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:












Rally and March

Friday December 9, Rally Oscar Grant Plaza, OAKLAND, 4pm 

Followed by March to OPD Headquarters 

Join us for a National Day of Action on December 9 to FREE MUMIA NOW!


in coordination with his Philadelphia and New York supporters 

Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther who police tried to execute on the streets of Philadelphia in 1981, was framed by a racist judicial system and sentenced to death. Like other Black Panthers he was an innocent target of the FBI's repressive COINTELPRO campaign. From death row Mumia, became known as the "voice of the voiceless", exposing deplorable prison conditions and fighting racist police killings, imperialist wars and capitalist oppression. International protests got him off death row, but now they are trying to kill him by medical neglect. They are withholding life-saving Hep C medication he and 7,000 other Pennsylvania prisoners desperately need. After 35 years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, it's time to mobilize to FREE MUMIA and other political prisoners like him now! 

A recent US Supreme Court decision, "Williams vs. Pennsylvania" could open the door for Mumia's freedom but only if this fundamentally racist judicial system is confronted with mass protests like those that got him off death row. This decision ruled that a prosecutor cannot later sit as judge over the same defendant's appeal. This is exactly what happened in Mumia's case. On this basis Mumia's attorneys have filed a new legal action. If successful, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rulings that upheld his conviction would be overturned. Mumia could then re-appeal the issues of his innocence, jury bias and falsified evidence to win an outright dismissal of charges or get a new trial. Mumia was framed by corrupt cops, prosecutors, and judges for the murder of a policeman that he did not commit!! 

We say: Free Mumia Now! 

 Endorsers for the December 9th Free Mumia Coalition: 

Angela Davis; ANSWER Coalition; Anti Police-Terror Project; BAMN; Black Panther Commemoration Committee, NY; (Former) Black Panthers: Cleo Silvers, Eddie Conway, Larry Pinkney, William Johnson; Cal BSU; Code Pink, Freedom Socialist Party-Bay Area; Haiti Action Committee; International Action Center; John Brown Society; Justice for Palestinians-San Jose; Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal; Love Not Blood Campaign/Uncle Bobby; National Alumni Association of the Black Panther Party; Oakland Socialist Group; Oakland Teachers for Mumia; Oasis Hepatitis C Clinic; Occupy 4 Prisoners; Oscar Grant Committee Against Police Brutality and State Repression; Party for Socialism and Liberation; Peace and Freedom Party; Socialist Organizer; Socialist Viewpoint; Speak Out Now; Veterans for Peace – East Bay; Workers World Party

See you at Oscar Grant Plaza (City Hall), Oakland, 4 pm, December 9th

More Info: Tova, 510-600-5800; Jack, 510-501-7080; Gerald 510-417-1252

(This message from: Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal).



In Philadelphia on December 9th:

3-6pm - Rally outside next to the hated Rizzo statue across from City Hall in Thomas Paine Plaza 

6-9pm - Indoor event at Arch Street Methodist Church, Arch and N. Broad Street streets (food will be available.)



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

Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter

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.




















































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