentence. The Times took into account such factors as an inmate's crime, age, race and previous stints in state prison.

          The board rarely released violent offenders of any race, denying nearly 90 percent of them at their initial interview. But among offenders imprisoned for more minor felonies, the racial disparity is glaring. For third-degree burglars who had no earlier prison sentences, the board released 41 percent of white inmates compared with 30 percent of blacks and Latinos.

          The imbalance is especially stark for younger inmates. Among male prisoners under 25 who had no prior state prison sentences, the parole board released 30 percent of whites but only 14 percent of blacks and Latinos.

          The Times did not have access to the full range of information the board took into account. This includes inmates' time in county jail, full arrest histories, complete prison disciplinary records and whether required prison programs were completed.

          Still, even before a black inmate takes a seat in the hearing room and utters a word, the odds are stacked against him. Guards punish black men in some prisons at twice the rate of whites, send them to solitary confinement more often and keep them there longer, a Times analysis of nearly 60,000 disciplinary cases from last year found. And bad prison records make it that much harder to be granted parole.

          The Hearings

          In parole hearings that are hurried and often disorganized, the board members' first impressions of an inmate — whether he is well spoken or inarticulate, neat or disheveled, black or white — can have an outsize impact on his future.

          The Times reviewed transcripts of 109 parole hearings from the first quarter of this year, obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request. They all involved inmates guilty of burglary in the third degree, like Samuel McQuilkin, a black inmate with a long history of minor crimes who was convicted of stealing chicken nuggets from a school cafeteria.

          It is often hard to pinpoint what the deciding factor is for commissioners. Some focus on an inmate's criminal record or problems with drug abuse. Others are more interested in family ties.

          In an interview process that is impersonal — 95 of the 109 hearings examined by the Times were conducted by video — any rapport an inmate can establish with board members is likely to help. This can work in a white inmate's favor. A majority of commissioners are white, and like most of the white inmates in the New York system, they come from upstate.

          Matthew Conley, a 27-year-old white college graduate from Eagle Bay, in the Adirondacks, was doing time for stealing golf carts from Mohawk Valley Country Club, in Little Falls, N.Y.

          While hearings usually go quickly and focus on criminal and prison disciplinary history, W. William Smith, a commissioner who is also white, spent time reminiscing with Mr. Conley about summers spent white-water rafting in the Adirondacks.

          "Were you employed by Tickner's kayak and canoe rental in Old Forge?" Mr. Smith asked.

          "I was," Mr. Conley said.

          Mr. Smith said he had done similar work. "That was the best job I ever had," he said. "Long time ago."

          Mr. Conley was released.

          The tone was different at the hearing for Mr. Davenport, the black inmate convicted of stealing cellphones. When it comes to an inmate's criminal history, commissioners are supposed to consider convictions only, but G. Kevin Ludlow, a white board member from Utica, pressed him to confess any additional crimes he might have committed.

          "How many burgs have you done that you haven't been nailed for?" Mr. Ludlow asked. "There are others out there. What do you figure, five, six? How many?"

          "No, sir, this is the only one," Mr. Davenport said. "Not that it matters — it was a crime. But this is the only one."

          Though being a parole commissioner is considered a full-time job, only two days a week are devoted to hearing cases. Monday and Thursday are set aside for travel, and Friday is reserved for interviewing crime victims' families.

          Every week, four teams of two or three commissioners are dispatched around the state to administrative offices for video conferences or one of the few facilities where interviews are still conducted in person.

          The condensed schedule leaves commissioners with little time to prepare. They typically see their cases on the morning of the hearings, when they arrive to find a cardboard box with a stack of folders placed beside their chair.

          According to data from the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the board holds about 12,000 hearings a year and may conduct as many as 40 interviews a day. In practice, only one commissioner presides over a hearing, while the other two try to pay attention as they read files for upcoming cases, according to four former commissioners whose service on the board spanned from 2000 to 2014.

          To save time, parole rulings are sometimes drafted beforehand. There are commissioners who come prepared with four or five decisions that they modify slightly to fit particular cases, said Robert Dennison, who was a commissioner from 2000 to 2007 and the board's chairman for part of that time.

          "Some of the commissioners' minds are made up before the guy comes into the room," he said.

          Inmates complained that it often seemed as if what they had to say did not matter.

          At his hearing in January, James McArdelle sounded surprised that the commissioners appeared to be paying attention. "The most I would like to say is thank you for actually listening," he said at the time. "I have been through parole before. A lot of people don't listen and have a prejudgment."

          The board has long been understaffed, and it now has 13 commissioners, though as many as 19 may be appointed.

          Video conferences save time and may cut costs, but the former commissioners interviewed by The Times said they believed the inmates were being shortchanged.

          "There are things you may not catch if it's done by video," said Henry Lemons, who was a commissioner from 2009 to 2012. "A person could have turned his whole life around and walks in holding a Bible. At the interview, I'm just seeing his shoulder, neck and face on the video screen."

          Former commissioners said it was common knowledge on the board that corrections officers sometimes trumped up disciplinary "tickets," intentionally undermining an inmate's chances of parole.

          "The commissioners in some instances are savvy enough to know that somebody who hasn't had a ticket in years that all of a sudden has a ticket right before a hearing, there might be something going on there," said Milton Johnson, a former board member who was a Secret Service agent and served for a year ending in 2014.

          While commissioners are allowed to take time to look into such cases, they almost always weigh inmates' claims on the spot, Mr. Johnson said.

          "It's a very imperfect situation," he said.

          Inmates have little recourse to challenge parole decisions. They can appeal to the State Supreme Court, but judges in New York can only order a new parole hearing, not overturn the original decision. Even if the decision is sent back, the appeal process can take two years, and by then an inmate is usually entitled to a new hearing anyway.

          Last year, a State Supreme Court judge ordered a new hearing for Rudolph Williams, a convicted murderer, and criticized the board for basing its denial on a "boilerplate list of factors" that included letters opposing his release when, in fact, there were no letters at all.

          Snap Decisions

          An inmate named John Kelly had his hearing last January.

          "It says here, since Aug. 25, you've been taking your associate's program in liberal arts," said Gail Hallerdin, the lead commissioner for the hearing.

          "That's not me," Mr. Kelly responded.

          "What is your first name?" Ms. Hallerdin said.

          "John Kelly."

          Ms. Hallerdin checked her file. "That was for Thomas Kelly," she said.

          It was a jarring example of how unprepared the board can be. Commissioners have complained that they are not always given an inmate's complete criminal history, and sometimes cannot obtain out-of-state records. At times, two or more inmates with the same name were included in the same case file, they said.

          John Kelly, who was 59 at the time, explained that he had completed only the sixth grade. "I can't read or write," he said. He is classified by the corrections department as seriously mentally ill and was homeless when he was arrested for shoplifting at Duane Reade.

          Despite the confusion, the hearing proceeded, with the commissioners deciding to release Mr. Kelly, who is white.

          Darryl Dent, a black inmate who, like Mr. Kelly, has an extensive history of petty crime and is severely mentally ill, was not so fortunate.

          When he stood before the parole board in March, he was serving five to 11 years for stealing a wallet in a Manhattan church, his eighth prison stint for petty theft.

          "Some people would have given you a life sentence, even though it's not what people call the crime of the century," said Ellen Alexander, a commissioner.

          "I was a little confused because I was hearing voices," Mr. Dent explained. "They was telling me I should commit crimes before — to make money and get involved with girls and stuff — and I went along with it."

          For people like Mr. Dent, the parole process can be especially hard to navigate. They have trouble making an argument for themselves.

          In an interview with a reporter at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in September, Mr. Dent said that during his hearing, he felt rushed and could not think of the right answers quickly enough.

          He had trouble making eye contact during the interview, continuously rubbed his face and stuck out his tongue compulsively, a possible side effect of antipsychotic medications.

          He looked older than his years, walked with a limp as he came into the visiting room and said that if released, he would pose no danger to anyone. "I wouldn't be able to outrun the police," he said. "I couldn't lift a box."

          "I really am sorry for the crimes I committed," he told the commissioners. "I'm tired of coming to jail. I'm 56 years old, and I don't want to spend the rest of my life in jail."

          Mr. Kelly made an almost identical plea, explaining that he had had two strokes. "I'm done," he said. "I'll be 60 years old. I don't want to die in prison."

          What tipped the scales in favor of Mr. Kelly and against Mr. Dent?

          The commissioners who heard their cases? The inmates' mental health on the day of the hearing? The fact that Mr. Kelly was a rare inmate to be interviewed in person, while Mr. Dent spoke via video? Race?

          Whatever the reason, the white inmate doing time for shoplifting walked out of prison.

          And the black inmate who stole the wallet was sent back to spend at least two more years behind bars. "Your release would be incompatible with the welfare of society," the board's decision said.

          Horse Trading

          If there is one factor that drives the selection of commissioners, it is politics. Spots on the board are prime patronage gifts. Many board members have given generously to campaigns.

          Diversity is seemingly an afterthought.

          Since 2000, W. William Smith, who joined the board in 1996, has donated nearly $20,000, mostly to Republican campaigns in the Buffalo area. Commissioner G. Kevin Ludlow has given about $29,000 since 2004, primarily to conservative and Republican candidates, according to filings with the State Board of Elections.

          Positions have also been given to Democratic supporters. Joseph Crangle, the son of a longtime Democratic leader, was appointed to the board by Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, in 2008. Mr. Crangle and his family have donated nearly $14,000, mostly to Democratic candidates.

          Another commissioner, Lisa Beth Elovich, is the daughter of a former Democratic political leader in Long Beach and a family friend of the former Republican senator Alfonse M. D'Amato. When she was appointed in 2006, she was married to Michael Avella, who was then a counsel to the Republican majority in the State Senate.

          A request by The Times to interview individual commissioners was denied by the corrections department, which oversees the parole board.

          Board members are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate. Selections are typically worked out ahead of time, and at the confirmation hearings nominees usually spend only a few minutes describing their credentials before being approved.

          These hearings sometimes sound like reunions of upstate law enforcement veterans. At the 2012 hearing, State Senator Patrick M. Gallivan, then a Republican member of the corrections committee and a former sheriff of Erie County, backed the appointment of Marc Coppola, his former deputy sheriff.

          They joked about it. A committee member asked Mr. Coppola, "Was former Sheriff Gallivan a good boss?"

          "Yes, he was," Mr. Coppola said.

          Henry Lemons, who was the lone black male commissioner for years, was not reappointed when his term expired in 2012, though he had strong credentials. He had spent 20 years with the New York Police Department, 10 years as a narcotics investigator with the Brooklyn district attorney's office, and five years as a deputy chief investigator for the state attorney general's office.

          He said in an interview that while he would have liked to be reappointed, he was unwilling to play politics.

          "Commissioners who want to play this game must go around to their senators and get letters of support — that's how it works," he said. "My work should be enough. My decisions, I think, were solid. I didn't want to have to ask people to write me letters saying, 'Reappoint Henry Lemons.' The result? Next year, I'm out."

          Instead, on June 20, 2012, the State Senate confirmed one white woman, four white men and a Hispanic woman, for a time leaving the board without a single black man.

          There was a rare dissent that day. State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, a Democrat on the corrections committee at the time, declined to cast any confirmation votes.

          "I have withheld my support of any of the candidates today in protest of the governor's failure to appoint anyone of African descent," said Ms. Hassell-Thompson, who is black and whose comments were recorded on video. "There is no way that I can sit here and vote for a board that does not constitute something that for me is about fairness to the numbers of prisoners that are in our prison system."

          None of those on the committee, which is controlled by Republicans, responded to Ms. Hassell-Thompson's remarks.

          In recent years, the board has become slightly more diverse — there is again a single black man, and the chairwoman, Tina Stanford, is also black — but nine of the 13 commissioners are white.

          "The administration has been a strong proponent of bringing more diversity to the Board of Parole," Jason Elan, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said in a statement. "This administration is committed to going even further and will continue to identify for appointment individuals with a broad range of professional expertise, such as social workers, defense attorneys, psychologists and others with criminal justice expertise."

          In June, Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, nominated five more commissioners, including several minorities, but the corrections committee never held confirmation hearings.

          Mr. Gallivan, who now leads the corrections committee, said the governor's office was at fault for submitting the nominations only a few days before the legislative session ended.

          Diversity would make the parole process fairer, said Mr. Lemons, who was named to the board by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat.

          "If a commissioner is from the suburbs and is an attorney, he may not see things the way I did growing up in Bed-Stuy," Mr. Lemons said, referring to the neighborhood in Brooklyn. "I've spoken to commissioners who couldn't understand why a person committed a robbery. But you might interview the person and find out he or she has been on the streets since 16 or 17 because their parents were addicts and they had to live day by day."

          He said he and his colleagues also differed in their views of white-collar crimes.

          "Many commissioners would say, 'It's just a money crime; no one was hurt,'" he said. "Well, I'd say the person defrauded this woman out of her money and made off with a quarter of a million dollars. What's the difference between him and a kid snatching a purse with $15 in it, and he's doing 10 years? To me, a person with some advantages in life, some education, I expect his conduct to be better."

          Hints of Reform

          The promise of parole — early freedom for acknowledging mistakes and behaving well in prison — rarely lives up to reality. Around the country, 20 states have dismantled their boards altogether. A primary problem is the arbitrariness in decision making: Why do some inmates go free while others with nearly identical records stay in prison?

          "The whole field of parole, when you shine a light on it, so much of it is unforgivable," said Kevin R. Reitz, a director of the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Law School. Mr. Reitz was involved in revising the American Law Institute's Model Penal Code to recommend the elimination of parole release.

          In 2014, a state judicial commission recommended the elimination of New York's parole board, but the political leadership in Albany has taken no action.

          New York State officials over the past 20 years have adopted a hybrid system of release that is less reliant on parole. About half the state's inmates, including most drug offenders, now receive what is called a determinate sentence, a fixed period of incarceration with limited opportunity for early release. Instead of getting a two- to four-year sentence for selling drugs, an offender may receive a sentence of three years.

          The Times analyzed a decade's worth of state prison data and found that doing away with parole eliminated the racial disparity in release rates. But it also kept inmates of all races in prison longer — which makes determinate sentences unpopular with inmate advocates.

          A central purpose of parole is to give inmates an incentive to rehabilitate themselves, said Jack Beck, a director of the Correctional Association of New York, a watchdog group empowered by the state to monitor prison conditions.

          "Determinate sentences undermine the whole philosophy that incarceration should be a time for people to prepare themselves to integrate back into society," Mr. Beck said.

          In an effort to make the parole process more objective, New York implemented a risk-assessment tool called Compas in 2012 that seeks to measure an inmate's chances for success upon release. Prisoners fill out a 74-item assessment form that includes their criminal history, education background and mental health status. They also answer a long list of hypothetical questions about managing money, avoiding risky situations and controlling their tempers.

          Based on their answers, they are assigned scores of one to 10 that assess how likely they are to commit new crimes. Theoretically, the lower the score, the lower the risk.

          Commissioners are required to take Compas into consideration, but they can ignore the results if they find that other factors, including the severity of the original crime, are more compelling.

          In the 109 parole hearing transcripts reviewed by The Times, Compas scores were usually given a perfunctory mention but rarely appeared to be the deciding factor.

          The Cuomo administration recently proposed regulations that would require a detailed written explanation from commissioners if they decided to ignore Compas. The regulations would also require the board to give special consideration to inmates who were convicted when they were juveniles and sentenced to a potential maximum of life in prison, taking into account their age at the time of the crime as well as "any demonstrated growth and maturity."

          But at a time when the state is specifying a detailed checklist of variables parole commissioners must consider, race is not even on the list. In fact, the state has never studied its effect on board decisions.

          An Inscrutable Process

          And so the inequities continue.

          Braxton Bostic, a young black man, was 17 in 2014 when he and a group of friends stole money from a purse in a church. A judge gave him probation, but he missed two meetings with his probation officer and was sent to prison to serve one to three years.

          Robert Summa, a 49-year-old white man, has a record dating to 1992 for theft and drug possession. In 2003, he was convicted of mugging and robbing a 56-year-old woman and sent to prison for nine years. Within a year of being released, he was convicted again, for robbing a Staten Island deli, and was sentenced to 3½ to 7 years. He has spent 12 of the past 15 years in prison.

          The men had similar prison disciplinary records. Mr. Bostic had one minor infraction for creating a disturbance and being out of place; Mr. Summa had two minor infractions, according to the hearing transcript. But he also had a certificate indicating that he had completed all of his programs, which Mr. Bostic did not have. Both said they had family and jobs waiting if they were released.

          Mr. Bostic expressed remorse, telling the board that he had been hanging around with the wrong crowd. "There's really no excuse for why I did it," he said. "I was hurting my mother, my father. They're the only ones sending me money and letters."

          Mr. Summa was more vague about his crimes. "It is actually not that I am stealing," he told them. "It is that I buy these things from people in the neighborhood. I know they are stolen when I bought them, but for the price I get them, I can't say no."

          The board sent Mr. Bostic back to prison for at least a year; he is incarcerated at Wyoming Correctional Facility.

          Mr. Summa was freed in July.

          But that did not last.

          In September, he was caught on video robbing a Chinese restaurant on Staten Island.

          He told the police he had been drinking heavily, blacked out and did not remember committing the robbery, though he pleaded guilty after seeing the security video.

          Shortly afterward, a reporter visited him on Rikers Island to ask about the board's decision to release him.

          Mr. Summa said that given his lengthy criminal history, he had not expected it. "I was surprised," he said.



          2) Artists and Advocates Say Deadly Oakland Fire is Product of

          Housing Crisis

          By Sam Levin

          December 5, 2016


           devastating warehouse fire that killed at least 36 people has shone a harsh light on a housing crisis in Oakland and its consequences for artists and low-income residents.

          The fire, which broke out during a party at the 'Ghost Ship' warehouse on Friday night, sent shockwaves through the underground arts and music scene in the northern California city where rapidly rising rents have forced people to live and make art in shared and sometimes hazardous spaces.

          Some reports have cast blame on the artists and residents associated with the warehouse where so many people died, trapped in a building that lacked basic fire safety mechanisms.

          Long-time Oaklanders and tenants' rights activists, however, said the tragedy was a symptom of a major affordability crisis and the long-term failure of urban housing policy to protect the most vulnerable people.

          Grieving artists – many still waiting for official news about friends who went missing in the fire – said on Sunday the city must find a way to ensure that underground performance spaces, "live-work" warehouses and overcrowded homes were safe, without shutting down venues and evicting tenants.

          "The scope of the loss is terrifying," said Sarah Carlberg, assistant director of a local book festival. She was priced out of Oakland last year and had friends who were at the Ghost Ship party.

          "Each one of these people were only at that venue by virtue of the fact that they were very engaged artists – the people who make Oakland what it is."

          'Vital to the fabric of Oakland'


          Oakland sits across the bay from San Francisco, the most expensive city in the US. Experimental musicians and independent artists have long made use of its unconventional venues and cooperative living spaces.

          "Warehouse parties have been a central part of Oakland for decades," said Nihar Bhatt, a DJ and record label owner who survived the Ghost Ship fire.

          The city's underground spaces, which may lack traditional permits or business licenses, are particularly vital for LGBT artists and people of color often excluded from the mainstream industry, dominated by white men, he added.

          "There's a movement in Oakland of experimental black and brown and queer people who don't necessarily want to be in a bar or a club," Bhatt said.

          Russell Butler, a musician who was outside the venue and witnessed the fire, said in an email interview that underground venues were "vital to the fabric of Oakland", not only because of the opportunities they provided for under-represented artists, but also because many functioned as welcoming spaces for marginalized people who felt unsafe in licensed clubs "where they may be harassed or assaulted for just trying to live their lives".

          Sometimes the buildings have not been inspected and are not up to code. The consequences can be fatal. In 2015, a fire killed two artists in an Oakland live-work building and displaced two well-known publishing organizations.

          But when residents raise concernsabout dangerous conditions, the results can be devastating in other ways. Earlier this year, dozens of renters lost their homes in an Oakland warehouse space after the city deemed it unsafe for habitation.

          When the city determines a living situation is hazardous – which can often happen when an industrial warehouse is not permitted or built for residential living – it can create a pathway for real-estate developers to remove a low-income arts community and replace it with more profitable, market-rate housing.

          "That's a slumlord landlord's best-case scenario," said Tarik Kazaleh, a long-time Oakland musician who feared the Ghost Ship tragedy could lead the city to close other spaces. "They'll just get a tech firm and get more money."

          A life or death choice

          Fires and city shutdowns are not the only threat to the underground art scene. Many artists simply cannot afford to live here any more.

          Oakland has some of the fastest-rising rents in the US, and activists have been increasingly concerned about gentrification and displacement caused by the technology boom in nearby San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

          The spaces that make up Oakland's thriving DIY arts scene have been vanishing,as artists have moved away.

          "The best spaces have been wiped out," said Jonah Strauss, a recording engineer who was displaced in the 2015 fire that killed two people. "Lack of affordable living spaces is the single greatest threat to Oakland arts and music."

          Some people refuse to leave, said María Poblet, executive director of Causa Justa, a housing rights group. She said she was upset by the way some people were "blaming the victims" of the fire.

          "We shouldn't have to choose between affordable housing and safe housing," she said. "It's really insufficient to look at the situation and not look at the structural problems that we have.

          "If you can't afford to buy a million-dollar home, then you can't afford to live in this city unless you're willing to risk your safety. And that's unconscionable."

          Housing activists in Oakland have long fought for better protections for renters and for the construction of new housing for very low-income people. Artists have argued that there are ways the city and underground communities can make venues safe without mass displacement.

          Strauss said the city should move away from a punitive system in which officials "red tag" buildings and kick out tenants, and instead help underground spaces become safe for existing residents. "We need a new pathway to legitimacy," he said.

          In the current system, artists and low-income tenants working and living in dangerous conditions often have an impossible choice. Asking a landlord or city official for help can result in homelessness.

          "The city comes in and penalizes people," said Carlberg. "It doesn't accomplish anything. It just puts people in another cycle of poverty."

          Kazaleh said artists needed to rely on each other to ensure their spaces were safe: "There's no easy answer. We have to be completely self-policing now. We don't want city inspectors snooping around."

          'Music saves people'

          In the wake of the latest tragedy, artists and community groups were gathering and looking for ways to assist each other, said Lisa Aurora, co-founder of Naming Gallery in Oakland. 

          Some were organizing to provide fire extinguishers for venues that may need them, she said, adding: "We come back and continue to do what we're doing and support each other."

          Some artists said creative expression and community parties were a form of survival and coping.

          "It's already essential to so many people but we're forced to feel like criminals," said Bhatt, adding that there should be more publicly funded art spaces.

          Butler said: "This music is more than someone's good time. It's more than another night out. It is healing, it saves people. It saved me and many others."



          3)  As North Dakota Pipeline Is Blocked, Veterans at Standing Rock Cheer

           DEC. 5, 2016


          FORT YATES, N.D. — After four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, after being hit by a roadside bomb and losing two friends to explosions, Jason Brocar floated from job to job, earning enough to pay for long solo hikes where his only worries were what he would eat and where he would sleep. He was deep into a rainy trek through Scotland when he noticed friends back home talking about a place called Standing Rock.

          He decided to join them, which is why he was lined up inside a huge shed this weekend with hundreds of other veterans, some of them Native Americans, who have come to North Dakota to join the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's fight to block an oil pipeline.

          On Sunday, they cheered the Department of the Army's announcementthat it would seek other routes for the pipeline and would not allow a crucial section to be drilled under the Missouri River just upstream from the tribe's reservation, where there were worries it could pollute their drinking water and cross near sacred burial sites.

          But President-elect Donald J. Trump's support for finishing the pipeline means the saga is far from over. His administration could undo the Sunday decision and order the pipeline through, though the tribe and environmental activists would almost surely sue to stop him. Reflecting the continued uncertainty, the veterans were out singing and marching on Monday in gale-force winds and driving snow.

          The presence of many hundreds of veterans — organizers were anticipating 2,000 or more — adds another potent layer to a fight that is already steeped in sharp contrasts, between a tribe and an oil company, between environmentalists and pro-energy advocates, between tan-shirted sheriff's deputies armed with rubber bullets and water cannons and protesters wearing traditional dress and feathers in their hair.

          "Fall in!" came a cry one night this weekend. Hundreds of men and women packed into the building to get their orders from Brenda White Bull and Loreal Black Shawl, who are leading the veterans' groups at the protest camps.

          The orders, they said, were "peace and prayer." No confrontations between veterans and law enforcement officers who are guarding a still-closed highway at what protesters call the front lines. On Monday, many protesters defied an order by the Army Corps of Engineers to leave a campsite north of the Cannonball River.

          "You guys are very symbolic," Dave Archambault II, the Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman, told the lines of veterans at a meeting at Sitting Bull College here on the tribe's reservation. "What you're doing is sacred."

          Law enforcement officials leading the response to the monthslong protest in Morton County say they have only used force when threatened or attacked by protesters.

          Sheriff Paul Laney of Cass County said that officers wanted to calm things down after weeks of rising tensions and violent flare-ups, and that they were willing to pull back from a blockaded bridge where several confrontations had occurred. He said protesters first needed to meet conditions like agreeing not to cross the bridge and not to tear down barriers or wires that law enforcement had put up.

          "We all want this to de-escalate and end peacefully," Sheriff Laney said.

          Veterans' views are hardly monolithic, and as the veterans began to arrive, the Morton County Sheriff's office — whose ranks include veterans — sought to show it had the support of local veterans. The county released a video featuring Raymond Morrell, a Marine veteran. He criticized the protests and questioned why veterans arriving from outside North Dakota would join what the sheriff has called an unlawful protest.

          At a news conference, Sheriff Laney said he had received information that an "element" within the protest camps wanted to exploit veterans with post-traumatic stress and goad them into acts of violence. Tribal leaders and protesters say they are nonviolent and have no weapons.

          Several of the veterans who lined up wore caps saying, "Native Veteran." Some were old men, veterans of Korea and postwar Europe, who said they had grown up in Indian boarding schools where they were beaten for speaking their language. Some drove in from reservations across the Plains.

          Some of the arriving veterans have spent years in the antiwar movement after returning from Vietnam or Iraq. They said they saw the pipeline protests as a new chapter in that activism. They came with open letters and leaflets, and they raised flags in the camp that fluttered alongside the names of Native American nations.

          Many said they came ready to form a barrier between protesters and law enforcement.

          "A lot of people here are willing to sacrifice their body, willing to give their life," said Vincent Emanuele, 32, a former Marine who served in Iraq and has spoken out extensively against what he called a futile war. "You might as well die for something that means something."

          Others said they did not care much about politics and had never joined a protest. But they said they had been moved by the tribe's fight to block a crucial section of the 1,170-mile pipeline. Or they said they were angry at seeing images of violent clashes between lines of law enforcement and Native Americans.

          "I just couldn't believe what was happening in the United States," Mr. Brocar, 44, said. "Even in Iraq, there was some rule of engagement. If these guys don't have weapons, it just doesn't make sense to me that it's a shooting gallery."

          Like other veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who came here — any many who did not — he said he had grown disillusioned with the grinding wars and their human toll. On his wrist were two metal bracelets with the names of his two dead friends — "hometown guys who joined to save the world."

          After the meeting ended, the veterans dispersed across the dark plains to sleep, some heading to tents and yurts at the camp, others to borrowed beds. Robert Abbey, 37, a former soldier who joined the military at 17 and deployed once to Iraq, ended up sleeping at the community college.

          He said he came because he wanted to help, and to see what was unfolding five hours north of his home in Hermosa, S.D. Some of the veterans here said they might stay for weeks, but Mr. Abbey had to get back home for an appointment at the local Veterans Affairs agency.



          4) A Bigger Economic Pie, but a Smaller Slice for Half of the U.S.

          "Stagnant wages have sliced the share of income collected by the bottom half of the population to 12.5 percent in 2014, from 20 percent of the total in 1980. Where did that money go? Essentially, to the top 1 percent, whose share of the nation's income nearly doubled to more than 20 percent during that same 34-year period. Average incomes grew by 61 percent. But nearly $7 out of every additional $10 went to those in the top tenth of the income scale. Inequality has soared over that period. In 1980, the researchers found, someone in the top 1 percent earned on average $428,200 a year — about 27 times more than the typical person in the bottom half, whose annual income equaled $16,000. ...Today, half of American adults are still pretty much earning that same $16,000 on average — in 1980 dollars, adjusted for inflation — while members of the top 1 percent now bring home $1,304,800 — 81 times as much."

           DEC. 6, 2016


          Even with all the setbacks from recessions, burst bubbles and vanishing industries, the United States has still pumped out breathtaking riches over the last three and half decades.

          The real economy more than doubled in size; the government now uses a substantial share of that bounty to hand over as much as $5 trillion to help working families, older people, disabled and unemployed people pay for a home, visit a doctor and put their children through school.

          Yet for half of all Americans, their share of the total economic pie has shrunk significantly, new research has found.

          This group — the approximately 117 million adults stuck on the lower half of the income ladder — "has been completely shut off from economic growth since the 1970s," the team of economists found. "Even after taxes and transfers, there has been close to zero growth for working-age adults in the bottom 50 percent."

          The new findings, by the economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, provide the most thoroughgoing analysis to date of how the income kitty — like paychecks, profit-sharing, fringe benefits and food stamps — is divided among the American population.

          Inequality has been a defining national issue for nearly a decade, thanks in part to groundbreaking research done by Mr. Piketty at the Paris School of Economics and Mr. Saez at the University of California, Berkeley.

          But now a new administration in Washington is promising to reshape the government's role in curbing the intense concentration of wealth at the top and improving the fortunes of those left behind.

          During his tenure in the White House, President Obama pushed to address income stagnation by shifting more of the tax burden from the middle class to the rich and expanding public programs like universal health insurance.

          Both strategies are now targeted by President-elect Donald J. Trump and Republicans in Congress, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan. Like many conservatives, Mr. Ryan argues that aid to the poor is ultimately counterproductive because it undermines the incentive to work. Proposals put forward by Republican leaders, though short on details, make clear that they want to roll back benefits like Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, which primarily help the poor, and direct the largest tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.

          About 30 percent of the country's income is channeled to federal, state and local taxes. Apart from military spending and performing basic public services, much of that is distributed back to individuals through various programs and tax benefits in the form of Social Security checks, Medicare benefits and veterans' benefits. But until now, no one has truly measured the full impact that tax payments, government spending, noncash benefits and nontaxable income together have on inequality.

          Abundant documentation of income inequality already exists, but it has been challenged as incomplete. Studies have excluded the impact of taxes and value of public benefits, skeptics complained, or failed to account for the smaller size of households over time.

          This latest project tries to address those earlier criticisms. What the trio of economists found is that the spectacular growth in incomes at the peak has so outpaced the small increase at the bottom from public programs intended to ameliorate poverty and inequality that the gap between the wealthiest and everyone else has continued to widen.

          Stagnant wages have sliced the share of income collected by the bottom half of the population to 12.5 percent in 2014, from 20 percent of the total in 1980. Where did that money go? Essentially, to the top 1 percent, whose share of the nation's income nearly doubled to more than 20 percent during that same 34-year period.

          Average incomes grew by 61 percent. But nearly $7 out of every additional $10 went to those in the top tenth of the income scale.

          Inequality has soared over that period. In 1980, the researchers found, someone in the top 1 percent earned on average $428,200 a year — about 27 times more than the typical person in the bottom half, whose annual income equaled $16,000.

          That ratio, the authors point out, "is similar to the gap between the average income in the United States and the average income in the world's poorest countries, the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Burundi."

          The growth of incomes has probably increased a bit since 2014, the latest year for which full data exists, said Mr. Zucman, who, like Mr. Saez, also teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. But it is "not enough to make any significant difference to our long-run finding, and in particular, to affect the long-run stagnation of bottom-50-percent incomes."

          He was to present the findings at a close-door workshop at the City University of New York on Tuesday.

          Tax credits and programs like Medicare and disability payments have helped families at the lower half of the income scale. But they have just nipped at the heels of the underlying trend.

          "It confirms the surge in income at the top," said Raj Chetty, an economist at Stanford unaffiliated with the project, who called the work "terrific and very important. And it shows government redistribution doesn't really change the picture."

          Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard who also independently reviewed the research, agreed that the data underscored the inadequacies of programs that try to redress inequities after the fact. "It suggests that if you don't do something earlier in the market, before distribution, through better education or greater bargaining power, it's really tough to offset completely," Mr. Katz said. "Countries with less inequality do some of both."

          Mr. Katz and Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist, have argued that advances in technology, while crucial to improving productivity and generating economic growth, also have exacerbated inequality by driving down wages of low-skilled workers. The rewards of education are greater than they have ever been, but advancement nationwide has slowed and the system confers many of its favors on the children of the affluent.

          If there is a bright spot in the new comprehensive research, it is that after taxes and government spending, the middle class is in better shape than previous studies had shown. That earlier research had missed growth in nontaxable income like employee benefits. "The real income of the middle class is a bit better than we thought," Mr. Katz said.

          As troubling as some may find inequality, it is not necessarily the fault of a rigged system, said N. Gregory Mankiw, an economist at Harvard who is familiar with the new research. He argues that large disparities in income more often than not accurately reflect widely varying economic contributions.

          "Inequality is a symptom of a variety of things," Mr. Mankiw said. Technological progress may be a cause, but it benefits society over all, whereas the weakness of the educational system is clearly negative.

          Edward Conard, the author of "The Upside of Inequality" and a former business partner of Mitt Romney, agreed. "People say this is zero-sum game, and you're taking money that would have gone to the other 50 percent," he said. "That's not what happened."

          Instead, Mr. Conrad said, entrepreneurs in the United States have been willing to take big risks that have helped foster an infrastructure that promotes innovation, not just in Silicon Valley but in many other growing places around the country. "When rewards go up, people are more inclined to take risks," he said. Some of those risks pay off and create wealth for everyone.

          The new research challenges that contention, at least in part.

          Mr. Piketty, Mr. Saez and Mr. Zucman concluded that the main driver of wealth in recent years has been investment income at the top. That is a switch from the 1980s and 1990s, when gains in income were primarily generated by working.

          That divergence can slow innovation and further entrench inequities, said Heather Boushey, an economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. When labor income provides the primary route to riches, it creates incentives for people to improve their education and work harder, Ms. Boushey explained. But if getting ahead requires already having a stockpile of cash or inheriting a windfall from your parents, then it is much harder to work your way up.

          "If you're closing off entryways, then you are basically shutting off avenues to competitiveness, innovation and growth," Mr. Boushey said, "even if you don't care about fairness."



          5)  Edward Snowden: 'Do I Think Things Are Fixed? No.'

          DEC. 7, 2016


          This is an article from Turning Points, a magazine that explores what critical moments from this year might mean for the year ahead. 

          Edward J. Snowden, a former C.I.A. employee and National Security Agency contractor, leaked top-secret documents in 2013 that exposed the extent of the N.S.A.'s classified cybersecurity program, revealing that the agency was seizing the private communications records of hundreds of millions of people around the world. Mr. Snowden, who is living in asylum in Russia, is wanted in the United States on several charges, including two under the United States Espionage Act of 1917.

          Speaking by video link during the Athens Democracy Forum in Greece, convened by The New York Times in September, Mr. Snowden said that his disclosures had improved privacy in the United States and that "being patriotic doesn't mean simply agreeing with your government."

          Following is an edited excerpt from a discussion between Mr. Snowden and Steven Erlanger, The New York Times's London bureau chief.

          Q. There's a campaign for President Obama to pardon you before he leaves office. For many people, you're a whistle-blowing hero, and for many other people you're a traitor who broke your oath and betrayed your country. Having knowingly broken the law and fled the jurisdiction of the American courts, why should you be granted asylum?

          Snowden: Whether or not I should be granted a pardon is not for me to answer. By partnering with journalists, I sought to exercise our democratic system of checks and balances in a series of disclosures in 2013. The N.S.A.'s system of global mass surveillance was unlawful. And the courts agreed with me. Congress ultimately changed the law, putting new restrictions on the intelligence community's powers.

          I never published a single document on my own. I partnered with some of the most respected news outlets in the world: The Washington Post and The Guardian. These groups received the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their reporting. This is why we have a free press in a democracy. The government has many great powers, particularly as they relate to the handling of state secrets, but it is the press that is charged with determining what information is truly within the public interest to know.

          Daniel Ellsberg, a fellow whistle-blower who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, put himself forward to the court, understanding that the history of civil disobedience is being willing to accept any punishment for the moral act of standing up against authority. Why would you not return to face a jury in America?

          Snowden: Daniel Ellsberg himself has argued that I made the right decision not to present myself to the court. Things have changed since the 1970s, and today the law doesn't allow you to make a defense against Espionage Act charges in front of the jury. I am legally prohibited from even speaking to the jury about my motivation.

          Can there be a fair trial when you can't put forward a defense? At the sentencing phase you can express to the judge why you did what you did, but that is not democratic. The jury system was created so you can discuss with your peers what you did, why you did it.

          You've said that concrete improvements have transpired as a direct result of your revelations. Are you concerned that governments are still doing whatever they want to do by other means or that these results are transitory?


          Edward J. Snowden. CreditLaura Poitras/ACLU 

          Snowden: Do I think things are fixed? No. Do I think that any whistle-blower, any single individual, can change the world? No, but I do believe that we have some oversight over our privacy rights now, and that things are improving in a material way. The United States has made some initial reforms, and European courts struck down the previous safe harbor agreement, where European companies handed over their citizens' data to U.S. companies without any controls or guarantees of how that would be handled.

          The U.S. has right now a two-tiered system of handling surveillance. If you're a U.S. citizen, the government will go to a court to get a warrant before they spy on you. This is almost always a secret court called the FISA court, which in 33 years was asked roughly 34,000 times to authorize surveillance and only said no 11 times. They're a rubber stamp. If you're not a U.S. citizen, no warrant is required at all in most cases. That's gotten a little bit better because some companies have actually begun resisting these demands. This is uncomfortable for some governments, but there is no question that this is very positive in terms of the protection of rights and the enforcement of due process around the world.

          Stewart Baker, former general counsel for the National Security Agency, is against a pardon for you. He believes the benefits of the leaks could have been achieved with only three or four documents and that the flood of documents released harmed United States intelligence and national interests. Do you believe that if you'd leaked less you might have had the same effect?

          Snowden: No. What he's actually arguing here is not against me, it's against journalism. He's criticizing the journalists who continue to report on the archive and continue to break stories that are changing law and policy today.

          What does it mean when we're saying to journalists that it's O.K. if they run the first three stories, but after they run the next three or the next 300, that's too much? Who makes that decision? I believe that it should be the press. They're the best placed to make those decisions, and that's why we have the First Amendment.

          I'm certainly with you there. You don't speak a lot of Russian, and it's not a place you particularly wanted to be. What do you do all day?

          Snowden: I speak at conferences in Athens mostly.

          It's an income.

          Snowden: No, but seriously, I've always been sort of an indoor cat. My life has been the internet. This is an explanation for why I was so moved by what I witnessed at the N.S.A. What we saw in 2013 wasn't just about surveillance; it was about rights and democracy.

          When many people think about privacy they think about their Facebook settings, but privacy is actually the fountainhead of all our rights. It is the right from which all others are derived and is what makes you an individual. It is the right to an independent mind and life.

          Freedom of speech doesn't have meaning without the protected space to speak freely. The same [goes] for freedom of religion: If you can't decide for yourself what you want to worship, you'll simply adopt whatever is popular or whatever the state religion is to avoid the judgment of others.

          The less power you wield within society, the stronger your case for your personal privacy. If you're an individual and you don't really have any influence over anything, you are the target audience for which privacy was designed. If you're a public official, if you enjoy an incredible amount of privilege and influence, transparency is intended for you. It's the only way that we can hold you to the account of our standards and laws and be able to cast our votes in an informed way.

          You've said that you think of yourself as still working for the United States. Could you explain what you mean by that?

          Snowden: Being patriotic doesn't simply mean agreeing with your government. Being willing to disagree, particularly in a risky manner, is actually what we need more of today. When we have this incredible, often fact-free environment where politicians can make claims and then they're reported as truth, how do we actually steer democracy? If we have facts, we can help facilitate democracy, and this is my role.



          6)  In Cuban Town That Hershey Built, Memories Both Bitter and Sweet

           DEC. 7, 2016



          The Camilo Cienfuegos train station in Cuba, where Hershey signs still hang in a nod to a bygone era, when the town produced sugar for Milton S. Hershey, the American chocolate baron.CreditLisette Poole for The New York Times 

          CAMILO CIENFUEGOS, Cuba — The sugar refinery has been closed for 14 years, yet Amarylis Ribot still misses the whoop of the steam whistle that signaled the changes in work shifts.

          She misses the smell of the harvest — "an odor difficult to explain," she said — and the sweetness hanging in the air. She misses the sound of industry, like the clack of the trains bringing in raw cane and hauling away sacks of sugar, but mostly at night, after she turns off the television.

          "It's a big mix of emotions," Ms. Ribot, 68, said. "Industry is no longer, so nostalgia takes its place."

          This small town on Cuba's northern coast is steeped in memory and wistfulness, a kind of living monument to the intertwined histories of the United States and Cuba and to the successes and failures of Fidel Castro's social revolution.

          The town dates to 1916, when Milton S. Hershey, the American chocolate baron, visited Cuba for the first time and decided to buy sugar plantations and mills on the island to supply his growing chocolate empire in Pennsylvania. On land east of Havana, he built a large sugar refinery and an adjoining village — a model town like his creation in Hershey, Pa. — to house his workers and their families.

          He named the place Hershey.

          The village would come to include about 160 homes — the most elegant made of stone, the more modest of wooden planks — built along a grid of streets and each with tidy yards and front porches in the style common in the growing suburbs of the United States. It also had a public school, a medical clinic, shops, a movie theater, a golf course, social clubs and a baseball stadium where a Hershey-sponsored team played its home games, residents said.

          The factory became one of the most productive sugar refineries in the country, if not in all of Latin America, and the village was the envy of surrounding towns, which lacked the standard of living that Mr. Hershey bestowed on his namesake settlement.


          The old sugar mill in Camilo Cienfuegos. The Cuban sugar business declined after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in the early 2000s, the government shut scores of sugar plants, including the one here. CreditLisette Poole for The New York Times 

          The company owned all the properties in the village but was a benevolent patron, residents said. It paid relatively high salaries, subsidized the housing and sought to keep its employees and their families happy, responding quickly to home repair issues and maintaining public utilities.

          "This was a place separate from the rest of the country," said Pedro Gonzalez Bernal, 67, a lifelong resident of the village and a radio journalist, whose father worked as a conductor on the rail line Mr. Hershey built to connect the refinery with Havana and the port of Matanzas. "We were a little world apart."

          But the company's imported mores also included class and racial segregation: The American supervisors lived in the biggest houses, the laborers in the smallest; black workers were assigned homes on the farthest edge of town.

          Mr. Hershey died in 1945 and the company sold the plant and village, along with his other Cuban holdings, in 1948.

          After Mr. Castro's ascent in 1959, the refinery was nationalized and the town was renamed Camilo Cienfuegos, after one of Mr. Castro's commanders. Segregation ended, current residents say proudly, and the homes were redistributed as Mr. Castro's socialism sought to flatten class and racial hierarchies.

          But with the shift in ownership, attention to detail in town gradually began to slip, residents say. Residents became responsible for repairs to their homes, and lower state wages meant that the cost of those repairs was often out of reach. An annual party was eventually discontinued. The baseball stadium was demolished.

          Still, the sugar refinery remained among the most productive in the country, helping make Cuba the world's biggest sugar exporter and sugar the backbone of the Cuban economy. But the Cuban sugar business declined after the collapse of the Soviet Union, its principal sponsor, and in the early 2000s the government shut scores of sugar plants, including the one here.


          The town that Mr. Hershey built dates to 1916. The village would come to include about 160 homes — the most elegant made of stone, the more modest of wooden planks — each with tidy yards and front porches in the style common in the growing suburbs of the United States.CreditLisette Poole for The New York Times 

          Residents were told that the old Hershey refinery had to close because it was no longer efficient; everyone blamed the United States embargo for making the import of supplies and necessary spare parts more difficult, if not impossible.

          But unlike similar shutdowns in certain American industrial towns, the closing of the refinery here did not kill the local economy, residents said. The Cuban government helped the workers find new jobs. Some were sent back to school to prepare for work in different industries, while others were placed in growing sectors like tourism.

          "They weren't left without work, obviously," said Mercedes Díaz Hernandez, 69, Mr. Gonzalez's wife, as if to suggest that the notion of unemployment in Cuba was an absurdity.

          Villagers and factory employees responded to the government's decision with obedience and loyalty. There were no public protests or insurrections, residents said.

          "It's easy to understand," Mr. Gonzalez said in an interview at his home in Camilo Cienfuegos last week.

          If the factory is stuck in a pattern of economic inefficiency, he continued, "it's necessary to shut it down for the well-being of the country and the well-being of the revolution." His television was tuned to a broadcast tracking Mr. Castro's funeral cortège as it rolled across the country.

          "The refinery was always a source of pride," Mr. Gonzalez said. "We keep feeling pride."

          But many in the village have quietly wrestled with a feeling of loss.


          Jesús Zenon Aresbello, 80, has lived his entire life in the village. "Everyone wanted to leave it to their children, to their grandchildren," he said, referring to the sugar refinery. CreditLisette Poole for The New York Times 

          The plant had been "the center of life here," said Ms. Ribot, whose father was the director of the Hershey refinery for several years beginning in the late 1960s.

          Jesús Zenon Aresbello, 80, who has lived his entire life in the village, said that "everyone wanted to leave it to their children, to their grandchildren."

          The town's slide accelerated after the plant closed, residents said. And though the place is still unlike any other in Cuba, it has fallen into a state of general raggedness, not unlike the rest of the country.

          The condition of many houses show owners doing their best on few resources: clean, tidy interiors and yards, but the structures held together through a patchwork of repair jobs done on the cheap.

          Weeds have reclaimed sidewalks, while mounds of trash dot the roadside. Faded revolutionary slogans painted on walls seem undercut against the backdrop of a warehouse's broken windows or a nearby home's collapsed roof.

          In recent months, most of the sugar factory's buildings were demolished and the debris carted away, leaving a vast and mostly empty wasteland strewn with rubble and twisted metal, and punctuated by three vestigial smokestacks.

          "I'm a Fidelista, entirely in favor of the revolution," declared Meraldo Nojas Sutil, 78, who moved to Hershey when he was 11 and worked in the plant during the 1960s and '70s. "But slowly the town is deteriorating."

          Many residents do not hesitate to draw a contrast between the current state of the town and the way that it looked when "Mr. Hershey," as he is invariably called here, was the boss.

          Residents seem amused by, if not proud of, the ties to the United States.

          Most still use the village's original name, pronounced locally as "AIR-see." And Hershey signs still hang at the town's train station, a romantic nod to a bygone era, though perhaps also a symbol of hope that the past — at least, certain aspects of it — will again become the present.

          Continue reading the main story



          7)  WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Denies Rape in Detailed Account of Encounter

           DEC. 7, 2016



          LONDON — Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, offered his most detailed and public account on Wednesday of events that led to a rape accusation against him in Sweden, saying he was innocent and had engaged in "consensual and enjoyable sex" with the accuser.

          Last month, questions prepared by Swedish prosecutors were posed to Mr. Assange at the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he has been living since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over the rape accusation. The questions were asked by an Ecuadorean prosecutor under an agreement made by the two countries in August.

          But in a move that is likely to irk Swedish prosecutors, whom Mr. Assange has denounced for forcing him to remain confined in the embassy for the past six years, the WikiLeaks founder on Wednesday released the answers he gave during the interview. In the 19-page statement, which reads alternately like a legal defense brief and an emotional airing of personal grievances, he writes that he is "entirely innocent" and had engaged in "consensual and enjoyable" sex with the woman who accused him of rape.

          Karin Rosander, a spokeswoman for the Swedish Prosecution Authority, said Wednesday that the authority was still waiting for a written report on Mr. Assange's questioning from the Ecuadorean prosecutor.

          WikiLeaks has courted controversy by publishing confidential and damaging information from the United States and other countries. During the American presidential election, WikiLeaks came under renewed scrutiny for distributing hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee, and Mr. Assange acknowledged that he was timing their release to do maximum harm to the White House prospects of Hillary Clinton.

          Mr. Assange, 45, an Australian, has refused to go to Sweden to face the rape accusation for fear, he says, of being extradited to the United States and being jailed for life, even though the Swedish authorities have sought to allay such concerns. No formal charges have been filed against him.

          In the statement detailing his account of his relationship with his accuser, referred to as "SW," whom he met in August 2010, Mr. Assange railed against the Swedish authorities, saying that he had been forced to endure "six years of unlawful, politicized detention without charge."

          He said that, as a result of the American government's aggressive stance toward WikiLeaks, his bank cards were blocked after he arrived in Sweden in 2010, forcing him to depend on the hospitality of others.

          During his trip, he said, he met a woman, who "made it very clear that she wanted to have sexual intercourse with me." After having sex several times that night and the next morning, he says they parted amicably. But several days later she called to say that she was at a hospital and asked him to meet her there to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

          Because he was busy dealing with "escalating political and legal threats" from the Pentagon, he said, he agreed to meet her the next day in a nearby park at lunchtime. "You can imagine my disbelief," he told investigators, "when I woke the next morning to the news that I had been arrested in my absence for 'rape' and that the police were 'hunting' all over Stockholm for me."

          "I immediately made myself available to Swedish authorities to clarify any questions that might exist, even though I had no obligation to do so," he said.

          In the interview, Mr. Assange criticized the Swedish authorities, saying that despite the fact that the chief prosecutor of Stockholm, Eva Finne, had closed her investigation and said that no crime had been committed, another Swedish prosecutor had reopened an investigation and issued an extradition warrant for his arrest.

          Citing a determination by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that the Swedish and British governments had "arbitrarily detained" him since 2010, Mr. Assange said that he had been denied due process and had endured "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment."

          In August 2015, prosecutors dropped their investigation into two possible charges — one of unlawful coercion, another of sexual molestation — after running out of time to question Mr. Assange. But he still faces the more serious accusation of rape.

          In October 2015, the London police ended their round-the-clock surveillance outside the embassy, saying it was taking up too many resources, but they said they were prepared to arrest Mr. Assange if he tried to leave the compound.



          8)  Cuba's Surge in Tourism Keeps Food Off Residents' Plates


          HAVANA — For Lisset Felipe, privation is a standard facet of Cuban life, a struggle shared by nearly all, whether they're enduring blackouts or hunting for toilet paper.

          But this year has been different, in an even more fundamental way, she said. She has not bought a single onion this year, nor a green pepper, both staples of the Cuban diet. Garlic, she said, is a rarity, while avocado, a treat she enjoyed once in a while, is all but absent from her table.

          "It's a disaster," said Ms. Felipe, 42, who sells air-conditioners for the government. "We never lived luxuriously, but the comfort we once had doesn't exist anymore."

          The changes in Cuba in recent years have often hinted at a new era of possibilities: a slowly opening economy, warming relations with the United States after decades of isolation, a flood of tourists meant to lift the fortunes of Cubans long marooned on the outskirts of modern prosperity.

          But the record arrival of nearly 3.5 million visitors to Cuba last year has caused a surging demand for food, causing ripple effects that are upsetting the very promise of Fidel Castro's Cuba.

          Tourists are quite literally eating Cuba's lunch. Thanks in part to the United States embargo, but also to poor planning by the island's government, goods that Cubans have long relied on are going to well-heeled tourists and the hundreds of private restaurants that cater to them, leading to soaring prices and empty shelves.

          Without supplies to match the increased appetite, some foods have become so expensive that even basic staples are becoming unaffordable for regular Cubans.

          "The private tourism industry is in direct competition for good supplies with the general population," said Richard Feinberg, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and specialist on the Cuban economy. "There are a lot of unanticipated consequences and distortions."

          There has long been a divide between Cubans and tourists, with beach resorts and Havana hotels effectively reserved for outsiders willing to shell out money for a more comfortable version of Cuba. But with the country pinning its hopes on tourism, welcoming a surge of new travelers to feed the anemic economy, a more basic inequality has emerged amid the nation's experiment with capitalism.

          Rising prices for staples like onions and peppers, or for modest luxuries like pineapples and limes, have left many unable to afford them. Beer and soda can be hard to find, often snapped up in bulk by restaurants.

          It is a startling evolution in Cuba, where a shared future has been a pillar of the revolution's promise. While the influx of new money from tourists and other visitors has been a boon for the island's growing private sector, most Cubans still work within the state-run economy and struggle to make ends meet.

          President Raúl Castro has acknowledged the surge in agricultural prices and moved to cap them. In a speech in April, he said the government would look into the causes of the soaring costs and crack down on middlemen for price gouging, with limits on what people could charge for certain fruits and vegetables.

          "We cannot sit with our hands crossed before the unscrupulous manner of middlemen who only think of earning more," he told party members, according to local news reports.

          But the government price ceilings seem to have done little to provide good, affordable produce for Cubans. Instead, they have simply moved goods to the commercial market, where farmers and vendors can fetch higher prices, or to the black market.

          Havana offers stark examples of this growing chasm.

          At two state-run markets, where the government sets prices, the shelves this past week were monuments to starch — sweet potatoes, yucca, rice, beans and bananas, plus a few malformed watermelons with pallid flesh.

          As for tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cucumbers, garlic or lettuce — to say nothing of avocados, pineapples or cilantro — there were only promises.

          "Try back Saturday for tomatoes," one vendor offered. It was more of question than a suggestion.

          But at a nearby co-op market, where vendors have more freedom to set their prices, the fruits and vegetables missing from the state-run stalls were elegantly stacked in abundance. Rarities like grapes, celery, ginger and an array of spices competed for shoppers' attentions.

          The market has become the playground of the private restaurants that have sprung up to serve visitors. They employ cadres of buyers to scour the city each day for fruits, vegetables and nonperishable goods, bearing budgets that overwhelm those of the average household.

          "Almost all of our buyers are paladares," said one vendor, Ruben Martínez, using the Cuban name for private restaurants, which include about 1,700 establishments across the country. "They are the ones who can afford to pay more for the quality."

          By Cuban standards, the prices were astronomic. Several Cuban residents said simply buying a pound of onions and a pound of tomatoes at the prices charged that day would consume 10 percent or so of a standard government salary of about $25 a month.

          "I don't even bother going to those places," said Yainelys Rodriguez, 39, sitting in a park in Havana while her daughter climbed a slide. "We eat rice and beans and a boiled egg most days, maybe a little pork."

          Mrs. Rodriguez's family is on the lower end of the income ladder, so she supplements earnings with the odd cleaning job she can find. With that, she cares for her two children and an infirm mother.

          Trying to buy tomatoes, she said, "is an insult."

          Another mother, Leticia Alvarez Cañada, described what it was like to prepare decent meals for her family with prices so high. "We have to be magicians," she said.

          The struggle is somewhat easier now that she is in the private sector and no longer working for the government, she said. She quit her job as a nurse to start a small business selling fried pork skin and other snacks from a cart. Now she earns about 10 times more every month.

          "The prices have just gone crazy in the last few years," said Mrs. Cañada, 41. "There's just no equilibrium between the prices and the salaries."

          While many Cubans have long been hardened to the reality of going without, never more than during what they call the "Special Period" after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new dynamic that has emerged in recent months threatens the nation's future, experts warn.

          "The government has consistently failed to invest properly in the agriculture sector," said Juan Alejandro Triana, an economist at the University of Havana. "We don't just have to feed 11 million people anymore. We have to feed more than 14 million."

          "In the next five years, if we don't do something about it, food will become a national security issue here," he added.

          The government gives Cubans ration books to help provide staples like rice, beans and sugar, but they do not cover items like fresh produce. Tractors and trucks are limited and routinely break down, often causing the produce to spoil en route. Inefficiency, red tape and corruption at the local level also stymie productivity, while a lack of fertilizer reduces yield (though it keeps produce organic, by default).

          Economists also argue that setting price ceilings can discourage farmers and sellers. If prices are set so low they cannot turn a profit, they argue, why bother working? Most will try to redirect their goods to the private or black market.

          "From the point of view of the farmer, what would you do?" asked Dr. Feinberg, the California professor. "When the differentials are that great, it requires a really selfless or foolish person to play by the rules."

          Paladares sometimes go directly to farms to buy goods, and even provide farmers seeds for specialty products that do not ordinarily grow in Cuba, like arugula, cherry tomatoes and zucchini.

          Most acknowledge that they distort the market in some ways, and this year the government stopped issuing licenses for new restaurants in Havana. But some restaurant owners argue that it is the government's responsibility to create better supply.

          "It's true, the prices keep going up and up," said Laura Fernandez, a manager at El Cocinero, a former peanut-oil factory converted into a high-priced restaurant. "But that's not just the fault of the private sector. There is generally a lot of chaos and disorder in the market."

          On the outskirts of Havana, Miguel Salcines has cultivated a beautiful farm. Rows of tidy crops stretch toward the edge of his modest 25 acres, where he employs about 130 people.

          Though he grows standard products on behalf of the government, there is no product he is more excited about than his new zucchini. A farmer for nearly 50 years, he had never grown the crop before, but planted a batch two months ago.

          Now, the vegetables are coming into shape, the spots of bright orange flowers visible amid the green plumage. He knows this crop is not for the regular market, or for the government. It is like the arugula he grows.

          It is for the tourist market and, by extension, the future.

          "We are talking about an elite market," he said. "The Cuban markets are a market of necessity."



          9)  Scenes From the Last Days at Standing Rock

            DEC. 8, 2016





          CANNON BALL, N.D. – "It is time to dismantle the camp and return to our homes." 

          That was Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, sending a message to tribal members and protesters who have raised tents, teepees, yurts and bunkhouses in a sprawling camp here to fight against the Dakota Access oil pipeline. After months of protest, prayer and violent clashes with law enforcement, he was calling for a withdrawal from the snowpacked prairie.

          But will the protesters stay, or will they go? 

          The fight over the pipeline is now shifting from the protest camps to federal courtrooms and regulators in Washington. The federal government said it would not allow a crucial section of the pipeline to cross under the Missouri River and ordered up a long environmental review to search for alternative routes. 

          The 1,170-mile pipeline is hardly dead. President-elect Donald J. Trump supports finishing the project, and his administration could act to undo the decision handed down this week by the Department of the Army. It is largely already built, and the company behind the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, has denounced the latest move from Washington and vowed to press on. 

          A blizzard scoured the camp this week, lashing the tents and driving hundreds of demonstrators to seek shelter at the Standing Rock Sioux's casino, about 10 miles down the road. North Dakota's winter is deadly, and the storm was just a taste of what's to come — which is why many government officials and now even tribal leaders want the protesters to pull back. 

          "We are thankful for their passion and commitment and we are thankful for them all standing with us," Mr. Archambault said in a video message on Tuesday. "It's time now to enjoy this winter with your families. We need all to respect the host tribe's wishes. We are asking all tribes to pass this on to their members."

          Some may leave. But at the start of the week, many said they were determined to stay, blizzards and all. 
          Here are a few conversations with them about why.

          1. CreditAlyssa Schukar for The New York Times

            Shannon Buffalo, of the Cheyenne River Sioux of South Dakota

            "I've been here since April, since it started. I'm staying here till that black snake don't go through. They said they're not doing it, but they go back on their words." 

          2. Photo

            CreditAlyssa Schukar for The New York Times

            Ernest Abeita, of the Navajo of New Mexico

            "There's nothing but happiness, so I don't want to leave, but I have to go attend to my other duties and my family."

            1. CreditAlyssa Schukar for The New York Times

              Sergio Quiroz, of the Mexica Nation

              "We've been coming here for a couple of months now to show support with our dance, say our prayers."

            2. Photo

              CreditAlyssa Schukar for The New York Times

              Kei Kurimoto, Philadelphia

              "The moment I stepped on to this land you just felt the healing. I went up on the little hill there to watch the sunset, and I just started bawling my eyes out. We have this amazing community that was birthed out of nothing. One of the elder grandmothers, she has this saying that we're in labor and we're birthing a new nation." 

            3. Photo

              CreditAlyssa Schukar for The New York Times

              Amber Cross, of the Sioux Tribe of Oglala Lakota

              "I've been here for over a month," Ms. Cross said, adding that she'll stay "until they kick me out of here." 

            4. Photo

              CreditAlyssa Schukar for The New York Times

              Robin Kills The Enemy and Jenny Kelly, of Multiple Tribes

              Robin Kills the Enemy is Lakota, Navajo, Crow, Ute and Cheyenne, and Jenny Kelly is Rosebud, Sioux and Sicangu. This is their first trip to the camp, and they said they planned to stay all winter. "This is where the creator puts us and wants us to be," said Robin Kills the Enemy.

              CreditAlyssa Schukar for The New York Times

              Tim Lujan, of the Taos Pueblo Tribe in New Mexico

              "It's about brotherhood and being with people who have the same goals in mind. To be here and support and help these people because we've also had our land taken away before," said Mr. Lujan, a veteran who served in the Connecticut and New York National Guard.



          10)  A Dilemma for Humanity: Stark Inequality or Total War

          (Note: These are the only alternatives capitalism has for the human race

          and our planet—war, plague and mass impoverishment for the masses—continued 

          accumulation of more wealth for the one percent! Capitalism MUST GO! —BW)

          ECONOMIC SCENE DEC. 6, 201


          Is there nothing to be done about galloping inequality?

          Last year the typical American family experienced the fastest income gains since the government started measuring them in the 1960s. But the top 1 percent did even better, raising their share of income higher than it was when President Obama took office.

          Mr. Obama has led the most progressive administration since Lyndon B. Johnson's half a century ago, raising taxes on the rich to expand the safety net for the less fortunate. Still, by the White House's own account, eight years of trench warfare in Washington trimmed the top 1-percenters' share, after taxes and transfers, to only 15.4 percent, from 16.6 percent of the nation's income. It increased the slice going to the poorest fifth of families by 0.6 percentage point, to a grand total of 4 percent.

          The policies also helped push the Republican Party even further to the right, leading to the Tea Party — whose rabid opposition to government redistribution still shakes American politics. They did nothing to salve — and perhaps even added to — the stewing resentment of white working-class Americans who feel left out of the nation's advancements, producing the electoral victory for Donald J. Trump, who has proposed a tax plan that amounts to a lavish giveaway to the rich.

          The point is not that President Obama should have done better. He probably did the best he could under the circumstances. The point is that delivering deep and lasting reductions in inequality may be impossible absent catastrophic events beyond anything any of us would wish for.

          History — from Ancient Rome through the Gilded Age; from the Russian Revolution to the Great Compression of incomes across the West in the middle of the 20th century — suggests that reversing the trend toward greater concentrations of income, in the United States and across the world, might be, in fact, nearly impossible.

          That's the bleak argument of Walter Scheidel, a professor of history at Stanford, whose new book, "The Great Leveler" (Princeton University Press), is due out next month. He goes so far as to state that "only all-out thermonuclear war might fundamentally reset the existing distribution of resources." If history is anything to go by, he writes, "peaceful policy reform may well prove unequal to the growing challenges ahead."

          Professor Scheidel does not offer a grand unified theory of inequality. But scouring through the historical record, he detects a pattern: From the Stone Age to the present, ever since humankind produced a surplus to hoard, economic development has almost always led to greater inequality. There is one big thing with the power to stop this dynamic, but it's not pretty: violence.

          The big equalizing moments in history may not have always have the same cause, he writes, "but they shared one common root: massive and violent disruptions of the established order."

          The collapse of the Roman Empire in the second half of the fifth century, reinforced by a bubonic plague pandemic, brought about Western Europe's first great leveling. Productivity collapsed and the aristocracy's far-flung assets were expropriated, while Rome's trade networks and fiscal structures were destroyed.

          Inequality bounced back, of course. By 1300 the richest 5 percent of people had amassed nearly half the wealth in the cities of Italy's Piedmont. But another bubonic plague known in history as the Black Death changed all that, killing a quarter of Europe's population in the 14th century and cutting the share of wealth of Piedmont's rich to under 35 percent.

          Mr. Scheidel's depressing view is bound to upset liberal politicians and social scientists, who quite naturally might prefer to live in a world in which events might move political and social systems to figure out a more equitable way to distribute the fruits of growth without the plague, the guillotine or state collapse.

          History — from Ancient Rome through the Gilded Age; from the Russian Revolution to the Great Compression of incomes across the West in the middle of the 20th century — suggests that reversing the trend toward greater concentrations of income, in the United States and across the world, might be, in fact, nearly impossible.

          That's the bleak argument of Walter Scheidel, a professor of history at Stanford, whose new book, "The Great Leveler" (Princeton University Press), is due out next month. He goes so far as to state that "only all-out thermonuclear war might fundamentally reset the existing distribution of resources." If history is anything to go by, he writes, "peaceful policy reform may well prove unequal to the growing challenges ahead."

          Professor Scheidel does not offer a grand unified theory of inequality. But scouring through the historical record, he detects a pattern: From the Stone Age to the present, ever since humankind produced a surplus to hoard, economic development has almost always led to greater inequality. There is one big thing with the power to stop this dynamic, but it's not pretty: violence.

          The big equalizing moments in history may not have always have the same cause, he writes, "but they shared one common root: massive and violent disruptions of the established order."

          The collapse of the Roman Empire in the second half of the fifth century, reinforced by a bubonic plague pandemic, brought about Western Europe's first great leveling. Productivity collapsed and the aristocracy's far-flung assets were expropriated, while Rome's trade networks and fiscal structures were destroyed.

          Inequality bounced back, of course. By 1300 the richest 5 percent of people had amassed nearly half the wealth in the cities of Italy's Piedmont. But another bubonic plague known in history as the Black Death changed all that, killing a quarter of Europe's population in the 14th century and cutting the share of wealth of Piedmont's rich to under 35 percent.

          Mr. Scheidel's depressing view is bound to upset liberal politicians and social scientists, who quite naturally might prefer to live in a world in which events might move political and social systems to figure out a more equitable way to distribute the fruits of growth without the plague, the guillotine or state collapse.


          President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal did provide a big income-equalizing push, but World War II was much more of a game changer because it raised demand for unskilled labor to support the war effort. CreditGetty Images 

          The standard understanding of inequality's dynamics, at least until recently, was tamer. Posited in the 1950s by the Russian-born American economist Simon Kuznets, it held that disparities would grow in early stages of industrialization, as the successful few took advantage of new opportunities, but stabilize and decline as things like mass education, rising wages and social insurance naturally — and peacefully — raised incomes at the bottom.

          Professor Scheidel's analysis "omits benign forces," said Branko Milanovic, a professor of economics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His book "Global Inequality" (Harvard University Press), published this year, takes a more sympathetic view of Kuznets's analysis.

          "It makes a lot of sense as far as it goes," he said of Professor Scheidel's thesis, "but do I believe this is the entire story about how inequality can decline? No."

          Robert J. Gordon, the economic historian at Northwestern University who recently published "The Rise and Fall of American Growth" (Princeton), also argues that Mr. Scheidel's view is too narrow. Big shocks might be needed to shake societies and their political systems to counteract widening income disparities, he acknowledges, but violence is hardly indispensable.

          President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the New Deal as a huge public effort to restore employment and raise incomes and spending in response to the Depression of the 1930s, not war, Professor Gordon points out.

          "It takes a big shock to create the right political situation, but it is the underlying politics that change things," he said. "The Great Depressioncreated a political opportunity, like the assassination of President Kennedy created a big political moment for Lyndon Johnson."

          Still, violence does seem to pack more punch than other crises. The New Deal did provide a big equalizing push — increasing union membership, providing employment for the less educated and raising tax rates. But World War II was much more of a game changer. For one thing it significantly improved the earnings of those at the bottom of the social system by vastly raising demand for unskilled labor to serve the war effort.

          The sense of social cohesion and sacrifice inspired by the war also underpinned an egalitarian social ethos that supported higher taxes and discouraged titanic profits and pay for chief executives. Between 1939 and 1945 the income share of the richest 10 percent dropped by more than 10 percentage points. And it did not start inching back up until the 1980s.

          But whatever was holding large-scale inequality in check, it is now spent.

          Many social scientists — not to say left-leaning politicians — would like to believe that there are ways to push back: higher minimum wages, perhaps a universal basic income to help curb poverty; sharply higher income tax rates for the rich along with a wealth tax; a weakening of intellectual property rules, curbs on monopolies and coordination of labor standards around the world; maybe a dollop of capital given to each citizen so all can benefit from the high returns on investment.

          Dream on. As Professor Scheidel bluntly puts it: "Serious consideration of the means required to mobilize political majorities for implementing any of this advocacy is conspicuous by its absence."

          So what does this leave us with? Another world war, with or without thermonuclear weapons? Let's hope not. State collapse looks highly unlikely outside of some bits of sub-Saharan Africa. Revolution? Little chance, given the absence of any powerful ideological challenge to capitalism.

          "The world of the future is likely to be quite stable and have very high inequality," Mr. Scheidel told me. Maybe we should just learn to stop worrying and love it.



          11)  The American Dream, Quantified at Last

          (Here is my comment and link to this article:

          Bonnie Weinstein

            San Francisco 1 minute ago

          Income inequality is a systemic problem of capitalism. Yes, "The middle class, not the affluent, deserves a tax cut." But that is not how the mechanism of capitalism works. It operates to increase the rate of profits for the wealthy by any means necessary including, as the article, "A Dilemma for Humanity: Stark Inequality or Total War" by Eduardo Porter describes, by waging total world war or spreading plagues and famine (what the white man did to the native inhabitants of this land)—anything to drastically cut the Earth's population. This is the only solution capitalism has to offer us—death and destruction. Capitalism is production for profit of the wealthy at the expense of everyone and everything else. But there is an alternative that can create economic and social equality, i.e., real democracy, and that alternative is socialism—the only alternative if we are to save the human race and restore health to our planet and the co-inhabitants of our planet. Simply put, socialism is a democratic economic and social system of production for need and want for all, and not for the private profit of the few. It's the only way forward for the human race.

            DEC. 8, 201





          Chance of making more money than your parents if you were …

          Born in 1940

          Born in 1950

          Born in 1960

          Born in 1970

          Born in 1980






          The phrase "American dream" was invented during the Great Depression. It comes from a popular 1931 book by the historian James Truslow Adams, who defined it as "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone."

          In the decades that followed, the dream became a reality. Thanks to rapid, widely shared economic growth, nearly all children grew up to achieve the most basic definition of a better life — earning more money and enjoying higher living standards than their parents had.

          These days, people are arguably more worried about the American dream than at any point since the Depression. But there has been no real measure of it, despite all of the data available. No one has known how many Americans are more affluent than their parents were — and how the number has changed.

          It's a thorny research question, because it requires tracking individual families over time rather than (as most economic statistics do) taking one-time snapshots of the country.

          In 1940, a child born into the average American household had a 92 percent chance of making more money than his or her parents.

          The beginnings of a breakthrough came several years ago, when a team of economists led by Raj Chetty received access to millions of tax records that stretched over decades. The records were anonymous and came with strict privacy rules, but nonetheless allowed for the linking of generations.

          The resulting research is among the most eye-opening economics work in recent years. You've probably heard some of the findings even if you don't realize it. They have shown that the odds of escaping poverty vary widely by region, for instance, an insight that has influenced federal housing policy.

          After the research began appearing, I mentioned to Chetty, a Stanford professor, and his colleagues that I thought they had a chance to do something no one yet had: create an index of the American dream. It took them months of work, using old Census data to estimate long-ago decades, but they have done it. They've constructed a data set that shows the percentage of American children who earn more money — and less money — than their parents earned at the same age.

          The index is deeply alarming. It's a portrait of an economy that disappoints a huge number of people who have heard that they live in a country where life gets better, only to experience something quite different.

          Their frustration helps explain not only this year's disturbing presidential campaign but also Americans' growing distrust of nearly every major societal institution, including the federal government, corporate America, labor unions, the news media and organized religion.

          Yet the data also helps point the way to some promising solutions.

          It begins with children who were born in 1940, less than a decade after the publication of Adams's book, "The Epic of America." The researchers went into the project assuming that most of these children had earned more than their parents — but were surprised to learn that nearly all of them had, said David Grusky, one of the researchers, also of Stanford. About 92 percent of 1940 babies had higher pretax inflation-adjusted household earnings at age 30 than their parents had at the same age. (The results were similar at older ages and for post-tax earnings.)

          The few 1940 children who earned less than their parents were also, for the most part, doing just fine. They were generally earning less because they had grown up rich — children of top corporate executives, say, who became, or married, doctors, lawyers or professors.

          Achieving the American dream was a virtual guarantee for this generation, regardless of whether people went to college, got divorced or suffered a layoff. Why? Because they spent their prime working years in an economy with two wonderful features. It was growing rapidly, and the bounty from its growth flowed to the rich, the middle class and the poor alike.

          Not even the oldest baby boomers, born in the late 1940s and early 1950s, would be quite so lucky. Economic growth began to slow as they were entering the job market in the 1970s, thanks in part to the energy crises. Still, more than three-quarters of these early Baby Boomers would ultimately make more than their parents.

          For children born in 1950, the likelihood of achieving the American Dream had begun to fall but remained very high. 

          You can see the effects on the American dream in the charts here. Each line shows the percentage of children born in a given year who out-earned their parents, with children who grew up poor on the left and rich on the right. The line steadily falls over time, across every economic class.

          In the 1980s, economic inequality began to rise, a result of globalization, technological change, government policies favoring the well-off and a slowdown in educational attainment and the work force's skill level. Together, these forces pinched the incomes of the middle class and the poor. The tech boom of the 1990s helped — slowing the decline of the American dream — but only temporarily.

          For Americans born in 1980 – today's 36-year-olds – that figure dropped to 50 percent.

          For babies born in 1980 — today's 36-year-olds — the index of the American dream has fallen to 50 percent: Only half of them make as much money as their parents did. In the industrial Midwestern states that effectively elected Donald Trump, the share was once higher than the national average. Now, it is a few percentage points lower. There, going backward is the norm.

          Psychology research has shown that people's happiness is heavily influenced by their relative station in life. And it's hard to imagine a more salient comparison than to a person's own parents, particularly at this time of year, when families gather for rituals that have been repeated for decades. "You're going home for the holidays and you compare your standard of living to your parents," Grusky, a sociologist, says. "It's one of the few ties you have over the course of your entire life. Friends come and go. Parents are a constant."

          How, then, can the country revive Adams's dream of a "better and richer and fuller" life for everyone? The solution has to involve some combination of faster economic growth and more widely shared growth.

          The bad news is that lifting G.D.P. growth is terribly difficult. Trump has promised to do so, but offered few specifics. If anything, he favors some of the same policies (deregulation and tax cuts) that have failed in recent decades.

          The better news — potentially — is that lifting growth is the less important half of the equation, notes Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard, another of the researchers: The rise of inequality has damaged the American dream more than the growth slowdown.

          One way to think about inequality's role is to remember that the American economy is far larger and more productive than in 1980, even if it isn't growing as rapidly. Per-capita G.D.P. is almost twice as high now. By itself, that increase should allow most children to live better than their parents.

          They don't, however, because the fruits of growth have gone disproportionately to the affluent.

          The researchers ran a clever simulation recreating the last several decades with the same G.D.P. growth but without the post-1970 rise in inequality. When they did, the share of 1980 babies who grew up to out-earn their parents jumped to 80 percent, from 50 percent. The rise was considerably smaller (to 62 percent) in the simulation that kept inequality constant but imagined that growth returned to its old, faster path.

          The researchers tested two alternate scenarios: one with less inequality, one with faster G.D.P. growth. Inequality mattered more.

          "We need to have more equal growth if we want to revive the American dream," Chetty says.

          Given today's high-tech, globalized economy, the single best step would be to help more middle- and low-income children acquire the skills that lead to good-paying jobs. Notably, most college graduates still earn more than their parents did, other data show — yes, even after taking into account student debt.

          But education is not the only answer. Incomes have also stagnated because of the rise of corporate powerand the weakening of labor unions, leading profits to rise at the expense of wages. The decline of two-parent families plays a role, too. And tax policy has not done enough to push back against these forces: The middle class, not the affluent, deserves a tax cut.

          The painful irony of 2016 is that nostalgia and anger over the fading American dream helped elect a president who may put the dream even further out of reach for many people — taking away their health insurance, supporting ineffective school vouchers and showering government largess on the rich. Every one of those issues will be worth a fight.

          If the American dream could survive the Depression, and then thrive in a way few people imagined, it can survive our current troubles.

          Kevin Quealy contributed research.



          12)  How the Twinkie Made the Superrich Even Richer

          By Michael Corkery and Ben Protess

          December 10, 2016


          As fans gathered on Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, Al Roker pulled upin a big red delivery truck, ready to give America what it wanted: Twinkies.

          The snack cakes flew through the air into the crowd pressed against metal barriers. One man shoved cream-filled treats into his mouth. Another "Today" host tucked Twinkies into the neckline of her dress.

          Across the nation in the summer of 2013, there was a feeding frenzy for Twinkies. The iconic snack cake returned to shelves just months after Hostess had shuttered its bakeries and laid off thousands of workers. The return was billed on "Today" as "the sweetest comeback in the history of ever."

          Nowhere was it sweeter, perhaps, than at the investment firms Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Company, which spent $186 million in cash to buy some of Hostess's snack cake bakeries and brands in early 2013.

          Less than four years later, they sold the company in a deal that valued Hostess at $2.3 billion. Apollo and Metropoulos have now reaped a return totaling 13 times their original cash investment.

          Behind the financial maneuvering at Hostess, an investigation by The New York Times found a blueprint for how private equity executives like those at Apollo have amassed some of the greatest fortunes of the modern era.

          Deals like Hostess have helped make the men running the six largest publicly traded private equity firms collectively the highest-earning executives of any major American industry, according to a joint study that The Times conducted with Equilar, a board and executive data provider. The study covered thousands of publicly traded companies; privately held corporations do not report such data.

          Stephen A. Schwarzman, a co-founder of Blackstone, took home the largest haul last year: nearly $800 million. He and other private equity executives receive more annually than the leaders of Facebook and Apple, companies that revolutionized the way society communicates.

          The top executives at those six publicly traded private equity firms earned, on average, $211 million last year — which is about what Leon Black, a founder of Apollo, received. That amount was nearly 10 times what the average bank chief executive earned, though firms like Apollo face less public scrutiny on pay than banks do.

          Private equity firms note that much of their top executives' wealth stems from owning their own stock and that they have earned their fortunes bringing companies back to life by applying their operational and financial expertise. Hostess, a defunct snack brand that was quickly returned to profitability, is a textbook example of the success of this approach.

          Yet even as private equity's ability to generate huge profits is indisputable, the industry's value to the work force and the broader economy is still a matter of debate. Hostess, which has bounced between multiple private equity owners over the last decade, shows how murky the jobs issue can be.

          In 2012, the company filed for bankruptcy under the private equity firm Ripplewood Holdings. Months later, with Ripplewood having lost control and the company's creditors in charge, Hostess was shut down and its workers sent home for good.

          Without investment from Apollo and Metropoulos, Hostess brands and all those jobs might have vanished forever after the bankruptcy. The way these firms see it, they created a new company and new jobs with higher pay and generous bonuses.

          But the new Hostess employs only 1,200 people, a fraction of the roughly 8,000 workers who lost their jobs at Hostess's snack cake business during the 2012 bankruptcy.

          And some Hostess employees who got their jobs back lost them again. Under Apollo and Metropoulos, Hostess shut down one of the plants they reopened in Illinois, costing 415 jobs.

          The collapse and revival of Hostess illustrates how even in a business success, many workers don't share in the gains. The episode also provides a snapshot of the economic forces that helped propel Donald J. Trump to the White House.

          Since losing his job at Hostess in 2012, Mark Popovich has had three jobs, including one that paid about $10 an hour, half what he made at the Twinkie-maker. A lifelong Democrat and devoted "union man," Mr. Popovich said he supported Mr. Trump, the first time he ever voted Republican.

          "It's getting old, getting bounced around all the time," said Mr. Popovich, a 58-year-old Ohio resident.

          Such frustrations stem from broader shifts in the economy, as all types of companies turn to automation to cut costs and labor unions lose their influence. While these changes have helped keep companies profitable, private equity has used these shifts in the workplace to supercharge wealth far beyond that of the typical chief executive.

          And yet, Mr. Trump did not focus on private equity on the campaign trail, instead blaming the plight of the American working class on a shadowy cabal of elitist Democrats and Wall Street bankers who support trade deals that ship jobs overseas.

          "People understand jobs going to China," said Michael Hillard, an economics professor at the University of Southern Maine. "But no one has ever heard of these private equity firms that come in and do all this financial engineering. It is much more complicated and less visible."

          The industry's trade group, the American Investment Council, says it is sensitive to these issues as private equity's role in the economy expands. The industry now controls huge swaths of the American work force: 4.4 million employees at over 7,500 companies, according to PitchBook, a private financial data platform. By some measures, Blackstone is one of the nation's 10 largest employers and one of its biggest landlords. The firm's co-founder, Mr. Schwarzman, is advising Mr. Trump on job creation.

          "At a time when many Americans are concerned about the country's economic viability, private equity has proven itself in communities throughout the United States as an effective solution," said James Maloney, the American Investment Council's spokesman. "Sustainable growth strategies, adherence to responsible investments and a long-view approach are all a part of the present-day private equity model."

          The Times investigation of the Hostess deal shows that today's private equity also uses another set of tactics, like special dividends and tax arrangements, that maximize profits in creative, yet financially risky ways.

          A year after the layoffs at the Hostess plant in Illinois, Apollo and Metropoulos arranged for the company to borrow about $1.3 billion. Apollo and Metropoulos used most of that sum to pay themselves, and their investors, an early dividend on their investment.

          The firms also found a way to make money even after the company was sold. The firms, The Times investigation found, struck a deal to collect as much as $400 million over the next 15 years, based on what Hostess's future tax savings might be.

          These winnings do not come without risk to the private equity firms, which are often taking a gamble on troubled companies, and when they fail, the firms probably lose out.

          And this is not a simple story of powerful investors enriching themselves while some workers struggle. Teachers and firefighters also benefit from private equity.

          Pension funds that pay retirement benefits to public servants now depend on private equity to generate huge returns. Without it, taxpayers could bear more of the costs.

          "Hostess's comeback was a win-win-win-win," an Apollo spokesman said in a statement, adding that its investment benefited workers, communities, investors and consumers. "After teaming up to take on the daunting financial and operational challenge of creating a new company around the Hostess brand, Apollo and Metropoulos & Co. completed a highly successful private equity investment."

          On a more basic level, Americans enjoy what private equity has owned: GNC vitamins, affordable jewelry at Zales, and birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese's.

          Hostess's new owners rode a wave of nostalgia for the company's snack cakes, a euphoria that even spread to a sprawling Long Island estate. At a wedding there in 2013, packaged cupcakes were offered to guests.

          It may seem an unusual choice, but this party had a special affinity for the snack cake. The bride's father is an executive at Apollo.

          The 'Secret Sauce'

          Leon Black grew up in a family that had a home in Westport, Conn., and an apartment on Park Avenue in Manhattan. He attended Dartmouth and Harvard Business School.

          But when Mr. Black traveled to Lubbock, Tex., to speak to a group of retired teachers, he emphasized a humbler side of his pedigree.

          "You should know," Mr. Black said, according to a video recording of the February 2012 meeting, "my mother was a teacher, my sister was a teacher, my brother-in-law is a teacher. We have a lot of teachers in our family."

          Mr. Black had good reason to flatter the retirees: Pension funds for teachers and other public workers are some of the biggest investors in Apollo's funds and have helped make Mr. Black a very rich man.

          Mr. Black, or an affiliated limited liability company, owns homes in Beverly Hills, Miami Beach and several locations in New York, an analysis of real estate records shows. This year, he bought the $38 million house in Beverly Hills that had belonged to the actor Tom Cruise.

          Private equity's relationship with pension funds is mutually beneficial. As countless baby boomers reach retirement at a time of historically low interest rates, public pension funds need to achieve returns that match their liabilities — and private equity has delivered.

          Nearly half of private equity's invested assets now come from public and private pensions around the world. Private equity uses this pension fund money to place bets on companies like Hostess, and Texas teachers have shared in the profits from the deal.

          The Teacher Retirement System of Texas has invested in the fund that bought Hostess. And that fund has reaped 27 percent net during the three years it owned Hostess, significantly more than the stock market returned in that period.

          "You need to get people in whom you trust and who will keep up our fund," said Fran Plemmons, a former president of the Texas Retired Teachers Association who was a teacher and principal for 25 years. "If they do that, you need to get out of the way."

          Ms. Plemmons said her $31,200 yearly pension allows her to live modestly but comfortably. High returns from private equity investments, she said, help keep pension payments flowing to retired school workers across Texas, which trickles down into the local economy.

          For the teachers in Lubbock, Mr. Black described the "secret sauce" behind its success: buying the debt of financially troubled companies or purchasing an entire company. The investments, he said, are "value-oriented, if not contrarian."

          Hostess fit that formula.

          Not only were Americans turning to healthier snacks and eating less junk food, but Hostess had its own challenges.

          In 2012, the baking company had gone through a bruising bankruptcy, its second in a decade. The company laid off most of its 18,500 unionized drivers, loaders and bakers, not long after the bakers' union voted for a companywide strike rather than accept another round of concessions.

          But what was disaster for previous owners looked like treasure to Apollo and Metropoulos.

          When Hostess lenders auctioned off the company in early 2013, Apollo and Metropoulos bought some of Hostess's snack cake brands, which included Twinkies and Ding Dongs.

          Snack cakes still produced some of the highest profit margins in the food industry and Hostess cakes were particularly well-known. The bankruptcy also provided Apollo and Metropoulos a clean slate, liberating them from union contracts, labor rules and debt and pension payments.

          One group of workers who had no place at the new Hostess: the unionized drivers, who transported snack cakes and bread to grocery stores nationwide.

          Now, Hostess would send its baked goods to warehouses, where retailers like Walmart would ship to individual stores.

          Ronald Litland, 44, delivered Hostess products in Illinois for 10 years. After he was laid off in 2012, he enrolled in a for-profit college in hopes of finding a new career in information technology. When his unemployment benefits ran out, he delivered pizzas. He never finished school, but is still paying back student loans and taking care of his son.

          "I have a hard time making ends meet," said Mr. Litland, who earns about $24,000 a year.

          Like the drivers, Hostess's baking operation was also cut back. Apollo and Metropoulos chose to buy only a handful of its roughly one dozen snack cake bakeries.

          Other parts of the former Hostess baking empire were scaled back as well. Food companies picked off some of Hostess's bread brands, but reopened only a small fraction of the bakeries.

          Before being laid off from Hostess, Mr. Popovich made about $20 an hour. Every year, he went on vacation in the Bahamas or St. Martin. His health insurance covered the $385,000 cost when his wife needed major surgery.

          "I lived a good life," said Mr. Popovich, whose most recent job driving a forklift at a solar panel plant paid about $16 an hour.

          Mr. Popovich is also entitled to a pension, which he was promised after working more than two decades at Hostess. But he recently received a letter at his home in Toledo, Ohio, warning that the pension fund was nearly insolvent.

          Apollo and Metropoulos are not obligated to contribute to the pension fund, which is managed by a labor union. Nor do they have to pay the severance that Hostess was obligated to pay Mr. Popovich when he was laid off. Those liabilities were wiped out in the bankruptcy.

          New Shoes and Dashed Hopes

          At a brick bakery in Schiller Park, Ill., Twinkies started rolling off the line nearly a century ago. And when Apollo and Metropoulos bought some of Hostess's cake plants and brands out of bankruptcy in 2013, Schiller Park's plant was one of the fortunate few to reopen.

          "Schiller Park, We ♥ You," read a billboard that Hostess sponsored in the town, the heart carved into the image of a half-eaten Twinkie.

          The celebration was short-lived. Just over a year after the plant's grand reopening, Hostess shut it down.

          The fallout was swift. All 415 employees were fired, some for the second time in two years. Schiller Park lost one of its largest employers, creating a ripple effect through this tiny working-class suburb of Chicago. The plant itself, an institution so old that it predated nearby O'Hare International Airport, was suddenly vacant.

          "We got our hopes up again," said the town's mayor, Barbara J. Piltaver. "And then all of a sudden, we had a big hit."

          The story behind the rise and fall — and fall again — of the Schiller Park plant encapsulates private equity's relationship with workers and labor unions.

          It's a complicated issue. A prominent study of investments across the country concluded that private equity has increased productivity while leading to a minor overall decline in jobs relative to the broader economy. Private equity's trade group says its own analysis of county demographics found that private equity investment increases jobs growth in local economies, though the data was limited.

          In Schiller Park, Janice Ryan worked at the Hostess plant for about 20 years before the 2012 bankruptcy. She walked to work from her nearby home. And she was relieved to return, after several months of unemployment, to be part of what many workers believed was the company's long-term comeback.

          Schiller Park was a starting point for getting Twinkies back on the shelves by summer 2013. As part of that push, many Schiller Park employees worked 12-hour shifts, six days a week, and could volunteer for a seventh day.

          "We were all proud of what we accomplished," said Michael Spina, who worked for Hostess for many years in St. Louis and then moved to Schiller Park to help manage production when the plant reopened.

          What the workers were never told, however, was that Apollo and Metropoulos had no plans to keep Schiller Park in operation over the long term.

          "Schiller, in essence, was a contingency plan, opened only to ensure that initial demand could be met," Hannah Arnold, a Hostess spokeswoman, said in a statement. She added that the setup of the bakery — its low ceilings and lack of a loading dock — was not conducive to the company's future plans. The company says it could not tell workers of its plans because of labor rules.

          The expendability of Schiller Park reflects Apollo and Metropoulos's plans to run a more efficient operation than their predecessors did. And that model requires far fewer workers than the one that existed for decades.

          In 2012, Hostess had about 8,000 employees and eight bakeries dedicated exclusively to snack cakes. Six other plants produced at least some desserts. Today, the new Hostess has only three plants and 1,200 workers.

          At Schiller Park, some workers earned a dollar less per hour than what workers were paid under the previous owners. Others earned more, the company said. Still, they qualified for bonuses, owed no union dues and received health insurance and dental care. Instead of pensions, they were enrolled in 401(k) plans.

          Former employees recalled grueling shifts when temperatures inside the plant neared 110 degrees. The workers were given Gatorade to rehydrate.

          "Bakeries are hot places," Mr. Spina said. "But Schiller Park could really be a hot son of a bitch."

          Veronica Pacheco, who lives in Schiller Park and joined the Hostess bakery when it reopened in 2013, described "freezing" wintertime conditions that were equally arduous. She said she wore scarves and heavy gloves under her work garments.

          Ms. Arnold, the Hostess spokeswoman, noted that prospective employees answered a questionnaire about whether they were willing to work in "extreme seasonal temperatures." The company said it spent about $100,000 upgrading the heating and air-conditioning system, but stopped short of a total overhaul.

          There were other hazards as well. In 2014, Todd Kemp was injured after heaps of Twinkie mix spilled on the factory floor, causing him to slip and injure his shoulder, back and knee. He has since had four operations.

          Ms. Arnold said Apollo and Metropoulos inherited old equipment, some of it in disrepair, adding that Schiller Park "was in the worst condition of the four bakeries by far."

          C. Dean Metropoulos, the billionaire Greek immigrant whose firm has invested in other well-known food brands like Vlasic pickles and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, personally oversaw the upgrading and cleaning of the facility, Ms. Arnold said.

          "He also focused on ensuring workers had new uniforms and better shoes, to make long days standing more comfortable," she said.

          Over the long term, Apollo and Metropoulos looked outside Schiller Park to generate profits.

          Hostess employed "extended shelf-life technology" to make the Twinkie, already jokingly thought to be capable of surviving nuclear war, even more everlasting.

          The company perfected its secret recipe until it contained the right amount of enzymes to better retain moisture. The enzymes extended shelf life of some products to 65 days from 26 days.

          The company also turned to automation. At a plant in Emporia, Kan., Hostess installed an automated baking system that churned out more cakes with fewer workers.

          William Toler, Hostess's chief executive, said the company spent more than $140 million "to get the business up and running, and certainly our results suggest we made very good choices."

          The Hostess plant in Columbus, Ga., had another advantage: government subsidies. The state's economic development agency provided Hostess with tax credits to push along the deal. The Town of Columbus chipped in a $1 million grant to award Hostess for creating jobs.

          "We're not doing it to be nice guys, we're doing it to create jobs," said Wylly Harrison, who worked on the deal for the Georgia Department of Economic Development and said that the state was thrilled Hostess came back.

          Hostess said it also received incentives from Emporia, the State of Indiana and the City of Indianapolis. Employment totals at those plants have since increased.

          Hostess did not receive any incentives in Illinois.

          Three workers interviewed by The Times said they believed that the final straw for Schiller Park was when they voted to rejoin a union.

          Hostess fought the effort. The company plastered the plant with posters urging workers to vote "no."

          The union prevailed, but not for long. Around the time union officials had planned to start contract negotiations in August 2014, Hostess announced it was shutting down the Schiller Park plant.

          Ms. Arnold, the Hostess spokeswoman, said the unionization vote did not factor into the decision to close Schiller Park. Employees, she said, were provided severance and an opportunity to apply for a Hostess job in another state.

          Union officials declined to comment.

          Since then, unions have made limited inroads at Hostess. Whereas 83 percent of the work force was unionized in 2012, Hostess recently said in a securities filing that about 30 percent of employees belonged to a union in Indianapolis and Columbus. Its flagship facility, Emporia, is not unionized.

          "Both Apollo and Metropoulos have owned and operated numerous companies that had union employees," Ms. Arnold said, adding that "Metropoulos has always enjoyed good, working relations with unions and their members."

          The Money-Making Machine

          For all the profits Apollo and Metropoulos squeezed out of the Hostess factories, a deal hatched in a hotel room on Fifth Avenue in New York shows how private equity can have its snack cake and eat it, too.

          There, in the Versailles Room at the St. Regis, Apollo and Metropoulos began the process of extracting returns from the company, less than a year after shutting the Schiller Park plant.

          Most investors seeking profit have to wait for the right moment to sell a company or take it public. But private equity uses a different playbook.

          First, Apollo and Metropoulos arranged for Hostess to borrow money from the banking giant Credit Suisse. The two firms then pocketed about $900 million of that money for themselves and their investors. Hostess, meanwhile, is stuck repaying the debt.

          This type of deal is known as a dividend recapitalization, and it is a staple of private equity's money-making strategy. These deals provide private equity firms an opportunity to profit before they even sell a company, an added bonus to the firms and their investors, including public pensioners.

          Since 2012, private equity firms have arranged hundreds of such deals, totaling over $148 billion in debt, according to Thomson Reuters. Hostess's dividend deal was the third largest of 2015.

          This financial engineering is crucial to private equity's success — and to building the personal fortunes of the industry's executives. With each dividend recapitalization, more money pours into Apollo, which then flows to the firm's executives.

          It comes with risks. Of all the companies that carried out dividend recapitalizations since 2012, about 10 percent have faced a credit rating downgrade within six months of the deal, according to LCD/S&P Global Market Intelligence and Standard & Poor's Ratings, which notes that many factors could lead to a downgrade, including excessive debt.

          Although Hostess has not been downgraded, it now describes itself in public filings as "highly leveraged."

          Mr. Toler, the Hostess chief, said that even after the dividend payout, the company "had plenty of capital to work with."

          At the same time it was paying dividends to investors, Hostess earmarked $8 million to pay bonuses to workers, including those in the bakeries.

          A few months after the dividend deal, Apollo and Metropoulos entered into negotiations to sell the company. Instead of being sold outright, Hostess would be acquired by a shell company, created by another private equity firm, the Gores Group.

          And still, they arranged more ways to profit. Apollo and Metropoulos retained a combined 42 percent stake in the company, which is now publicly traded.

          After investing only $186 million in cash when they bought the company in 2013 (they took out debt to help finance the rest of the $410 million deal), Apollo and Metropoulos's investment is now worth 13 times that initial cash investment.

          Tracing how these enormous returns wind their way into Mr. Black's pocket is a byzantine task.

          Mr. Black collected a $100,000 salary and no bonus in 2015.

          How did Mr. Black, on such a relatively modest salary, come to acquire an art collection that is said to include one of Edvard Munch's " Scream" series, which he bought in 2012 for about $120 million, then the highest price ever paid for a painting?

          The answer is that Mr. Black and other private equity executives make their money in ways that set them apart from most other industries.

          Mr. Black's share of the Hostess profits, from the partial sale and the $900 million in cash they pulled out of the company, will be reflected in a series of distributions he collects from Apollo's publicly traded stock. The size of the distribution depends on the size of the profits from deals like Hostess.

          Last year, Mr. Black's distributions totaled $181 million.

          Other shareholders in Apollo — which include money managers like Fidelity — also receive these distributions. But Mr. Black, as the largest shareholder of a company he co-founded in 1990, gets the largest payout.

          While Mr. Black receives the most money at Apollo, one of his partners and co-founders, Joshua Harris, took home $121 million last year. Mr. Harris is part owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils.

          Mr. Black has noted that if Apollo's investments fail to make money, then its executives also miss out.

          Like most private equity firms, Apollo collects a management fee from investors and earns 20 percent of profits from the firm's investments, once its investors recoup their original money and reap profits of their own.

          Private equity's advantages don't end there. Apollo's share of the profits on Hostess or any deal ultimately flows to Mr. Black and his fellow shareholders in the company in ways that lower their tax burden.

          The industry's 20 percent cut of profits — also known as carried interest — is taxed at a long-term capital gains rate that is roughly half the 40 percent ordinary income rate for the nation's highest earners. And since private equity executives receive much of their money from carried interest — or in the case of Mr. Black, distributions largely made up of carried interest — they enjoy a tax advantage over workers.

          This is what's known as the "carried-interest loophole" — a tax treatment held up during the presidential campaign as evidence that the rich fail to pay their fair share.

          Private equity managers argue that this treatment is not a loophole or even unique to private equity. Its use originated from the cut of profits that ship captains reaped for "carrying" goods.

          In the Hostess deal, Apollo and Metropoulos found even more ways to use the tax code to their advantage.

          The firms are entitled to collect a large portion of tax benefits that Hostess could earn well into the future. The idea is that by selling a stake in Hostess before they could realize these benefits, Apollo and Metropoulos could leave money on the table.

          These arrangements, which are now commonplace in private deals, allow the firms to collect cash from a company they may no longer own.

          The Hostess "tax-receivable" benefits, according to previously unreported securities filings and estimates by the Apollo spokesman, could provide Apollo and Metropoulos up to $400 million for the next 15 years or more.

          Looking out over those next 15 years, nothing seems guaranteed to Mr. Popovich, the former Hostess worker from Toledo. Right before Thanksgiving, Mr. Popovich was laid off from his most recent job at the solar panel plant.

          The idea of searching for work at age 58 is daunting. He has been sending out his résumé, but has not received a call back.

          "It's been four jobs in four years," he said. "Here we go again."

          How the Twinkie Made the Superrich Even 



          13)  Wall Street Is Europe's Landlord. And Tenants Are Fighting Back

          DEC. 10, 2016


          DUBLIN — The Tobun family never missed a rental payment on their modest brick rowhouse in eight years. But in February, the couple, who have two young children, received a letter warning that they would be evicted when their lease expired. Forty of their neighbors got the same notice.

          When they went to investigate, the tenants, in the working-class suburb of Tyrrelstown, discovered a trail that led all the way to Wall Street.

          After Europe was ravaged by a financial and economic crisis, the giant investment bank Goldman Sachs snapped up huge swaths of distressed debt in Ireland, including the loans of Tyrrelstown's developer in 2014. The developer now wants out of the rental game and is selling the properties. As the owner of the loans, Goldman will reap a large portion of the proceeds.

          Goldman has nothing to do with the possible evictions here. But because American banks have played such a large role in Europe's housing recovery — and have made huge profits in the process — they have become the main target of a growing backlash among homeowners and renters.

          "Somehow, these funds have gotten involved in our community," Funke Tobun said. "They're profiting, but it's the people who are being made to suffer."

          Wall Street has become the biggest new landlord in Europe, as American financial firms have swept into cities, suburbs and towns to take to advantage of the fallout from the worst economic downturnsince World War II. In the last four years, Goldman Sachs, Cerberus Capital Management, Lone Star Funds, Blackstone Group and others from America have bought more than 223 billion euros' worth of troubled real estate loans around Europe, nearly 80 percent of the total sold.

          The firms have made the usual calculation: buy distressed investments on the cheap during tough times, betting that the outlook will eventually turn and riches will follow. And the firms are paying little or no tax, by employing complex strategies that often involve subsidiaries with no operations or staff.

          The huge profits and dubious tax strategies have made Wall Street a major object of frustration and anger, as people grapple with evictions and higher mortgage payments. In some cases, the Wall Street firms are passive players, the money men behind the landlords, developers or banks that are exerting force. In other cases, they are direct participants taking action.

          Despite the controversy, the firms — and their purchases — have played a vital role in the cleanup of Europe's mess.

          In places like Ireland and Spain, governments and banks for years fostered reckless, debt-fueled property booms. When the bubbles burst, the countries were saddled with bad loans and their economies faltered.

          Wall Street stepped in, buying mortgages on commercial properties, rental developments and even individual homes. The much-needed cash helped mend national finances, halt plunging property values and clean up banks' books.

          "Investment by foreign capital has helped restart the system and accelerate the adjustment and recovery," a spokesman for Goldman, Sebastian Howell, said.

          But the recovery has been uneven, leaving homeowners and renters with few options after they run into trouble.

          Homeowners who have fallen behind are being pressured to accept harsher terms that could tilt them toward foreclosure. Residents are being plied with fees that make it harder to stay in their properties. And even tenants who have not missed rental payments are being forced out at a time when rising property values make it difficult to find affordable housing.

          Whether or not Wall Street is directly involved, activists are invoking the firms to fire up the masses. "It's important to remember that these funds are not mainstream banks or charities," said David Hall, director of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organization, a nonprofit that helps troubled homeowners. "They sell to make profit and they exit."

          Protesters have occupied empty apartments in Barcelona whose mortgages had been bought by Blackstone, and rallied around tenants in Madrid who were served eviction recently by a Goldman-run subsidiary. In Ireland, homeowners seeking protection have demonstrated outside Parliament.

          The deals are now getting a second look. The Spanish authorities are putting in place protections for tenants and homeowners. The Irish finance minister introduced legislation in October to tighten oversight of Wall Street's tax arrangements.

          In Tyrrelstown, tenants have asked the government to intervene, so they can remain in their homes. After receiving their eviction letters, several families moved into a hostel.

          "They couldn't stand the pressure," Mrs. Tobun said. "They were scared of ending up homeless."

          Fallout From the Bust

          For decades, Tyrrelstown was a blank slate on the northwestern edge of Dublin, acres of rolling fields with just a few homes dotting the landscape.

          When Ireland joined the euro currency union in 1999, it all changed. Foreign capital flooded the country, and the economy soared. With seemingly endless growth in this so-called Celtic Tiger, banks made freewheeling loans to property developers like Rick and Michael Larkin, the brothers behind Twinlite, the developer that built Mrs. Tobun's home.

          The brothers undertook one of Ireland's most ambitious developments. More than 2,000 cookie-cutter-style homes were erected over vacant land that had at one point been targeted for a landfill. With three floors, modest kitchens and tidy backyards, the properties attracted teachers, police officers and other working-class tenants to an increasingly multicultural enclave.

          By 2006, the Larkins had added a sprawling retail center to Tyrrelstown along with a $40 million luxury four-star hotel, with 155 rooms, a fusion restaurant and an oak-paneled boardroom. At a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bertie Ahern, then Ireland's prime minister, promoted the construction as "a vote of confidence by its developers in the future of our economy."

          Similar developments sprouted up across the country. By 2006, bank lending for development had grown in Ireland to more than €95 billion, from €5.5 billion in 1999. Construction comprised a quarter of the country's economic activity.

          Then the global financial crisis struck in 2008, and the Irish economy began to crumble. Despite warning signs, the Larkins kept building, unveiling plans for a €100 million, 11-story indoor ski slope and ice-climbing center. As the crisis deepened, city planners rejected the project.

          Many developers and homeowners could not pay their loans, leaving banks saddled with huge portfolios of troubled debt. Banks began frantically looking for ways to reduce their loads, even trying to get rid of the loans of borrowers like Twinlite that had not fallen behind. The government helped accelerate the process, setting up the National Asset Management Agency to package and sell off bad loans, a role that was expanded after Ireland's bailout in 2010.

          Wall Street firms saw opportunity, with loans selling at up to 70 percent off their face value. The firms bought nearly €100 billion worth of Irish distressed debt.

          Twinlite's loans in Tyrrelstown were among those picked up in the frenzy by Beltany Property Finance, a Goldman affiliate. Twinlite said it opposed the sale and sued the issuing bank, unsuccessfully, to have it halted.

          After that, Tyrrelstown residents faced two options: buy their properties or face eviction when the leases expired.

          The developer, also acting as a lender, offered Mrs. Tobun a €200,000 loan to buy her place. But Mrs. Tobun, who nets €1,000 a month caring for older people, could not afford the €16,000 down payment. Her husband, who drives a taxi, could expect to earn €40 on a 12-hour shift, compared with almost €150 before the crisis.

          Her worst fear, Mrs. Tobun said, was that her family might wind up among the growing ranks of the homeless.

          Ireland is now enjoying a robust recovery. But growth has been fueled partly by financial maneuvering, and the real underlying gains are far from even. More than 5,000 people have been left homeless by the crisis, with the government subsidizing many in shelters.

          Mrs. Tobun does not have many options. She does not want to move farther out, since it would mean changing schools for her son who has special needs. A nearby rental is too expensive. Rents in Ireland have risen around 20 percent since the crisis as home construction dried up after the bust.

          Still, the eviction effort showed that her home and the others in Tyrrelstown were worth much more as empty sales properties than as long-term rentals. In a statement, the Larkin family denied that Goldman's subsidiary exerted pressure to end the leases or sell. The statement said a Larkin-owned company wanted to exit the residential rental business, given regulatory changes and improving market conditions.

          For Tyrrelstown residents, the eviction battles have been an all-consuming ordeal. After receiving a notice in May, Gillian Murphy and her partner, Damien Moore, refused to move from the home they had rented for six years. One of their three children has autism, and switching schools would put him at the bottom of the list for programs elsewhere.

          Soon after the family received their eviction notice, two men working for the Larkin-owned entity arrived at their home and began taking pictures. "Everyone is petrified of these people because we don't know who they are or what the purpose is," Ms. Murphy said.

          A Winning Hand

          Before last year, few people in Ireland had heard of Cerberus Capital. Like other Wall Street players, Cerberus came into the country quietly, creating a local subsidiary under a different name and setting up a complex and extensive web of interconnected businesses.

          There are the 13 subsidiaries in Dublin, all with Promontoria in their names. They have no employees and no offices. They are all registered to the same address on Grant's Row, a letterbox near Parliament. Those subsidiaries, in turn, are subsidiaries of holding companies in the Netherlands, more than 110 of which had the Promontoria name.

          The structure has helped Cerberus profit in Ireland. Through the subsidiaries, Cerberus bought around €17 billion worth of loans on properties in Ireland and Britain in two years, for just under €6 billion euros. In Ireland alone, Cerberus has been earning hundreds of millions of euros in interest and other income.

          The setup, promoted by the Irish government along with other tax strategies, allows for a bit of tax magic that can make those profits seem to disappear.

          To buy the debt, Cerberus's Dutch Promontoria companies lent Cerberus's Irish Promontoria firms money at a high interest rate. The Irish businesses ended up paying roughly the same amount in interest that was earned on the real estate investments. Since the interest was deductible, Cerberus cut its tax bill drastically.

          One Irish subsidiary, Promontoria Eagle, which bought distressed loans in Northern Ireland and Britain, earned interest income in 2014 of 111 million British pounds on the deal, or around $140 million. After deducting interest charges and management and audit fees, taxable profit was only £7,788. The resulting tax charge in Ireland: just £1,947.

          Corporate filings for five other Irish subsidiaries of Cerberus, provided by DueDil, a corporate intelligence firm, show the same pattern: taxable profit and tax charges reduced to nearly identical numbers. Portfolios with up to £1 billion worth of loans wound up with tax charges of less than £2,000.

          Other Wall Street firms employed a similar method. Beltany, the Goldman subsidiary, earned interest income of €44 million on debt portfolios in Ireland at the end of 2014. After lowering taxable profit to €1,000, it netted a tax charge of €250, filings show.

          Lone Star collected interest income of more than $970 million at the end of 2014. Its taxable profit was just over $11 million, resulting in a tax charge of less than $1 million.

          "Wall Street firms have made a lot of profit from other people's misfortunes, and on top of that they've systematically structured things so they pay almost no tax," said James Stewart, a finance professor at Trinity College, Dublin. "So what's their contribution to society?"

          Cerberus and Lone Star declined to comment. Goldman said that Beltany followed Irish law and that the interest it collected was subject to United States tax.

          Fighting Back

          On a warm summer day, 20 people crowded into a basement in central Dublin. The dimly lit room had recently been converted into makeshift headquarters for the Hub, a grass-roots operation that enlisted volunteer accountants and lawyers to help people who were facing eviction.

          David Walsh, a former firefighter living in Ballybunion, on the west coast of Ireland, drove six hours to attend the meeting. Two years ago, Lone Star's Irish affiliate had scooped up the mortgage on his family's award-winning bed-and-breakfast, the Ballybunion B&B, for a fraction of the original cost. He was angered that he had not been allowed to buy back his loan at the cheap price the fund received.

          Soon after, he said, the affiliate mounted an effort to increase his mortgage payments. In the crisis, his bookings had slumped badly, and his original bank had agreed to lower his monthly payments to €800 from €2,000.

          "They phoned me every day of the week and at night saying we have to increase the payments," Mr. Walsh said of the Lone Star affiliate.

          When the Hub's lawyers questioned the legality of Lone Star's ownership of his mortgage, Mr. Walsh diverted his loan payments into an escrow fund as a form of protest until the issue could be resolved. "The amount of harm being done to vulnerable people is immense," he said.

          Mr. Walsh was threatened with foreclosure, which he continues to fight.

          A broader rebellion has barreled ahead in Spain, where Blackstone, Goldman and other American firms bought residential properties, including subsidized rentals.

          While low-income rentals represent a small piece of their portfolios, the companies ignited a firestorm when they began evicting squatters, in an effort to improve property values. The activist group P.A.H. organized protests around Spain and outside Blackstone's New York headquarters.

          Blackstone and Goldman said they had evicted just a small number of squatters and aimed to keep renters in the properties long-term. Goldman said its policy was to help certain distressed tenants avoid eviction.

          The perceived invasion has prompted a political reassessment. Some Spanish regional authorities have passed laws intended to clamp down on Wall Street's involvement. Catalonia now requires firms to offer cheap alternative housing to tenants. The local authorities can also buy back homes or expropriate them if they are left empty for three years.

          So popular was the anti-eviction movement that Ada Colau, its main leader, was elected mayor of Barcelona last year. "The opacity and distance of a fund that is based much farther away makes it a lot harder to hold it responsible," she said.

          In Ireland, the Tyrrelstown episode has become a rallying cry.

          Housing advocates and lawmakers across the political spectrum are urging stricter oversight. Along with new legislation intended to close tax loopholes and restrict mass evictions, lawmakers are considering requiring banks and financial firms to follow a code of conduct and provide alternatives for troubled homeowners.

          But for Mrs. Tobun and other Tyrrelstown residents, such changes may offer little relief.

          Recently, she and her neighbors received word that their rents would rise sharply in the new year, after their current contracts expire. She said she and most of the 40 tenants affected would be unable to pay.

          The new rents will be closer to current market prices, but many residents suspect that the increase is a tactic being used to flush them out so the properties can be sold. In response, the Tyrrelstown community is planning another series of demonstrations.

          "This is a fight between David and Goliath," Mrs. Tobun said. "They want us out by force. All we can do is protest."

          "We believe in miracles," she added, "but I don't know how we're going to win."








































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