No to the U.S. Intervention and Attempted Coup in Venezuela!

Note: The following resolution was adopted by the Delegates Meeting of the San Francisco Labor Council (AFL-CIO) on Monday, February 11, 2019.

Whereas, Trump administration officials have openly declared their intention to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro; and

Whereas, the U.S. has tightened economic sanctions, including the seizure of Venezuela’s oil properties in the United States, increasing the hardship on the people of Venezuela; and

Whereas, Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, and leading Trump administration foreign policy officials have made clear their intention to privatize Venezuela’s oil and open it to exploitation by the U.S. oil companies if their coup strategy succeeds; and

Whereas, Elliott Abrams has been named Special Envoy to Venezuela and is notorious for his central role in the Iran-Contra scheme and arming of the Nicaraguan contras, the Salvadoran death squad government, and the genocidal regime in Guatemala responsible for the massacres of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in that country; and

Whereas, the U.S. campaign of regime change in Venezuela is against the interests of the people of Venezuela, Latin America or the people of the United States; and

Whereas, the San Francisco Labor Council resolved on May 12, 2014, to “support the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people to continue their political and social process free from foreign intervention,” demanding “that the U.S. government refrain from intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela.” 

Therefore Be It Resolved, that the San Francisco Labor Council endorse and support (1) the February 23 Emergency Bay Area Hands Off Venezuela protest action; (2) the March 16 National March on the White House to say “Hands Off Venezuela, No War, No Sanctions, No Coup,” which in the Bay Area will be held on Saturday, March 9; and (3) the Hands Off Venezuela National Action, which in the Bay Area will be held on March 31.

Be It Further Resolved, that this resolution will be sent to the California Labor Federation and to Bay Area Congress members.

(adopted unanimously minus one abstention)

Respectfully submitted by
• Gloria La Riva, delegate, Pacific Media Workers Guild Local 39521
• Alan Benjamin, delegate, OPEIU Local 29
• David Welsh, delegate, NALC Branch 214


Send an email to the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center calling on them to open their books on activities in Venezuela 

The AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center has received at least $3,925,000 of public funds for its operations in Colombia and Venezuela, but next to nothing is known about its activities in Venezuela. Considering the role the Solidarity Center played in supporting coup plotters in 2002, and considering the current coup effort in Venezuela, the Solidarity Center should open its books and release details about what it is doing in Venezuela. We hope the Solidarity Center is not aiding and abetting today's coup plotters and Trump Administration plans for regime change. We need details that show us that the Solidarity Center is not going down the same road it did in 2002. If it is, we need to take action now to get the Solidarity Center on the right track. The Solidarity Center must represent workers, not the White House and its destabilization plans.  

What  is the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center Doing in Venezuela:  We Have a Right to Know!

by James Patrick Jordan 
The Solidarity Center--the AFL-CIO's organization for acting around the world--has long been active in Venezuela, and not usually for good effect.  We demand that the Solidarity Center open their books, and honestly report about their current operations in that country. 
We hope they are not supporting the current coup attempt against President Nicolaus Maduro in any way, as the coup attempt is an illegal effort to replace a democratically-elected president with one not elected by the Venezuelan people but of the US Government.  But we don't know; their past operations cause us great concerns; and we want them to prove to us they have nothing to do with the current attempt. 
The AFL-CIO associated Solidarity Center has received at least $3,925,000 for operations in Venezuela and Colombia between 2010 and 2019, and perhaps more. The Solidarity Center gets approximately 90 percent of its funding from the United States government, mostly via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The Solidarity Center has a history that includes advancing State Department goals even against the interests of workers. It channeled money to plotters in Venezuela behind the attempted coup of 2002. The Solidarity Center supported union officials who locked out their own oil workers during the economic sabotage that followed the failed coup attempt. In 2008, when the AFL-CIO was leading the resistance to a Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and Colombia, the Solidarity Center was meeting with the U.S. Embassy in Colombia to discuss strategies for passing that same FTA. The Solidarity Center leadership that was in Venezuela and Colombia in 2002 and 2008 is still in place in 2019. 
The Solidarity Center's operations are part of the AFL-CIO (and previously, AFL) foreign operations that have taken place over the past 100+ years.  This was most completely documented in a 2010 book titled AFL-CIO's Secret War against Developing Country Workers:  Solidarity or Sabotage? by long-time labor activist and Purdue University sociologist, Kim Scipes (Lanham, MD:  Lexington Books).  The Solidarity Center has continued operating since then. 

Subject:  What is the Solidarity Center doing in Venezuela?

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DA Krasner: At long last, turn the page on Mumia Abu-Jamal case!

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In 1981, Mumia Abu-Jamal was a former Black Panther and respected public radio journalist in Philadelphia, when he was jailed after a disputed incident in which police officer Daniel Faulkner was killed. In 1982, Abu-Jamal was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by Judge Albert Sabo, known as a "hanging judge" who'd sent more people to Death Row than any other U.S. judge.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International criticized the trial, pointing to racial bias and "possible political influences that may have prevented him from receiving an impartial and fair hearing." Unsuccessful appeals over the years have argued that prosecutors suppressed evidence and that blacks were systematically purged from the jury. 

But after 37 years behind bars, much of it on death row in solitary confinement, Abu-Jamal now has some real hope.

Click here to tell Larry Krasner, Philadelphia's progressive District Attorney, that it's time to turn the page on Abu-Jamal's case.

Last December, Abu-Jamal won a major victory when Philadelphia Judge Leon Tucker ruled that he had the right to re-appeal his case because of the appearance of bias during the appeals process – specifically that a former DA-turned-Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice who'd blocked Abu-Jamal's appeals should have recused himself from the case.

This victory, clearing the path for a possible new trial, seemed especially hopeful because in 2017 Philadelphia voters, especially African American voters, had elected Krasner – a longtime foe of mass incarceration, the death penalty, and racism in criminal justice.

Click here to urge DA Krasner not to resist Judge Tucker's ruling and let justice be served.

At the end of January, Krasner shocked many by announcing that he would challenge Judge Tucker's decision to give Abu-Jamal the right to appeal, apparently over his concern that it might open up appeals for other convicted prisoners. Days later, Krasner was disinvited from a progressive law conference at Yale which he was to keynote, and conference organizers urged Krasner to drop his resistance to Abu Jamal's appeal: "We cannot understand how DA Krasner's decision in this case serves justice or the transformative vision that he ran on."

Add your voice to those who want DA Krasner to reverse course on Abu-Jamal's case – and to ask the DA: "Isn't nearly four decades behind bars more than enough?!" 

After signing the petition, please use the tools on the next webpage to share it with your friends.

This work is only possible with your financial support. Please chip in $3 now. 

-- The RootsAction.org Team

P.S. RootsAction is an independent online force endorsed by Jim Hightower, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Bill Fletcher Jr., Laura Flanders, former U.S. Senator James Abourezk, Frances Fox Piven, Lila Garrett, Phil Donahue, Sonali Kolhatkar, and many others.

>> Amnesty International: "A Life in the Balance: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal" (Feb. 2000)
>> Essence: "Judge Rules Mumia Abu-Jamal Can Reargue Appeal To The Pennsylvania Supreme Court" (Dec. 28, 2018)
>> Philly.com: "Philly DA Larry Krasner disinvited to speak at Yale Law conference" (Feb. 2, 2019)
>> The Intercept.com: "Larry Krasner Responds to Progressive Critics" (Feb. 9, 2019)

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Mumia Abu-Jamal


On January 3, 2019 the office of District Attorney Larry Krasner filed a letter memorandum to Judge Leon Tucker.  "DA [Larry Krasner], and members of his staff went to a remote and largely inaccessible of the DA's office marked "Storage" looking for office furniture." And found six boxes of files on Mumia Abu-Jamal's case that were not produced duringthe recent court proceedings.

The District Attorney Krasner's remarkable and suspicious discovery of six boxes of files marked Mumia or Mumia Abu-Jamal hidden in a storage room on December 28 was one day after Judge Tucker's historic decision granting Mumia Abu-Jamal new rights of appeal.

This is confirmation of what we've known for decades--the prosecution has hidden exculpatory evidence in Mumia's case.  Evidence that is likely proof that Mumia's guilt was intentionally manufactured by the police and prosecution and the truth of his innocence suppressed.

These files should be released to the public. DA Krasner should take this as evidence of the total corruptness of this prosecution against an innocent man. The remedy for this is nothing less than dismissal of the charges against Mumia and his freedom from prison!

It took DA Krasner six days to report this find to Judge Tucker. Why? And who has gone through those six boxes of files on Mumia's case? What assurance can DA Krasner give that there hasn't been further tampering with and covering up of the evidence, which led to an innocent man being framed for murder and sentenced to death?

The DA's letter was not publicly available, nor was the January 3 docket filing shown on the court's public access web pages of docket filing, until January 9.

Rachel Wolkenstein, January 10, 2019
WHYY (an affiliate of NPR)
Philly prosecutors discover mysterious 'six boxes' connected to Mumia Abu-Jamal in storage room
By Bobby AllynJanuary 9, 2019
A group of two dozen activists briefly block traffic during a rally outside the Philadelphia District Attorney's office on Friday. The group called on DA Larry Krasner to not challenge a Common Pleas court ruling that allows Mumia Abu-Jamal to file an appeal. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Days after Christmas, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and some of his assistants went rummaging around an out-of-the-way storage room in the office looking for some pieces of furniture. What they stumbled upon was a surprising find: six boxes stuffed of files connected to the case of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Five of the six boxes were marked "McCann," a reference to the former head of the office's homicide unit, Ed McCann. Some of the boxes were also marked "Mumia," or the former Black Panther's full name, "Mumia Abu-Jamal."

It is unknown what exactly the files say and whether or not the box's contents will shed new light on a case that for decades has garnered worldwide attention.

But in a letter to the judge presiding over Abu-Jamal's case, Assistant District Attorney Tracey Kavanagh wrote "nothing in the Commonwealth's database showed the existence of these six boxes," she said. "We are in the process of reviewing these boxes."

The surprise discovery comes just weeks after a Philadelphia judge reinstated appeals rightsto Abu-Jamal, saying the former radio journalist and activist should get another chance to reargue his case in front of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court due to a conflict-of-interest one of the justices had at the time Abu-Jamal's petition was denied.

Abu-Jamal's supportersare seizing on the mysterious six boxes as proof that his innocence has been systematically suppressed by authorities.

"There's no question in my mind that the only reason they could've been hidden like this is that this is the evidence of the frame-up of Mumia," said Rachel Wolkenstein, who has been a legal advocate and activist for Abu-Jamal for more than 30 years.

"What these missing boxes represent is confirmation of what we've known for decades: there's hidden, exculpatory evidence in Mumia's case, and that is evidence that Mumia's guilt was intentionally manufactured by the police and prosecution and the truth of his innocence was suppressed," Wolkenstein said.

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office did not say anything at all about what is in the boxes, or whether there is evidence that the files are exculpatory, or capable of demonstrating that Abu-Jamal did not commit a crime. During his original trial three separate eyewitnesses testified Mumia did commit the murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

Wolkenstein's assessment is wild speculation, according to Ed McCann, the former homicide unit chief whose name was scrawled across the six boxes. McCann left the office in 2015 after 26 years there as a prosecutor. He was never directly involved in Abu-Jamal's case.

"I can't tell you 100% what is in these boxes," McCann said Wednesday night. "But I doubt there is anything in them that is not already in the public eye."

How and why did six boxes tied to one of the most legendary and racially-charged cases the office has ever handled get relegated to a dusty storage room?

McCann is not sure. But he said when the office moved locations in 2006, hundreds of boxes with his name written them were moved into the current headquarters on South Penn Square, just across the street from Philadelphia City Hall.

"I don't remember these six boxes. But nobody over there discussed this with me before filing this letter," McCann said. "I would think if they were really interested in what happened, they would have reached out to me."

In the two-page letter to the court, assistant district attorney Kavanagh wrote that if Judge Leon Tucker would like to review the boxes, prosecutors will turn them over.

Tucker, who is the same judge who ordered that Abu-Jamal should be given a new appeals argument, has not weighed in on the newly-discovered boxes.

But in his opinion last month, Tucker said former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille should have recused himself from hearing Abu-Jamal's petitions, since Castille himself was Philadelphia's District Attorney when the case was actively on appeal. "True justice must be completely just without even a hint of partiality, lack of integrity or impropriety," wrote Tucker, saying a new hearing in front of the state's high court is warranted.

Prosecutors have not taken a position yet on Tucker's opinion. The files unearthed in the six boxes could influence whether Krasner's office supports or opposes a new hearing for Abu-Jamal.

Wolkenstein said the thousands of people who have joined the "Free Mumia" movement around the globe should be able to review the documents themselves.

"These files should be released publicly," Wolkenstein said. "The remedy for this is nothing less than dismissal of Mumia's charges and his release from prison."




Hello to You All,
                        I have created a board game—"RACE FOR SOLIDARITY" and am awaiting the copyright.   The board game involves throwing dice.  The game both teaches and tests historical knowledge of racism—USA, and the fight against racism involving the struggles for and of multiracial unity.  The game also demonstrates the negative, reactionary movement of the forces of racism as well as the progressive movement of solidarity forces.  Playing the game involves and depends upon successfully building solidarity during the game.  Also included is an extensive list of references for the answers to all questions.
                        Due to the expense of producing the game I presently have only three complete games.  I am hoping to find person, persons or organizations to help me both fund and promote this game.  I am open to suggestions.
Please contact me with any thoughts   gordonnayvin@yahoo.com
Thank you,
In Multiracial Solidarity,
Nayvin Gordon



Statement: Academic Institutions Must Defend Free Speech

The International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity issued the following statement on 23 December, signed by 155 distinguished academics and human rights advocates.

Petition Text

Statement issued by the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity:
We, the undersigned, oppose the coordinated campaign to deny academics their free speech rights due to their defense of Palestinian rights and criticism of the policies and practices of the state of Israel. Temple University in Philadelphia, USA and the University of Sydney, Australia have been under great pressure to fire, respectively, Marc Lamont Hill and Tim Anderson, both senior academics at their institutions, for these reasons. Steven Salaita and Norman Finkelstein have already had their careers destroyed by such attacks. Hatem Bazian, Ahlam Muhtaseb, William Robinson, Rabab Abdulhadi and others have also been threatened.
The ostensible justification for such action is commonly known as the "Palestinian exception" to the principle of free speech. One may freely criticize and disrespect governments – including one's own – religions, political beliefs, personal appearance and nearly everything else except the actions and policies of the state of Israel. Those who dare to do so will become the focus of well-financed and professionally run campaigns to silence and/or destroy them and their careers.
We recognize that much of the free speech that occurs in academic and other environments will offend some individuals and groups. However, as has been said many times before, the answer to free speech that some may find objectionable is more free speech, not less. We therefore call upon all academic institutions, their faculty and students, as well as the public at large, to resist such bullying tactics and defend the free speech principles upon which they and all free societies and their institutions are founded.
























Courage to Resist
Hi Bonnie. Courage to Resist is working closely with our new fiscal sponsor, the Objector Church, on a couple projects that we're excited to share with you.
objector registry
Objector Registry launches as draft registration of women nears
The first ever Objector Registry (objector.church/register) offers a declaration of conscience for anyone to assert their moral opposition to war, regardless of age, gender, or religious affiliation. This serves to create a protective record of beliefs and actions with which to oppose a later forced draft. Given last week's release of the report by the Congressionally mandated commission on military service, this free registry is coming online just in time. Please sign up yourself and share with friends!
weekly meetup
You're invited to join us online weekly
This is a great way to find out more about the Objector Church and why we might be the religious humanist interfaith peace and justice community you have been looking for! Our live meetups are lead by Minister James Branum from Oklahoma City. This Sunday at 5pm Pacific / 8pm Eastern, if your not excited by the NFL's "big game", pop online and check us out at objector.church/meetup
484 Lake Park Ave #41, Oakland, California 94610 ~ 510-488-3559
www.couragetoresist.org ~ facebook.com/couragetoresist




New "Refuse War" Shirts

We've launched a new shirt store to raise funds to support war resisters.

In addition to the Courage to Resist logo shirts we've offered in the past, we now  have a few fun designs, including a grim reaper, a "Refuse War, Go AWOL" travel theme, and a sporty "AWOL: Support Military War Resisters" shirt.

Shirts are $25 each for small through XL, and bit more for larger sizes. Please allow 9-12 days for delivery within the United States.

50% of each shirt may qualify as a tax-deductible contribution.

Courage to Resist -- Support the Troops who Refuse to Fight!
484 Lake Park Ave. #41, Oakland, CA 94610, 510-488-3559
couragetoresis.org -- facebook.com/couragetoresist







Abu-Jamal Wins New Right to Appeal

By Rachel Wolkenstein

 On December 27, Court of Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker granted Mumia's petition for new appeal rights, over the opposition of "progressive DA" Larry Krasner. 

This is the first Pennsylvania state court decision in Mumia's favor since he was arrested on December 9, 1981.  

 In his decision Judge Tucker ruled former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille, who was the District Attorney during Mumia's first appeal of his frame-up conviction and death sentence, "created the appearance of bias and impropriety" in the appeal process when he didn't recuse himself from participating in Mumia's appeals. Judge Tucker relied heavily on Ronald Castille's public statements bragging that he would be a "law and order" judge, that he was responsible for 45 men on death row, that he had the political and financial support of the Fraternal Order of Police, and new evidence of Castille's campaign for death warrants for convicted "police killers." The appearance of bias and lack of "judicial neutrality" exhibited by Castille warranted his recusal.

Judge Tucker's order throws out the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions from 1998-2012 that rubber-stamped Mumia's racially-biased, politically-motivated murder conviction on frame-up charges of the shooting death of police officer Daniel Faulkner. 

Judge Tucker's decision means that Mumia Abu-Jamal's post-conviction appeals of his 1982 conviction, that he was framed by police and prosecution who manufactured evidence of guilt, suppressed the proof of his innocence and tried by racist, pro-prosecution trial Judge Albert Sabo who declared, "I'm gonna help them fry the nigger."   and denied him other due process trial rights must be reheard in the Pennsylvania appeals court. 

The new appeals ordered by Judge Tucker opens the door to Mumia Abu-Jamal's freedom. Abu-Jamal's legal claims and supporting evidence warrant an appeal decision of a new trial or dismissal of the frame-up charges that have kept him imprisoned for 37 years. 

The international campaign for Mumia Abu-Jamal's freedom has launched a new offensive. At the top of its actions is a call for letters and phone calls to DA Larry Krasner demanding he not appeal Judge Tucker's order granting new appeal rights to Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Tell DA Larry Krasner: Do NOT Appeal Judge Tucker's Decision Granting Mumia Abu-Jamal New Appeal Rights!

Email: DA_Central@phila.gov, Tweet: @philaDAO, Phone: 215-686-8000
Mail: Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner
3 S. Penn Square, Corner of Juniper and S. Penn Square
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3499

Write to Mumia at:
Smart Communications/PA DOC
SCI Mahanoy
Mumia Abu-Jamal #AM-8335
P.O. Box 33028
St. Petersburg, FL 33733

Listen to a radio report at Black Agenda Report:



A Call for a Mass Mobilization to Oppose NATO, War and Racism
Protest NATO, Washington, DC, Lafayette Park (across from the White House)

1 PM Saturday, March 30, 2019.
Additional actions will take place on Thursday April 4 at the opening of the NATO meeting

April 4, 2019, will mark the 51st anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the internationally revered leader in struggles against racism, poverty and war.

And yet, in a grotesque desecration of Rev. King's lifelong dedication to peace, this is the date that the military leaders of the North American Treaty Organization have chosen to celebrate NATO's 70th anniversary by holding its annual summit meeting in Washington, D.C. This is a deliberate insult to Rev. King and a clear message that Black lives and the lives of non-European humanity really do not matter.   

It was exactly one year before he was murdered that Rev. King gave his famous speech opposing the U.S. war in Vietnam, calling the U.S. government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world" and declaring that he could not be silent.

We cannot be silent either. Since its founding, the U.S.-led NATO has been the world's deadliest military alliance, causing untold suffering and devastation throughout Northern Africa, the Middle East and beyond.

Hundreds of thousands have died in U.S./NATO wars in Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Yugoslavia. Millions of refugees are now risking their lives trying to escape the carnage that these wars have brought to their homelands, while workers in the 29 NATO member-countries are told they must abandon hard-won social programs in order to meet U.S. demands for even more military spending.

Every year when NATO holds its summits, there have been massive protests: in Chicago, Wales, Warsaw, Brussels. 2019 will be no exception.

The United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) is calling for a mass mobilization in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, March 30.  Additional actions will take place on April 4 at the opening of the NATO meeting. 

We invite you to join with us in this effort. As Rev. King taught us, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

No to NATO!
End All U.S. Wars at Home and Abroad!
Bring the Troops Home Now! 
No to Racism! 
The Administrative Committee of UNAC,

To add your endorsement to this call, please go here: http://www.no2nato2019.org/endorse-the-action.html

Please donate to keep UNAC strong: https://www.unacpeace.org/donate.html 

If your organization would like to join the UNAC coalition, please click here: https://www.unacpeace.org/join.html



To: Indiana Department of Corrections

Kevin "Rashid" Johnson Should Have Access to His Personal Property

Petition Text

1. IDOC regulation 02-01-101-VIII must be respected! Kevin Johnson (IDOC# 264847) must be allowed to select from his property the items that he most immediately needs. He has been left without any of the material he requires for contacting his loved ones, his writing (this includes books), his pending litigation, and for his artwork. 
2. Kevin Johnson (IDOC# 264847) should be released into General Population. Prolonged solitary confinement is internationally recognized as a form of torture. Moreover, he has not committed any infractions.

Why is this important?

Kevin "Rashid" Johnson (IDOC# 264847) – a Virginia prisoner – was transferred to Indiana on November 4. His transfer was authorized under the Interstate Corrections Compact, commonly used to ship prisoners out of state. Virginia is one of several states that make use of this practice as a tool to repress and isolate prisoners who speak up for their rights.
These transfers are extremely disruptive, and serve as an opportunity for prison officials to violate prisoners' rights, especially regarding their property. This is exactly what has been done to Rashid.
Rashid has 24 boxes of personal property. These are all of his possessions in the world. Much of these 24 boxes consist of legal documents and research materials, including materials directly related to pending or anticipated court cases, and his list of addresses and phone numbers of media contacts, human rights advocates, outside supporters, and friends.
At Pendleton Correctional Facility, where Rashid is now being kept prisoner and in solitary confinement, only one guard is in charge of the property room. This is very unusual, as the property room is where all of the prisoners' belongings that are not in their cells are kept. The guard in charge, Dale Davis, has a dubious reputation. Prisoners complain that property goes missing, and their requests to access their belongings – that by law are supposed to be met within 7 days, or if there are court deadlines within 24 hours – are often ignored, answered improperly, or what they receive does not correspond to what they have asked for.
Despite having a need for legal and research documents for pending and anticipated court cases, his requests to receive his property have not been properly answered. The property officer, Dale Davis, is supposed to inventory the prisoners' property with them (and a witness) present, according to IDOC regulation 02-01-101-VIII; this was never done. When Rashid did receive some property, it was a random selection of items unrelated to what he asked for, brought to the segregation unit in a box and a footlocker and left in an insecure area where things could be stolen or tampered with.
On December 19th, Rashid received notice that Davis had confiscated various documents deemed to be "security threat group" or "gang" related from his property. Rashid has no idea what these might be, as (contrary to the prison regulations) he was not present when his property was gone through. Rashid does not know how much or how little was confiscated, or what the rationale was for its being described as "gang" related. None of Rashid's property should be confiscated or thrown out under any circumstances, but it is worth noting that the way in which this has been done contravenes the prison's own regulations and policies!
Dale Davis has been an IDOC property officer for 8 years. He has boasted about how he does not need any oversight or anyone else working with him, even though it is very unusual for just one person to have this responsibility. Prisoners' property goes "missing" or is tampered with, and prisoners' rights – as laid out by the Indiana Department of Corrections – are not being respected.
Rashid is not asking to have all of his property made available to him in his cell. He is willing to accept only having access to some of it at a time, for instance as he needs it to prepare court documents or for his research and writing. 
After two months in Indiana, he has still not been supplied with his documents containing the phone numbers and addresses of his loved ones and supporters, effectively sabotaging his relationships on the outside. Rashid is not asking for any kind of special treatment, he is only asking for the prison property room to follow the prison's own rules.
We ask that you look into this, and make sure that Mr. Johnson's right to access his property is being respected, and that something be done about the irregularities in the Pendleton property room. We ask that the rules of the Indiana Department of Corrections be respected.

Sign the petition here:

you can also hear a recent interview with Rashid on Final Straw podcast here: https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/post/tag/kevin-rashid-johnson/
Write to Rashid:
Kevin Rashid Johnson's writings and artwork have been widely circulated. He is the author of a book,Panther Vision: Essential Party Writings and Art of Kevin "Rashid" Johnson, Minister of Defense, New Afrikan Black Panther Party, (Kersplebedeb, 2010).

Kevin Johnson D.O.C. No. 264847
G-20-2C Pendleton Correctional Facility
4490 W. Reformatory Rd.
Pendleton, IN 46064-9001



Get Malik Out of Ad-Seg

Keith "Malik" Washington is an incarcerated activist who has spoken out on conditions of confinement in Texas prison and beyond:  from issues of toxic water and extreme heat, to physical and sexual abuse of imprisoned people, to religious discrimination and more.  Malik has also been a tireless leader in the movement to #EndPrisonSlavery which gained visibility during nationwide prison strikes in 2016 and 2018.  View his work at comrademalik.com or write him at:

Keith H. Washington
TDC# 1487958
McConnell Unit
3001 S. Emily Drive
Beeville, TX 78102
Friends, it's time to get Malik out of solitary confinement.

Malik has experienced intense, targeted harassment ever since he dared to start speaking against brutal conditions faced by incarcerated people in Texas and nationwide--but over the past few months, prison officials have stepped up their retaliation even more.

In Administrative Segregation (solitary confinement) at McConnell Unit, Malik has experienced frequent humiliating strip searches, medical neglect, mail tampering and censorship, confinement 23 hours a day to a cell that often reached 100+ degrees in the summer, and other daily abuses too numerous to name.  It could not be more clear that they are trying to make an example of him because he is a committed freedom fighter.  So we have to step up.

Phone zap on Tuesday, November 13

**Mark your calendars for the 11/13 call in, be on the look out for a call script, and spread the word!!**

- Convene special review of Malik's placement in Ad-Seg and immediately release him back to general population
- Explain why the State Classification Committee's decision to release Malik from Ad-Seg back in June was overturned (specifically, demand to know the nature of the "information" supposedly collected by the Fusion Center, and demand to know how this information was investigated and verified).
- Immediately cease all harassment and retaliation against Malik, especially strip searches and mail censorship!

Who to contact:
TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier
Phone: (936)295-6371

Senior Warden Philip Sinfuentes (McConnell Unit)
Phone: (361) 362-2300


Background on Malik's Situation

Malik's continued assignment to Ad-Seg (solitary confinement) in is an overt example of political repression, plain and simple.  Prison officials placed Malik in Ad-Seg two years ago for writing about and endorsing the 2016 nationwide prison strike.  They were able to do this because Texas and U.S. law permits non-violent work refusal to be classified as incitement to riot.

It gets worse.  Malik was cleared for release from Ad-Seg by the State Classification Committee in June--and then, in an unprecedented reversal, immediately re-assigned him back to Ad-Seg.  The reason?  Prison Officials site "information" collected by a shadowy intelligence gathering operation called a Fusion Center, which are known for lack of transparency and accountability, and for being blatant tools of political repression.

Malik remains in horrible conditions, vulnerable to every possible abuse, on the basis of "information" that has NEVER been disclosed or verified.  No court or other independent entity has ever confirmed the existence, let alone authenticity, of this alleged information.  In fact, as recently as October 25, a representative of the State Classification Committee told Malik that he has no clue why Malik was re-assigned to Ad-Seg.  This "information" is pure fiction.   



Listen to 'The Daily': Was Kevin Cooper Framed for Murder?

By Michael Barbaro, May 30, 2018

Listen and subscribe to our podcast from your mobile deviceVia Apple Podcasts | Via RadioPublic | Via Stitcher

The sole survivor of an attack in which four people were murdered identified the perpetrators as three white men. The police ignored suspects who fit the description and arrested a young black man instead. He is now awaiting execution.

On today's episode:
• Kevin Cooper, who has been on death row at San Quentin State Prison in California for three decades.



Last week I met with fellow organizers and members of Mijente to take joint action at the Tornillo Port of Entry, where detention camps have been built and where children and adults are currently being imprisoned. 

I oppose the hyper-criminalization of migrants and asylum seekers. Migration is a human right and every person is worthy of dignity and respect irrespective of whether they have "papers" or not. You shouldn't have to prove "extreme and unusual hardship" to avoid being separated from your family. We, as a country, have a moral responsibility to support and uplift those adversely affected by the US's decades-long role in the economic and military destabilization of the home countries these migrants and asylum seekers have been forced to leave.

While we expected to face resistance and potential trouble from the multiple law enforcement agencies represented at the border, we didn't expect to have a local farm hand pull a pistol on us to demand we deflate our giant balloon banner. Its message to those in detention:

NO ESTÁN SOLOS (You are not alone).

Despite the slight disruption to our plan we were able to support Mijente and United We Dream in blocking the main entrance to the detention camp and letting those locked inside know that there are people here who care for them and want to see them free and reunited with their families. 

We are continuing to stand in solidarity with Mijente as they fight back against unjust immigration practices.Yesterday they took action in San Diego, continuing to lead and escalate resistance to unjust detention, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and to ICE. 

While we were honored to offer on-the-ground support we see the potential to focus the energy of our Drop the MIC campaign into fighting against this injustice, to have an even greater impact. Here's how:
  1. Call out General Dynamics for profiteering of War, Militarization of the Border and Child and Family Detention (look for our social media toolkit this week);
  2. Create speaking forums and produce media that challenges the narrative of ICE and Jeff Sessions, encouraging troops who have served in the borderlands to speak out about that experience;
  3. Continue to show up and demand we demilitarize the border and abolish ICE.

Thank you for your vision and understanding of how militarism, racism, and capitalism are coming together in the most destructive ways. Help keep us in this fight by continuing to support our work.

In Solidarity,
Ramon Mejia
Field Organizer, About Face: Veterans Against the War

P.O. Box 3565, New York, NY 10008. All Right Reserved. | Unsubscribe
To ensure delivery of About Face emails please add webmaster@ivaw.org to your address book.



Major George Tillery
April 25, 2018-- The arrest of two young men in Starbucks for the crime of "sitting while black," and the four years prison sentence to rapper Meek Mill for a minor parole violation are racist outrages in Philadelphia, PA that made national news in the past weeks. Yesterday Meek Mills was released on bail after a high profile defense campaign and a Pa Supreme Court decision citing evidence his conviction was based solely on a cop's false testimony.
These events underscore the racism, frame-up, corruption and brutality at the core of the criminal injustice system. Pennsylvania "lifer" Major Tillery's fight for freedom puts a spotlight on the conviction of innocent men with no evidence except the lying testimony of jailhouse snitches who have been coerced and given favors by cops and prosecutors.

Sex for Lies and Manufactured Testimony
For thirty-five years Major Tillery has fought against his 1983 arrest, then conviction and sentence of life imprisonment without parole for an unsolved 1976 pool hall murder and assault. Major Tillery's defense has always been his innocence. The police and prosecution knew Tillery did not commit these crimes. Jailhouse informant Emanuel Claitt gave lying testimony that Tillery was one of the shooters.

Homicide detectives and prosecutors threatened Claitt with a false unrelated murder charge, and induced him to lie with promises of little or no jail time on over twenty pending felonies, and being released from jail despite a parole violation. In addition, homicide detectives arranged for Claitt, while in custody, to have private sexual liaisons with his girlfriends in police interview rooms.
In May and June 2016, Emanuel Claitt gave sworn statements that his testimony was a total lie, and that the homicide cops and the prosecutors told him what to say and coached him before trial. Not only was he coerced to lie that Major Tillery was a shooter, but to lie and claim there were no plea deals made in exchange for his testimony. He provided the information about the specific homicide detectives and prosecutors involved in manufacturing his testimony and details about being allowed "sex for lies". In August 2016, Claitt reaffirmed his sworn statements in a videotape, posted on YouTube and on JusticeforMajorTillery.org.
Without the coerced and false testimony of Claitt there was no evidence against Major Tillery. There were no ballistics or any other physical evidence linking him to the shootings. The surviving victim's statement naming others as the shooters was not allowed into evidence.
The trial took place in May 1985 during the last days of the siege and firebombing of the MOVE family Osage Avenue home in Philadelphia that killed 13 Black people, including 5 children. The prosecution claimed that Major Tillery was part of an organized crime group, and falsely described it as run by the Nation of Islam. This prejudiced and inflamed the majority white jury against Tillery, to make up for the absence of any evidence that Tillery was involved in the shootings.
This was a frame-up conviction from top to bottom. Claitt was the sole or primary witness in five other murder cases in the early 1980s. Coercing and inducing jailhouse informants to falsely testify is a standard routine in criminal prosecutions. It goes hand in hand with prosecutors suppressing favorable evidence from the defense.
Major Tillery has filed a petition based on his actual innocence to the Philadelphia District Attorney's Larry Krasner's Conviction Review Unit. A full review and investigation should lead to reversal of Major Tillery's conviction. He also asks that the DA's office to release the full police and prosecution files on his case under the new  "open files" policy. In the meantime, Major Tillery continues his own investigation. He needs your support.
Major Tillery has Fought his Conviction and Advocated for Other Prisoners for over 30 Years
The Pennsylvania courts have rejected three rounds of appeals challenging Major Tillery's conviction based on his innocence, the prosecution's intentional presentation of false evidence against him and his trial attorney's conflict of interest. On June 15, 2016 Major Tillery filed a new post-conviction petition based on the same evidence now in the petition to the District Attorney's Conviction Review Unit. Despite the written and video-taped statements from Emanuel Claitt that that his testimony against Major Tillery was a lie and the result of police and prosecutorial misconduct, Judge Leon Tucker dismissed Major Tillery's petition as "untimely" without even holding a hearing. Major Tillery appealed that dismissal and the appeal is pending in the Superior Court.
During the decades of imprisonment Tillery has advocated for other prisoners challenging solitary confinement, lack of medical and mental health care and the inhumane conditions of imprisonment. In 1990, he won the lawsuit, Tillery v. Owens, that forced the PA Department of Corrections (DOC) to end double celling (4 men to a small cell) at SCI Pittsburgh, which later resulted in the closing and then "renovation" of that prison.
Three years ago Major Tillery stood up for political prisoner and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal and demanded prison Superintendent John Kerestes get Mumia to a hospital because "Mumia is dying."  For defending Mumia and advocating for medical treatment for himself and others, prison officials retaliated. Tillery was shipped out of SCI Mahanoy, where Mumia was also held, to maximum security SCI Frackville and then set-up for a prison violation and a disciplinary penalty of months in solitary confinement. See, Messing with Major by Mumia Abu-Jamal. Major Tillery's federal lawsuit against the DOC for that retaliation is being litigated. Major Tillery continues as an advocate for all prisoners. He is fighting to get the DOC to establish a program for elderly prisoners.
Major Tillery Needs Your Help:
Well-known criminal defense attorney Stephen Patrizio represents Major pro bonoin challenging his conviction. More investigation is underway. We can't count on the district attorney's office to make the findings of misconduct against the police detectives and prosecutors who framed Major without continuing to dig up the evidence.
Major Tillery is now 67 years old. He's done hard time, imprisoned for almost 35 years, some 20 years in solitary confinement in max prisons for a crime he did not commit. He recently won hepatitis C treatment, denied to him for a decade by the DOC. He has severe liver problems as well as arthritis and rheumatism, back problems, and a continuing itchy skin rash. Within the past couple of weeks he was diagnosed with an extremely high heartbeat and is getting treatment.
Major Tillery does not want to die in prison. He and his family, daughters, sons and grandchildren are fighting to get him home. The newly filed petition for Conviction Review to the Philadelphia District Attorney's office lays out the evidence Major Tillery has uncovered, evidence suppressed by the prosecution through all these years he has been imprisoned and brought legal challenges into court. It is time for the District Attorney's to act on the fact that Major Tillery is innocent and was framed by police detectives and prosecutors who manufactured the evidence to convict him. Major Tillery's conviction should be vacated and he should be freed.

Major Tillery and family

    Financial Support—Tillery's investigation is ongoing. He badly needs funds to fight for his freedom.
    Go to JPay.com;
    code: Major Tillery AM9786 PADOC

    Tell Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner:
    The Conviction Review Unit should investigate Major Tillery's case. He is innocent. The only evidence at trial was from lying jail house informants who now admit it was false.
    Call: 215-686-8000 or

    Write to:
    Security Processing Center
    Major Tillery AM 9786
    268 Bricker Road
    Bellefonte, PA 16823
    For More Information, Go To: JusticeForMajorTillery.org
    Kamilah Iddeen (717) 379-9009, Kamilah29@yahoo.com
    Rachel Wolkenstein (917) 689-4009, RachelWolkenstein@gmail.com



    Free Leonard Peltier!

    Art by Leonard Peltier
    Write to:
    Leonard Peltier 89637-132
    USP Coleman 1,  P.O. Box 1033
    Coleman, FL 33521



    Working people are helping to feed the poor hungry corporations! 
    Charity for the Wealthy!







    December 29, 2018

    Dear Comrades and Friends Across the Globe:

     On December 27, 2018, in a historic action, Court of Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker granted Mumia's petition for new appeal rights, over the opposition of "progressive DA" Larry Krasner. 
    This is the first Pennsylvania state court decision in Mumia's favor since he was arrested on December 9, 1981.  The new appeals ordered by Judge Tucker open the door to Mumia Abu-Jamal's freedom. The legal claims and supporting evidence, previously denied in the PA Supreme Court with Justice Ronald Castille's participation, warrant a dismissal of the frame-up charges that have kept Mumia imprisoned for 37 years, or, at the very least, a new trial. 

     It is critical that Mumia can go forward immediately with these appeals. However, DA Larry Krasner has the authority to appeal Judge Tucker's decision. Krasner's position, to the surprise of many who had described him as the "new kind" of district attorney, more bent toward justice than mere conviction, with a history of defending dissident activists, been adamant in his opposition to Mumia' petition.  His legal filings, court arguments, and his statements on public radio have all argued that there is no evidence of Justice Castille's bias or the appearance of impropriety when he refused to recuse himself in Mumia's PA Supreme Court appeals from 1998-2012 (!).

     If the prosecution appeals, there will follow years of legal proceedings on the validity of Judge Tucker's order before Mumia can begin the new appeal process challenging his conviction. .Mumia is now 64 years old. He has cirrhosis of the liver from the years of untreated hepatitis C. He still suffers from continuing itching from the skin ailment which is a secondary symptom of the hep-C. Mumia now has glaucoma and is receiving treatment. He has been imprisoned for almost four decades.  An extended appeals process coming at the age of 64 to a person whose health had already been seriously compromised is the equivalent of a death sentence by continued incarceration.    

    We are asking you to join us in demanding that Larry Krasner stop acting in league with the Fraternal Order of Police. Mumia should be freed from prison, now!  We are asking you to call, email or tweet DA Larry Krasner TODAY and tell him: DO NOT Appeal Judge Tucker's Decision Granting New Rights of Appeal to Mumia Abu-Jamal.

    In his decision, Judge Tucker ruled that former PA Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille, who was the District Attorney during Mumia's first appeal of his frame-up conviction and death sentence, had "created the appearance of bias and impropriety" in the appeal process when he didn't recuse himself from participating in Mumia's appeals. Judge Tucker relied heavily on Ronald Castille's public statements bragging that he would be a "law and order" judge, that he was responsible for putting 45 men on death row, that he had the political and financial support of the Fraternal Order of Police, and in recently discovered new evidence that Castille had particularly campaigned for immediate death warrants of convicted "police killers".  Judge Tucker states unequivocally that the appearance of bias and lack of "judicial neutrality" exhibited by Castille warranted his recusal. 

    Judge Tucker's order throws out the PA Supreme Court decisions from 1998-2012 that rubber-stamped Mumia's racially-biased, politically-motivated murder conviction on frame-up charges of the shooting death of police officer Daniel Faulkner. 

     Judge Tucker's decision means that Mumia Abu-Jamal's post-conviction appeals of his 1982 conviction must be reheard in the PA appeals court. In those appeals Mumia's lawyers proved that Mumia was framed by police and prosecution who manufactured evidence of guilt and suppressed the proof of his innocence. And, he was tried by a racist, pro-prosecution trial judge, Albert Sabo, who declared to another judge, "I'm gonna help them fry the n----r" and denied Mumia his due process trial rights.

    We can win Mumia's freedom! We have a legal opening. It is our opportunity to push forward to see Mumia walk out of prison! The international campaign for Mumia Abu-Jamal's freedom has launched a new offensive. At the top of its actions is this call for letters and phone calls to DA Larry Krasner demanding he not appeal Judge Tucker's order granting new appeal rights to Mumia Abu-Jamal.  Please take this action today.  Please send us back your name so we can compile a list of international signers.  Also, no matter how many letters for Mumia you have signed in the past year or two, please sign this one as well.  The moment is different, and the demand of Krasner is different.  We want all possible supporters included.

    CONTACT:    Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. 
                            Phone: (215) 686-8000; Email: DA_Central@phila.gov; Tweet: @philaDAO
                            Mail: Phila. DA Larry Krasner, Three South Penn Square, Phila, PA 19107

    Tell DA Krasner:     Do Not Appeal Judge Tucker's Decision Reinstating Appeal Rights 
                                     for Mumia Abu-Jamal!

    In solidarity and toward Mumia's freedom,

    (Initiated by all the US based Mumia support organizations)
    International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal; The MOVE Organization; Educators for Mumia; International Action Center; Mobilization for Mumia; Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC); Campaign to Bring Mumia Home; Committee to Save Mumia; Prison Radio, Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, Oakland; Oakland Teachers for Mumia; Workers World/Mundo Obrero


    1) An Inmate's Death in Jail and a Journalist's Search for Why
    By Sarah Maslin Nir, February 1, 2019

    A drawing of Lamekia Dockery when she was a girl, with her mother and grandmother.CreditCreditCourtesy of Charmel Dockery

    Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.
    It was the headline of a news release issued by the prosecutor's office in Elkhart County, Ind., on an October morning last year. Instantly, the journalist's ever-present question pinged through my head: Why?

    Why was no one charged in the death of Lamekia Dockery, which occurred while she was in custody at the Goshen, Ind., work-release center? And a much bigger question: Why did a 36-year-old woman jailed for a probation violation, for shoplifting at a Walmart, die?
    Lamekia Dockery in an undated family photo. Courtesy of Charmel Dockery
    I was posted to The New York Times's Chicago bureau, on loan for a month to the National desk from the Metro section, where I cover the intersection of the president and New York City. Most national correspondents are posted to one of our 15 bureaus, each of which covers a swath of states. Every morning, my colleague Mitch Smith did the painstaking work of reading about 200 news sites and sending a list of the most interesting stories to our many correspondents across the country. When the story from Elkhart came along in his daily roundup, I was intrigued and disturbed.
    My first call was to Vicki E. Becker, the Elkhart County prosecutor, to ask why no one would be charged in the death, which was a result, according to the coroner's office, of sepsis from an untreated perforated ulcer. As I later reported, she said the guards were not culpable because "none of them expressed any belief that a stomachache could result in her death."
    For Ms. Becker, the case was closed. But for a reporter, the story of how Ms. Dockery died still needed to be told.
    With the blessing of Monica Davey, the Chicago bureau chief, I jumped into my rental car and sped to Goshen to find out more. By the edge of Rock Run Creek, I found the work-release center, and outside it inmates hustling back from their jobs at area factories to make curfew. Nevertheless, when I asked them what happened, many stopped to speak to me, risking penalization for being tardy.
    Ms. Dockery had died over the course of six days, begging for help from guards who did not listen in the open-ward jail. Her fellow inmates all heard her screams, and they wanted the world to know.

    Around the corner from the center is St. Mark's United Methodist Church, where prisoners in good standing can attend services. They crowded the sanctuary with their babies, partners and other visiting family members as I joined them for prayers one Sunday. The week Ms. Dockery died — the pastor, Tony Brinson, told me — inmates stood up during services to speak of what they had witnessed, many in tears. I interviewed several as we sat in the pews; each was wearing a GPS-tracking ankle monitor.

    Other inmates, such as Nini Mora, who used her own money to buy Ms. Dockery Tylenol — some of the only medical care she received during her ordeal — were not eligible for outside privileges. So I interviewed Ms. Mora over Facebook Messenger, asking her to record her thoughts as diary entries and send me the audio clips. I also spoke with Ms. Dockery's mother, her sisters and her aunt, who all told me of their searing loss.
    Eyewitness testimony, I knew, was not enough. So I reached out to the Elkhart Board of Commissioners, which runs corrections in the county. Not once was I allowed to speak with a member; over the months I was working on the article, the board responded solely through a lawyer, Michael DeBoni of the Goshen law firm Yoder, Ainlay, Ulmer & Buckingham.
    Typically, a reporter and a representative of a public entity will engage in on-background conversations to answer simple questions of fact, such as: How many inmates are there? And how many guards? But Mr. DeBoni refused to ever get on the phone with me. Nearly every snippet of conversation was conducted through formal legal letters, each delayed by several days.
    It was such an unusual correspondence that I have since initiated a freedom of information request to find out how many hours Mr. DeBoni's firm spent working on responses to my questions and the hourly rate the firm has charged the county. (I may report back when and if that request is fulfilled.)
    Nonetheless, little by little, my editor Shaila Dewan and I found that the official picture of what Ms. Dockery endured was emerging. It came via documents I obtained through the Indiana Access to Public Records Act.
    The contents were so startling that, as I read the documents back in The Times's headquarters in New York, I gasped, startling my colleagues beside me.
    What the inmates had told me — that when Ms. Dockery became irate at not receiving medical help she was put in solitary confinement, or "the box"; that when she kicked the door there, she was shackled — was backed up completely in corrections officers' logs. And there was more: When she went to find help from a caseworker, she was punished. When she vomited into a cup of noodle soup in a day room, she was castigated. When she said she was dying, she was ignored.
    Ms. Dockery's death was likely preventable. But she died because, experts told me, as a drug user, a black woman and an incarcerated person, her human anguish was dismissed. My hope is that, by telling her story, Lamekia Dockery can finally be seen and heard.

    Sarah Maslin Nir covers breaking news for the Metro section. She was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her series "Unvarnished," an investigation into New York City's nail salon industry that documented the exploitative labor practices and health issues manicurists face. @SarahMaslinNir
    CreditCourtesy of Charmel Dockery


    2) FamilyTreeDNA Admits to Sharing Genetic Data With F.B.I.
    By Matthew Haag, February 4, 2019

    FamilyTreeDNA, an at-home DNA testing company, apologized for failing to disclose it was sharing genetic information with the F.B.I. to help solve rapes and murders. Some of the site's users felt the company had betrayed them.CreditCreditSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The president of FamilyTreeDNA, one of the country's largest at-home genetic testing companies, has apologized to its users for failing to disclose that it was sharing DNA data with federal investigators working to solve violent crimes.
    In the booming business of consumer DNA testing and genealogy, FamilyTreeDNA had marketed itself as a leader of consumer privacy and a fierce protector of user data, refusing, unlike some of its competitors, to sell information to third parties.
    But unbeknown to its users, the Houston-based firm quietly and voluntarily agreed in 2018 to open its database of more than two million records to the F.B.I. and examine DNA samples in its laboratory to identify suspects and victims of unsolved rapes and murders.

    FamilyTreeDNA confirmed the deal on Thursday, in a report by Buzzfeed News, setting off a backlash among its loyal users who felt betrayed and igniting another debate over privacy and ethical issues with investigators using genealogical sites to solve crimes.

    In an email to its users on Sunday, the company's president, Bennett Greenspan, defended the agreement with the F.B.I. but apologized for not revealing it sooner.
    "I am genuinely sorry for not having handled our communications with you as we should have," Mr. Greenspan wrote, according to a copy of the email obtained by The New York Times. "We've received an incredible amount of support from those of you who believe this is an opportunity for honest, law-abiding citizens to help catch bad guys and bring closure to devastated families."
    The news underscored the lack of universal regulations governing direct-to-consumer genetic testing in the United States and how companies can use their data without consumers' knowledge.
    "It's a good example of, are you willing to stay abreast of every terms of service change with FamilyTreeDNA, or are you doing it once because it was a holiday present?" Erin E. Murphy, a professor at New York University School of Law who wrote the book "Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic D.N.A.," said in an interview.
    "Even if you were reading all of your spam email about all the privacy changes, did you get one that says you have agreed to be the F.B.I.'s testing lab? No, they did not issue that," Ms. Murphy said.

    Alan Butler, the senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, described the situation as "'bait and switch' behavior that consumer protection laws are meant to prohibit."
    "The company needs to either roll back the change or else delete all stored DNA data it has collected from individuals under the previous agreement," Mr. Butler said.
    Consumer DNA tests have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, with major sites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe offering personalized ancestry reports and tools to find possible relatives. They have also become useful tools for law enforcement agencies, helping detectives solve high-profile cases such as the Golden State Killer last year.
    While investigators have used open-source sites such as GEDmatch, which is free, to find DNA matches and possible relatives, the arrangement with FamilyTreeDNA includes the first known commercial site to provide some services without a subpoena or warrant.
    According to FamilyTreeDNA, the F.B.I. will have access to its website like any other user: After uploading a person's DNA file, investigators can search for potential relatives with overlapping DNA. Detectives will have access to the same repository of genealogical records as all users, the company said.
    In addition, the company's genetic testing laboratory, Gene by Gene, has agreed to create data profiles from DNA samples provided by the F.B.I., which can then be plugged into other family history sites. The company said on its website that the F.B.I. would need a subpoena to gain access to information not already available on its website.
    The company has not disclosed how many cases it has worked on, but Mr. Greenspan said in the email to users that it was "a handful of DNA samples for cold cases from the F.B.I."

    Mr. Greenspan defended the deal by saying his company was forcing law enforcement agencies to be transparent, unlike other DNA testing companies.
    "Law enforcement has the ability to test DNA samples from crime scenes and upload the results into databases, like any other customer can, and it appears they have been doing it at other companies for the past year," he said. "The distinction is that, according to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, we expect the FBI and law enforcement agencies to let us know when they submit something to our database."
    A company spokesman said late Monday that the F.B.I. is only able to see other DNA profiles on FamilyTreeDNA that share some of the same genetic profile. Users can disable the "matching" option in their account settings, which would prevent the F.B.I., as well as ordinary users, from seeing their information, the spokesman said.
    "Unless a valid court order is issued, such as a subpoena or search warrant, with which FamilyTreeDNA would have no choice but to comply, there is no difference in the level of database access provided to law enforcement than to an ordinary user of FamilyTreeDNA," the spokesman, Patrick W. Murphy, said in an email.
    The F.B.I. declined to comment.
    After Buzzfeed reported on the arrangement, genealogists revolted. Some discussed creating a petition to encourage FamilyTreeDNA to reverse its decision, while others threatened to delete their profiles.
    "Not being upfront about what it wanted to do and quietly changing its terms with no notice to current customers is a big 'no no,'" Rachel King, the founder of Toll Genealogy, a resource for genealogists, said in an email. "At the end of the day, this is valuable work. Anything that helps put a name to unidentified body, potentially enabling their loved ones to finally know what happened to them, is a good thing."
    More than 15 million people have submitted their DNA to companies like FamilyTreeDNA in recent years. While they represent a small fraction of all people, the pool of profiles is large enough to allow 60 percent of white Americans — the primary users of DNA sites in the United States — to be identified through the databases, according to researchers.

    As the number of tests expands in the coming years, researchers believe that 90 percent of Americans of European descent will be identifiable, even if they did not submit their own DNA, according to researchers.
    "It's about their third cousin that they don't know exists or their child that they haven't had yet," Ms. Murphy said. "We shouldn't be having this conversation about just the users on the site. It's more than their privacy that is at stake."


    3) Jazmine Headley, Whose Child Was Torn From Her Arms at a City Office, Gets a Public Apology
    By Nikita Stewart, February 4, 2019

    In December, video footage of Jazmine Headley enduring having her 1-year-old son wrested from her arms was widely shared on social media.CreditCreditMike Catalini/Associated Press

    Jazmine Headley, whose chaotic arrest at a public benefits office in Brooklyn two months ago sparked a national outcry, testified with tears in her eyes at a City Council hearing Monday, recounting the day that her 1-year-old son was wrested from her arms as she struggled to hold on to him.
    "It's not just the fact that I was arrested. It was the harsh way that I was treated by people who are supposed to help me," she said, adding later, "In my case, I was just sitting. A peaceful act."
    Video footage of the young mother desperately holding on to her baby went viral on social media and prompted the Council to introduce a package of more than a dozen bills aimed at improving the treatment of people who receive public assistance.

    In brief, but emotional, testimony she reminded Council members that she was one of thousands of New Yorkers who go to public benefits offices each day and face long waits, poor service and even disdain from caseworkers, security guards and police officers.

    Her remarks ended with the room offering a standing ovation, and Council members publicly apologizing to her.
    On Dec. 7, Ms. Headley had gone to an office in the Boerum Hill neighborhood to find out why public assistance she had been receiving for her son to attend day care had been suddenly cut off. To make the trip, she missed a day from her job cleaning offices and had to take her son with her because he could not go to day care.
    Seats in the main waiting area were taken, so Ms. Headley sat on the floor. A security guard told her to move, saying she was blocking a fire zone. Ms. Headley took exception to the guard's tone and refused. (Officials later determined that Ms. Headley was not blocking a fire zone.)
    The security guards, who are called peace officers and who work for the Human Resources Administration, called police. Chaos then ensued after a security guard grabbed Ms. Headley's arm as she tried to walk away. Ms. Headley was arrested and had to spend four nights at Rikers Island before she was released and charges were dropped.
    One guard has resigned, and the city is moving to fire another.
    During the hearing, some Council members cited a report by the Safety Net Project, an advocacy group that has closely monitored how poor people are treated in seeking social services.

    One of the bills in the legislative package would require the Department of Social Services, which oversees the Human Resources Administration, to issue quarterly reports on use-of-force incidents. Another bill would require the social services agency to create an "Office of the Special Handler," which would act as an ombudsman for complaints and questions.
    Other bills would create space for children, streamline appointments, hire social workers for all offices and administer training in de-escalation for employees.
    Steven Banks, the commissioner of social services, described similar pilot programs and efforts that were already underway. But Mr. Banks said the Council and Ms. Headley reminded him that his agency sometimes falls short. "I want everyone to hear our commitment to do more," he said.
    Mr. Banks, who publicly apologized to Ms. Headley in December, apologized again at the hearing, which was heavy on contrition from elected officials.
    Laurie Cumbo, a council member who represents Brooklyn, is a new mother like Ms. Headley. Sniffling through her own tears, Ms. Cumbo talked about the obstacles facing mothers as they pack up toys and supplies and navigate the city, only to face more obstacles in seeking assistance. Ms. Cumbo was so moved that she invited Ms. Headley and her son to attend her son's birthday party.
    Corey Johnson, the Council speaker, stepped down from the dais and hugged Ms. Headley. He addressed her directly, used the word "sorry" five times and apologized that she had to spend time in jail and endure poor treatment.

    "I am similarly deeply, deeply grateful for your bravery, for you wanting to tell your story, for you wanting to ensure that this doesn't happen to anyone else," he said.


    4) Brooklyn Federal Jail Had Heat Failures Weeks Before Crisis, Employees Say
    By Benjamin Weiser and Ali Winston, February 5, 2019

    A protester outside the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal jail in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. A Manhattan federal judge visited the jail on Tuesday to investigate conditions.CreditCreditStephanie Keith for The New York Times
    The heat at a troubled Brooklyn jail started to fail as early as mid-January, weeks before the problem erupted into a public crisis, staff members and current and former inmates testified on Tuesday at a hearing on the deteriorating conditions.
    The hearing, before Judge Analisa Torres of Federal District Court in Manhattan, followed complaints that inmates at the jail, the Metropolitan Detention Center, were being housed in intolerable conditions.
    They were forced to huddle under blankets in frigid cells, lawyers said, after an electrical fire on Jan. 27 plunged much of the building into darkness. It led the jail to cancel lawyer and family visits for a week.

    The heating problems were unrelated to the electrical issues but worsened just as the city experienced temperatures that were among the coldest of the winter.

    Reports of the conditions drew crowds of protesters and a phalanx of elected officials to the jail over the weekend. Hugh J. Hurwitz, the acting director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, toured the jail on Monday. Power and heat now have been restored and family visits have also resumed, officials said.
    After the hearing, Judge Torres took the unusual step of visiting the M.D.C., which sits on the Brooklyn waterfront in Sunset Park, for more than two hours to carry out her own inspection. Afterward, she rejected a request, raised by lawyers for two inmates, that she appoint a neutral observer to investigate jail conditions and report to the judge.
    The judge noted that the federal public defender's office in New York City had already made the same request in a civil suit filed against the Bureau of Prisons on Monday in Brooklyn, and she said that court should take up the issue.
    The conditions at the jail also prompted defense lawyers to file emergency bail requests in Brooklyn federal court. Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis, who heard three bail cases, condemned the conditions in the jail.
    "I can't imagine people in the dark, in subfreezing temperatures, without any understanding of when it will end. It's not humane," Judge Garaufis said during the proceedings.

    "They're keeping it together with Scotch tape," Judge Garaufis added, comparing the jail to an old, patched-up car. For years, he said, the jail's physical state had been deteriorating, and its disrepair was exacerbated by a perfect storm of the federal government shutdown, equipment failures and a fire that knocked out the electrical grid.
    The hearing before Judge Torres in Manhattan offered some of the first public accounts by jail employees and inmates about the jail problems, which federal defenders have called a humanitarian crisis.
    Anthony Sanon, the leader of the local chapter of the correction officers union, testified that problems with the heat began as early as mid-January, and another employee, John Maffeo, a facility manager, placed the date at about a week or two before the Jan. 27 fire. A third employee, Hai June Bencebi, remembered it became "extremely cold" in the jail about two days before Martin Luther King's Birthday, when temperatures in New York were plummeting.

    Current and former inmates testified that the cold and darkness of last week made living conditions almost unbearable.
    Miguel Cruz, who was recently released from the jail and is awaiting trial, said he slept "completely dressed" and wearing two pairs of socks. His cellmate, he said, used book covers to try to block cold air blowing through vents into their cell. There was no hot water, he said, so he did not shower.
    "It was horrible," Mr. Cruz testified. "I wasn't going to take a shower with frozen water."
    The jail houses more than 1,600 federal inmates who are being prosecuted in Brooklyn and, in some cases, Manhattan. Most of the detainees are awaiting trial and have not been found guilty of a crime.
    Judge Torres held the hearing in Manhattan after a lawyer for one of the defendants, Jose Segura-Genao, complained that his client was living with limited heat and light in the jail, and, because he had no money in his commissary account, could not buy thermal undershirts and underwear.

    "The last time I visited Mr. Segura-Genao, he was not wearing socks," the lawyer, Ezra Spilke, wrote.
    The United States attorney's office in Manhattan, which represented the government at the hearing before Judge Torres, declined to comment Tuesday night. The office had asked that the judge delay the hearing, telling her in a letter that the living conditions at the jail were "evolving and continue to require intensive work by M.D.C. personnel." The judge denied the government's request.
    Among those attending the packed hearing was Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.
    During the hearing, Mr. Sanon, the correctional officer and president of the officers' union chapter, testified about a power blackout at the M.D.C. in January, two weeks before the fire, which sent almost the entire building into darkness.
    "I saw the institution pretty much in the dark," Mr. Sanon said. The poor visibility created "a dangerous situation" inside the jail, he said, and complicated tasks such as searching inmates for contraband or moving them back to their cells in a lockdown.
    He said there were also problems with cold that he reported to his superiors in mid-January as corrections officers were wearing scarves, coats and hats on duty.
    "Numerous C.O.s, — I would say all of the C.O.s — called and complained that it was freezing in the building," Mr. Sanon testified.

    Family members of prisoners were among the spectators in the courtroom and in two overflow areas that showed the proceedings on a live monitor.
    Clara Salazar, 27, who sat in one of the overflow rooms, said that her father — whom she declined to name out of concern for his privacy — is an inmate at the M.D.C. and that the last time she saw him there was from the street. She was with protesters and he was inside, banging on a window alongside other inmates in a loud, clattering protest against conditions at the jail.
    "We didn't get to talk to him for a very long time," Ms. Salazar said. "No phone calls, no emails."

    Sean Piccoli and Nate Schweber contributed reporting.
    Follow Benjamin Weiser and Ali Winston on Twitter: @BenWeiserNYT and @awinston.


    5) Officer Faces No Charges in Fatal Shooting in an Alabama Mall
    By Richard Fausset, February 5, 2019
    Emantic F. Bradford Jr. was fatally shot by the police on Nov. 22 at a mall in Hoover, Ala.

    An Alabama police officer will not be criminally charged for killing a young black man whom he had mistaken for the gunman in a shopping-mall shooting Thanksgiving night, the state attorney general's office said Tuesday. The decision is likely to extend the debate over a tragedy at the intersection of gun rights and concerns over racial biases in policing.
    The shooting death of Emantic F. Bradford Jr., 21, at the Riverchase Galleria mall in Hoover, Ala., prompted protests and raised questionsabout whether police officers are too quick to assume that a nonwhite person who is armed is a wrongdoer.
    In a 24-page report, Attorney General Steve Marshall concluded that the Hoover police officer — identified only as Officer 1 — who shot Mr. Bradford had "reasonably exercised" his duties.
    "Officer 1's actions were reasonable under the circumstances and were consistent with his training and nationally accepted standards for 'active shooter' scenarios," the report stated.

    The police officer shot Mr. Bradford, who went by E.J., a few seconds after gunshots rang out at the mall on Nov. 22, sending shoppers racing for safety and leaving an 18-year-old man, Brian Wilson, injured by two bullets.
    The officer, who was on duty at the mall, said in a statement that he had turned toward the sound of the gunfire with his weapon drawn, and saw an injured man clutching his stomach near a railing, with another man helping him. He said he also saw "an armed suspect" who was "quickly moving towards the two males standing near the railing."
    "The suspect was advancing on the two males and had a black handgun in his right hand," the officer said. "I fired my duty weapon at the armed suspect to stop him." That man was Mr. Bradford.
    The officer said he thought Mr. Bradford was going to kill the two men, and the report said the officer had "mistakenly believed" Mr. Bradford had fired the initial shots.

    The officer said he was unable to issue verbal commands before firing, "due to the quickness of the event and the immediate threat Bradford posed" to the two men he was approaching.
    The police later arrested another man — Erron Martez Dequan Brown, 20 — and charged him with attempted murder in connection with the shooting of Mr. Wilson, the injured man by the railing.
    The attorney general's report said there was no evidence that Mr. Bradford's handgun was fired at the mall.
    The report said the F.B.I. had found no evidence to prompt an investigation into whether Mr. Bradford's civil rights had been violated, a basis for federal prosecutions in cases that are otherwise under state jurisdiction. An F.B.I. spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter Tuesday.
    The decision not to bring charges did little to quell the suspicions and anger of Mr. Bradford's relatives and supporters. "I'm outraged," his mother, April Pipkins, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "In no way was justice served."
    Some surveillance video images of the events at the mall were released on Tuesday. But Benjamin L. Crump, a lawyer for the family, said he believed there was additional footage that had not been released, and he demanded that the public be allowed to see it. In a prepared statement, he said that Mr. Bradford's "only 'crime' was being black."
    Ashlyn McMillan, a witness to the mall shootings, told The New York Times that she considered Mr. Bradford a hero, saying that he had directed frantic shoppers to safety and had warned her to get down and seek cover inside a store.

    A man named Roosevelt Poole filled in some of the night's narrative blanks at a recent preliminary hearing in the case. According to the Alabama news website AL.com, Mr. Poole said that he and another man were with Mr. Brown, the suspected gunman, in front of the J.C. Penney store in the mall when Mr. Bradford, Mr. Wilson and about eight other people showed up.
    Soon, Mr. Poole said, Mr. Wilson was slapping and punching Mr. Brown, the website reported. Mr. Brown's lawyers say that he shot Mr. Wilson in self-defense.
    The attorney general's report said that video footage showed Mr. Brown and his friends running into the J.C. Penney store after the shots were fired. For his part, Mr. Bradford initially ran away from the store entrance after the shots, the report said, but then drew his weapon and chambered a round.
    "Bradford then charges back toward J.C. Penney, gun drawn," the report states.
    Mr. Crump said in a telephone interview that he believed Mr. Bradford was in no way intending to engage in a shootout.
    The attorney general's report concludes that the officer's initial mistaken belief that Mr. Bradford had shot Mr. Wilson did not render the officer's actions "unreasonable."
    "First, a reasonable person could have assumed that the only person with a gun who was running toward the victim of a shooting that occurred just three seconds earlier fired the shots," it said.
    The report also asserted that Mr. Bradford "still posed an immediate deadly threat to persons in the area. Video evidence suggests that Bradford, who was carrying a firearm, was running toward the initial shooter, Erron Brown, who was also carrying a firearm. Multiple shoppers were nearby, including a mother and child directly in between the two armed men."


    6) Elliott Abrams, Trump's Pick to Bring "Democracy" to Venezuela, Has Spent His Life Crushing Democracy
    By Jon Schwarz
    Via Email, February 5, 2019
    Elliott Abrams, 2019

    On December 11, 1981 in El Salvador, a Salvadoran military unit created and trained by the U.S. Army began slaughtering everyone they could find in a remote village called El Mozote. Before murdering the women and girls, the soldiers raped them repeatedly, including some as young as 10 years old, and joked that their favorites were the 12-year-olds. One witness described a soldier tossing a 3-year-old child into the air and impaling him with his bayonet. The final death toll was over 800 people. The next day, December 12, was the first day on the job for Elliott Abrams as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs in the Reagan administration. Abrams snapped into action, helping to lead a cover-up of the massacre. News reports of what had happened, Abrams told the Senate, were "not credible," and the whole thing was being "significantly misused" as propaganda by anti-government guerillas. This past Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named Abrams as America's special envoy for Venezuela. According to Pompeo, Abrams "will have responsibility for all things related to our efforts to restore democracy" in the oil-rich nation. The choice of Abrams sends a clear message to Venezuela and the world: The Trump administration intends to brutalize Venezuela, while producing a stream of unctuous rhetoric about America's love for democracy and human rights. Combining these two factors — the brutality and the unctuousness — is Abrams's core competency. Abrams previously served in a multitude of positions in the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, often with titles declaring their focus on morality. First, he was assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs (in 1981); then the State Department "human rights" position mentioned above (1981-85); assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs (1985-89); senior director for democracy, human rights, and international operations for the National Security Council (2001-05); and finally, Bush's deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy (2005-09). In these positions, Abrams participated in many of the most ghastly acts of U.S. foreign policy from the past 40 years, all the while proclaiming how deeply he cared about the foreigners he and his friends were murdering. Looking back, it's uncanny to see how Abrams has almost always been there when U.S. actions were at their most sordid.

    Abrams, a graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School, joined the Reagan administration in 1981, at age 33. He soon received a promotion due to a stroke of luck: Reagan wanted to name Ernest Lefever as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, but Lefever's nomination ran aground when two of his own brothers revealed that he believed African-Americans were "inferior, intellectually speaking." A disappointed Reagan was forced to turn to Abrams as a second choice. A key Reagan administration concern at the time was Central America — in particular, the four adjoining nations of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. All had been dominated by tiny, cruel, white elites since their founding, with a century's worth of help from U.S. interventions. In each country, the ruling families saw their society's other inhabitants as human-shaped animals, who could be harnessed or killed as needed. But shortly before Reagan took office, Anastasio Somoza, the dictator of Nicaragua and a U.S. ally, had been overthrown by a socialist revolution. The Reaganites rationally saw this as a threat to the governments of Nicaragua's neighbors. Each country had large populations who similarly did not enjoy being worked to death on coffee plantations or watching their children die of easily treated diseases. Some would take up arms, and some would simply try to keep their heads down, but all, from the perspective of the cold warriors in the White House, were likely "communists" taking orders from Moscow. They needed to be taught a lesson.

    El Salvador
    The extermination of El Mozote was just a drop in the river of what happened in El Salvador during the 1980s. About 75,000 Salvadorans died during what's called a "civil war," although almost all the killing was done by the government and its associated death squads. The numbers alone don't tell the whole story. El Salvador is a small country, about the size of New Jersey. The equivalent number of deaths in the U.S. would be almost 5 million. Moreover, the Salvadoran regime continually engaged in acts of barbarism so heinous that there is no contemporary equivalent, except perhaps ISIS. In one instance, a Catholic priest reported that a peasant woman briefly left her three small children in the care of her mother and sister. When she returned, she found that all five had been decapitated by the Salvadoran National Guard. Their bodies were sitting around a table, with their hands placed on their heads in front of them, "as though each body was stroking its own head." The hand of one, a toddler, apparently kept slipping off her small head, so it had been nailed onto it. At the center of the table was a large bowl full of blood. Criticism of U.S. policy at the time was not confined to the left. During this period, Charles Maechling Jr., who had led State Department planning for counterinsurgencies during the 1960s, wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the U.S. was supporting "Mafia-like oligarchies" in El Salvador and elsewhere and was directly complicit in "the methods of Heinrich Himmler's extermination squads." Abrams was one of the architects of the Reagan administration's policy of full-throated support for the Salvadoran government. He had no qualms about any of it and no mercy for anyone who escaped the Salvadoran abattoir. In 1984, sounding exactly like Trump officials today, he explained that Salvadorans who were in the U.S. illegally should not receive any kind of special status. "Some groups argue that illegal aliens who are sent back to El Salvador meet persecution and often death," he told the House of Representatives. "Obviously, we do not believe these claims or we would not deport these people." Even when out of office, 10 years after the El Mozote massacre, Abrams expressed doubt that anything untoward had occurred there. In 1993, when a United Nations truth commission found that 95 percent of the acts of violence that had taken place in El Salvador since 1980 had been committed by Abrams's friends in the Salvadoran government, he called what he and his colleagues in the Reagan administration had done a "fabulous achievement."

    The situation in Guatemala during the 1980s was much the same, as were Abrams's actions. After the U.S. engineered the overthrow of Guatemala's democratically elected president in 1954, the country had descended into a nightmare of revolving military dictatorships. Between 1960 and 1996, in another "civil war," 200,000 Guatemalans were killed — the equivalent of maybe 8 million people in America. A U.N. commission later found that the Guatemalan state was responsible for 93 percent of the human rights violations.

    Efraín Ríos Montt, who served as Guatemala's president in the early 1980s, was found guilty in 2013, by Guatemala's own justice system, of committing genocide against the country's indigenous Mayans. During Ríos Montt's administration, Abrams called for the lifting of an embargo on U.S. arms shipments to Guatemala, claiming that Ríos Montt had "brought considerable progress." The U.S. had to support the Guatemalan government, Abrams argued, because "if we take the attitude 'don't come to us until you're perfect, we're going to walk away from this problem until Guatemala has a perfect human rights record,' then we're going to be leaving in the lurch people there who are trying to make progress." One example of the people making an honest effort, according to Abrams, was Ríos Montt. Thanks to Ríos Montt, "there has been a tremendous change, especially in the attitude of the government toward the Indian population." (Ríos Montt's conviction was later set aside by Guatemala's highest civilian court, and he died before a new trial could finish.)

    Abrams would become best known for his enthusiastic involvement with the Reagan administration's push to overthrow Nicaragua's revolutionary Sandinista government. He advocated for a full invasion of Nicaragua in 1983, immediately after the successful U.S. attack on the teeny island nation of Grenada. When Congress cut off funds to the Contras, an anti-Sandinista guerrilla force created by the U.S., Abrams successfully persuaded the Sultan of Brunei to cough up $10 million for the cause. Unfortunately, Abrams, acting under the code name "Kenilworth," provided the Sultan with the wrong Swiss bank account number, so the money was wired instead to a random lucky recipient.

    Abrams was questioned by Congress about his Contra-related activities and lied voluminously. He later pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information. One was about the Sultan and his money, and another was about Abrams's knowledge of a Contra resupply C-123 plane that had been shot down in 1986. In a nice historical rhyme with his new job in the Trump administration, Abrams had previously attempted to obtain two C-123s for the Contras from the military of Venezuela. Abrams received a sentence of 100 hours of community service and perceived the whole affair as an injustice of cosmic proportions. He soon wrote a book in which he described his inner monologue about his prosecutors, which went: "You miserable, filthy bastards, you bloodsuckers!" He was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush on the latter's way out the door after he lost the 1992 election.

    While it's been forgotten now, before America invaded Panama to oust Manuel Noriega in 1989, he was a close ally of the U.S. — despite the fact the Reagan administration knew he was a large-scale drug trafficker. In 1985, Hugo Spadafora, a popular figure in Panama and its one-time vice minister for health, believed he had obtained proof of Noriega's involvement in cocaine smuggling. He was on a bus on his way to Panama City to release it publicly when he was seized by Noriega's thugs. According to the book "Overthrow" by former New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer, U.S. intelligence picked up Noriega giving his underlings the go-ahead to put Spadafora down like "a rabid dog." They tortured Spadafora for a long night and then sawed off his head while he was still alive. When Spadafora's body was found, his stomach was full of blood he'd swallowed.

    This was so horrific that it got people's attention. But Abrams leapt to Noriega's defense, blocking the U.S. ambassador to Panama from increasing pressure on the Panamanian leader. When Spadafora's brother persuaded North Carolina's hyper-conservative GOP Sen. Jesse Helms to hold hearings on Panama, Abrams told Helms that Noriega was "being really helpful to us" and was "really not that big a problem. The Panamanians have promised they are going to help us with the Contras. If you have the hearings, it'll alienate them."

    And That's Not All
    Abrams also engaged in malfeasance for no discernible reason, perhaps just to stay in shape. In 1986 a Colombian journalist named Patricia Lara was invited to the U.S. to attend a dinner honoring writers who'd advanced "inter-American understanding and freedom of information." When Lara arrived at New York's Kennedy airport, she was taken into custody, then put on a plane back home. Soon afterward, Abrams went on "60 Minutes" to claim that Lara was a member of the "ruling committees" of M-19, a Colombian guerrilla movement. She also, according to Abrams, was "an active liaison" between M-19 "and the Cuban secret police." Given the frequent right-wing paramilitary violence against Colombian reporters, this painted a target on Lara's back. There was no evidence then that Abrams's assertions were true — Colombia's own conservative government denied it — and none has appeared since. Abrams's never-ending, shameless deceptions wore down American reporters. "They said that black was white," Joanne Omang at the Washington Post later explained about Abrams and his White House colleague Robert McFarlane. "Although I had used all my professional resources I had misled my readers." Omang was so exhausted by the experience that she quit her job trying to describe the real world to try to write fiction. Post-conviction Abrams was seen as damaged goods who couldn't return to government.. This underestimated him. Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., the one-time chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tangled fiercely with Abrams in 1989 over the proper U.S. policy toward Noriega once it become clear he was more trouble than he was worth. Crowe strongly opposed a bright idea that Abrams had come up with: that the U.S. should establish a government-in-exile on Panamanian soil, which would require thousands of U.S. troops to guard. This was deeply boneheaded, Crowe said, but it didn't matter. Crowe presciently issued a warning about Abrams: "This snake's hard to kill."

    To the surprise of Washington's more naive insiders, Abrams was back in business soon after George W. Bush entered the White House. It might have been difficult to get Senate approval for someone who had deceived Congress, so Bush put him in a slot at the National Security Council — where no legislative branch approval was needed. Just like 20 years before, Abrams was handed a portfolio involving "democracy" and "human rights."

    By the beginning of 2002, Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, had become deeply irritating to the Bush White House, which was filled with veterans of the battles of the 1980s. That April, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Chavez was pushed out of power in a coup. Whether and how the U.S. was involved is not yet known, and probably won't be for decades until the relevant documents are declassified. But based on the previous 100 years, it would be surprising indeed if America didn't play any behind-the-scenes role. For what it's worth, the London Observer reported at the time that "the crucial figure around the coup was Abrams" and he "gave a nod" to the plotters. In any case, Chavez had enough popular support that he was able to regroup and return to office within days.

    Abrams apparently did play a key role in squelching a peace proposal from Iran in 2003, just after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The plan arrived by fax, and should have gone to Abrams, and then to Condoleezza Rice, at the time Bush's national security adviser. Instead it somehow never made it to Rice's desk. When later asked about this, Abrams's spokesperson replied that he "had no memory of any such fax." (Abrams, like so many people who thrive at the highest level of politics, has a terrible memory for anything political. In 1984, he told Ted Koppel that he couldn't recall for sure whether the U.S. had investigated reports of massacres in El Salvador. In 1986, when asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee if he'd discussed fundraising for the contras with anyone on the NSC's staff, he likewise couldn't remember.)

    Israel and Palestine
    Abrams was also at the center of another attempt to thwart the outcome of a democratic election, in 2006. Bush had pushed for legislative elections in the West Bank and Gaza in order to give Fatah, the highly corrupt Palestinian organization headed by Yasser Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, some badly needed legitimacy. To everyone's surprise, Fatah's rival Hamas won, giving it the right to form a government. This unpleasant outburst of democracy was not acceptable to the Bush administration, in particular Rice and Abrams. They hatched a plan to form a Fatah militia to take over the Gaza Strip, and crush Hamas in its home territory. As reported by Vanity Fair, this involved a great deal of torture and executions. But Hamas stole a march on Fatah with their own ultra-violence. David Wurmser, a neoconservative who worked for Dick Cheney at the time, told Vanity Fair, "It looks to me that what happened wasn't so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen." Yet ever since, these events have been turned upside down in the U.S. media, with Hamas being presented as the aggressors. While the U.S. plan was not a total success, it also was not a total failure from the perspective of America and Israel. The Palestinian civil war split the West Bank and Gaza into two entities, with rival governments in both. For the past 13 years, there's been little sign of the political unity necessary for Palestinians to get a decent life for themselves. Abrams then left office with Bush's exit. But now he's back for a third rotation through the corridors of power – with the same kinds of schemes he's executed the first two times. Looking back at Abrams's lifetime of lies and savagery, it's hard to imagine what he could say to justify it. But he does have a defense for everything he's done — and it's a good one.

    In 1995, Abrams appeared on "The Charlie Rose Show" with Allan Nairn, one of the most knowledgable American reporters about U.S. foreign policy. Nairn noted that George H.W. Bush had once discussed putting Saddam Hussein on trial for crimes against humanity. This was a good idea, said Nairn, but "if you're serious, you have to be even-handed" — which would mean also prosecuting officials like Abrams. Abrams chuckled at the ludicrousness of such a concept. That would require, he said, "putting all the American officials who won the Cold War in the dock." Abrams was largely right. The distressing reality is that Abrams is no rogue outlier, but a respected, honored member of the center right of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. His first jobs before joining the Reagan administration were working for two Democratic senators, Henry Jackson and Daniel Moynihan. He was a senior fellow at the centrist Council on Foreign Relations. He's been a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and now is on the board of the National Endowment for Democracy. He's taught the next generation of foreign policy officials at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. He didn't somehow fool Reagan and George W. Bush — they wanted exactly what Abrams provided.

    So no matter the gruesome particulars of Abrams's career, the important thing to remember — as the U.S. eagle tightens its razor-sharp talons around yet another Latin American country — is that Abrams isn't that exceptional. He's mostly a cog in a machine. It's the machine that's the problem, not its malevolent parts.

    Before joining First Look, Jon Schwarz worked for Michael Moore's Dog Eat Dog Films and was Research Producer for Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story." He's contributed to many publications, including the New Yorker, the New York Times, The Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, Mother Jones, and Slate, as well as NPR and "Saturday Night Live." In 2003 he collected on a $1,000 bet that Iraq would have no weapons of mass destruction.


    7) Income Is a Strong Predictor of Drug Purchases for Some Serious Diseases
    By Kevin Quealy and Margot Sanger-Katz, February 7, 2019

    Among the striking disparities: There are more prescriptions for drugs to treat mental illness in wealthy neighborhoods, while in poorer ones, there are more for H.I.V. and hepatitis C.CreditGeorge Frey/Reuters

    There are many, many things that rich people buy in larger quantities. It turns out medications for certain serious diseases may be one of them.
    A new analysis has found that, for some types of medications, income is a pretty strong predictor of how often someone is picking up a drug to treat an ailment.

    The analysis, by GoodRx, a company that tracks prescription drug prices, looked at how often residents of different neighborhoods filled prescriptions for different categories of drugs.

    Patients in wealthier neighborhoods were much more likely to pick up prescriptions for lifestyle problems: erectile dysfunction, baldness, anti-wrinkle Botox injections and an eye medicine that thickens eyelashes. This may be unsurprising.

    But the analysis also showed that richer patients were more likely to buy drugs for certain serious conditions, including mental health disorders. This was the case even though the analysis showed that income doesn't track with overall prescription use. 
    These prescriptions for serious conditions were filled disproportionately in rich neighborhoods despite evidence that the rich tend to be in overall better health. In fact, people in rich neighborhoods filled fewer prescriptions than people in middle-class neighborhoods. The blend of data suggests that, while prescriptions and income don't track well over all, there are points where they do.

    The relationship between income and prescription drug purchasing is more complicated than whether someone has money to spend at the pharmacy. Depending on income and life circumstances, Americans may have different odds of developing certain illnesses and of seeking treatment — even before the direct cost of medicines becomes an issue.
    "There are definitely a bunch of financial barriers before you even get to the point of getting to fill a drug," said Stacie B. Dusetzina, an associate professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University. She said social and cultural factors could matter, too: Evidence has shown that doctors are less likely to prescribe pain medicines to black patientsthan white ones, for example.

    Niteesh Choudhry, a professor of medicine and public health at Harvard, said that his research hadn't shown a clear relationship between income and prescription drug use. Instead, he said, cultural and racial factors — and the details of insurance coverage — were better predictors. When it comes to treatments for very common conditions, "the income relationships are probably not linear," he said.

    Several experts in the demographics of drug use said all those factors might explain the higher usage of medications for mental health problems among wealthier people. Some mental health problems are more prevalent among Americans with lower incomes, evidence shows. But longtime holes in the health care system mean that richer patients are more likely to have private insurance or extra money to pay for psychiatric care that is not covered by insurance. And some people in lower-income communities may feel more stigma around mental health diagnoses.

    A similar dynamic could explain lower prescription rates for birth control among lower-income women. Under Obamacare, all women with health insurance should be able to get contraception with no co-payment. So cost at the pharmacy counter can't alone explain the differences. But higher-income women may be more likely to have a regular doctor to prescribe pills. (The data shows that emergency contraceptive purchases, also available without co-payment, were more common in lower-income neighborhoods.)

    The high cost of EpiPens alone may explain some of the differences in usage. Current guidance is for patients to stock several of the devices, used to treat life-threatening allergic reactions, and replace them often. But their high cost may lead some poorer patients to make do with fewer or older ones, while those with more disposable income might stock extras.

    Some drugs seem to be taken about equally regardless of income. The use of antibiotics appears to be roughly the same for middle-class and rich Americans. These drugs are used for some serious diseases, have few over-the-counter substitutes, and tend to be inexpensive.

    Some drugs are much more commonly used at the low end of the income scale. Consider treatments for hepatitis C and H.I.V. These are diseases that disproportionately affect low-income Americans, and that pattern is reflected in the prescription purchasing patterns.
    The GoodRx data looked at a sample of 53 million retail pharmacy purchases in 39 large metropolitan areas over a year ending in October 2018, then divided them according to the income characteristics of the people who lived in the census tract where the pharmacy was located.
    This is not exactly the same as tracking individual customers by income, but most people buy drugs at pharmacies near their homes. The data includes drug purchases by people with both public and private health insurance, and by some customers who buy their medications using cash. Analysts at GoodRx then grouped drugs prescribed for various diagnoses to build categories. They also made some adjustments to the data in cases where the sample overrepresented one kind of insurance.

    Kevin Quealy is a graphics editor and reporter. He writes and makes charts for The Upshot about a range of topics, including sports, politics, health care and income inequality. @KevinQ
    Margot Sanger-Katz is a domestic correspondent and writes about health care for The Upshot. She was previously a reporter at National Journal and The Concord Monitor and an editor at Legal Affairs and the Yale Alumni Magazine. @sangerkatz  Facebook

    8) France Recalls Ambassador to Italy After Minister Meets 'Yellow Vest' Protesters
    By Richard Pérez-Peña, February 7, 2019

    Luigi Di Maio, deputy prime minister and leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, in Rome in January. He met with leaders of the "Yellow Vest" protests in France on Tuesday.CreditCreditRiccardo Antimiani/EPA, via Shutterstock

    It has happened rarely between European Union allies, and not between France and Italy since the start of World War II. But on Thursday, after months of barbed commentary from Italian leaders, the French government said it had had enough: It recalled its ambassador from Rome.
    "This is without precedent since 1940, when Mussolini declared war," said Marc Lazar, a leading specialist of Franco-Italian relations who teaches at universities in Paris and Rome.
    "This is very, very harsh," he added. ''There's never been anything comparable. And it demonstrates a disturbing exacerbation of bad relations between the French and the Italians."

    More than that, it reflected the mounting strains on Europe's core that have been placed by populist governments as they seek to gain political points at home by chipping at the European Union and it supporters, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, foremost among them.

    The list of insults, particularly on the Italian side, is long. Last month, Matteo Salvini, Italy's deputy premier and most powerful politician, who has made a sport out of targeting France, called Mr. Macron ''a terrible president.''
    But the final straw appears to have been cast by Mr. Salvini's coalition partner, Luigi Di Maio, the political leader of the populist Five Star Movement, who met on Tuesday in France with a Yellow Vest leader who has called for civil war.
    On February 5 Luigi Di Maio, the political leader of the Five Star Movement, and Alessandro Di Battista, a rabble rouser who many consider the party's leader-in-waiting, posted a picture on their social media pages of a meeting near Paris with Christophe Chalencon, an organizer of the Yellow Vest movement from the south of France.
    In the post, Mr. Di Maio said "This is the picture of a beautiful meeting, first of many to come, where we talked about our countries, social rights, the environment and direct democracy. The wind of change has crossed the Alps. I am repeating. The wind of change has crossed the Alps."
    Mr. Di Maio hailed the French popular uprising for ushering in "a new Europe;" the French denounced the meeting with the Yellow Vests as "an additional and unacceptable provocation."

    It "violated the respect that is owed to the democratic choices made by an allied and friendly nation," the French foreign ministry said in a statement, underscoring the government's hostility towards the Yellow Vest movement.
    Thursday France recalled its ambassador back to Paris. The latest precedent was Hungary's recall of its ambassador to the Netherlands in 2017 after that country's ambassador criticized Viktor Orban.
    In Franco-Italian relations,
    The spat has had comic-opera overtones, with its outlandish insults from the Italians — France should get rid of its "very bad president," the Italian far right leader and interior minister Matteo Salvini said recently — and its injured dignity on the French side. "Outrageous declarations" had been aimed at France by Italy, the French foreign ministry huffed on Thursday.
    But beneath the provocation and posturing there is a serious undercurrent, recognized by both sides: a battle for Europe's leadership between the forces represented by the Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, and the more open, self-proclaimed "progressive" spirit of Mr. Macron, who last summer denounced the populist "leprosy" rising in Europe, in a barb deliberately aimed at Mr. Salvini.
    "It's a confrontation between two very different conceptions of Europe," said Mr. Lazar — the ultra-nationalist, populist conception of Mr. Salvini, and Mr. Macron's constant proselytizing for a more unified, transnational Europe.
    Mr. Macron's palpable disdain for the Italian populists has only multiplied Italian fury at the French government.
    The dispute between the two countries came to a first boil last summer over the migrant issue. The Italians, having born the great brunt of the migrant wave since 2015, were outraged when Mr. Macron denounced the new Italian government for failing to take in the 629 migrants of the Aquarius humanitarian rescue boat.

    But beneath the provocation and posturing there is a serious undercurrent, recognized by both sides: a battle for Europe's leadership between the forces represented by the Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, and the more open, self-proclaimed "progressive" spirit of Mr. Macron, who last summer denounced the populist "leprosy" rising in Europe, in a barb deliberately aimed at Mr. Salvini.
    "It's a confrontation between two very different conceptions of Europe," said Mr. Lazar — the ultranationalist, populist conception of Mr. Salvini, and Mr. Macron's constant proselytizing for a more unified, transnational Europe.
    Mr. Macron's palpable disdain for the Italian populists has only multiplied Italian fury at the French government.


    9) Virginia Police Sergeant Suspended After Antifa Ties Him to White Nationalism
    By Matt Stevens and Elisha Brown, February 6, 2019

    Sgt. Robert A. Stamm of the Virginia Division of Capitol Police has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into a report that he has ties to white nationalists.CreditCreditVirginia Capital Police

    A police sergeant in Virginia who was assigned to monitor the protests related to Gov. Ralph Northam was suspended Wednesday after being identified by an anti-fascist group as having an "affinity with white nationalist groups."
    The sergeant, Robert A. Stamm, 36, "has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of a review," the Virginia Division of Capitol Police said in a statement. Sergeant Stamm joined the division in 2014 and was promoted to his current rank last year, officials said.
    "There is a review policy in place, and we will follow that policy," Col. Anthony S. Pike, the division's chief, said in the statement.
    Reached by telephone on Wednesday night, Sergeant Stamm declined to comment.

    The authorities said in the statement that they were "made aware" early Wednesday morning of a "possible violation of division policy" by Sergeant Stamm. A police official specified that the possible violation that prompted the suspension was outlined in a blog post published on Tuesday by Antifascist of the Seven Hills. The group describes itself as an organization that seeks "to fight fascists" in Richmond, Va., "as communists and anarchists united in militant opposition."

    In the blog post, the group published several pictures — apparently pulled from Sergeant Stamm's social media accounts — of what it said was him with tattoos, flags and banners that it said were symbols and images associated with Nazis and white supremacists.
    Prof. Brian Levin of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said some of the symbols could have "dual messages." For instance, the Wolfsangel symbol — which resembles one of the tattoos — is a centuries-old insignia that was later used in Nazi Germany, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
    "These symbols, whether Wolfsangel or others, embrace Nordic history and culture," Professor Levin said. "A lot of this has been appropriated by modern-day white supremacists and neo-Nazis."
    The anti-fascist group said Sergeant Stamm came to its attention during the recent protests on the Capitol grounds during which people have demanded that Governor Northam resign over a racist photo in his medical school yearbook. Sergeant Stamm came to the attention of anti-fascists because he had a large Band-Aid covering his neck during one of the protests, the group said in its blog post. The police official confirmed that Sergeant Stamm had been assigned to patrol Virginia's Executive Mansion at least twice in recent days.
    The group also alleges that on Sergeant Stamm's Facebook page — which, along with other social media accounts appears to have been deleted — he was "friends with a number of people who claim to be associated with the group Asatru Folk Assembly" and at one point earlier this year added a profile photo of himself with what the group said was the Asatru Folk Assembly logo overlaid on it.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center has called the Asatru Folk Assembly "perhaps this country's largest neo-Völkisch hate group." Neo-Völkisch adherents, the Law Center says, are "spirituality premised on the survival of white Europeans and the preservation of dead or dying cultures they presume to embody" and "organized around ethnocentricity and archaic notions of gender."
    As recently as 2015, the F.B.I. foiled a plot by two men in the Richmond area who ascribed "to a white supremacy extremist version of the Asatru faith," an F.B.I. agent wrote in a federal affidavit. The plot, the agent alleged, involved shooting or bombing black churches and Jewish synagogues and doing harm to a gun store owner.

    Doris Burke contributed research.


    10) Border Residents Shrug at Trump's Dire Warnings: 'They Make Me Laugh'
    By Jose A. Del Real, February 6, 2019

    Ferdinando Galeana, right, on Tuesday at D'Poly Taco Grill and Beer, the restaurant he owns in El Centro, Calif.CreditCreditEmily Kask for The New York Times

    EL CENTRO, Calif. — Donald Trump was on the television, but no matter. Ferdinando Galeana's customers were watching their plates, not the president.
    As Mr. Trump delivered an ominous State of the Union address from Washington, which warned repeatedly about the dangers along the southwest border, Mr. Galeana dutifully tended to orders of tacos, horchata and micheladas at D'Poly, the Mexican eatery his family runs here about 10 miles from the Mexican border. What the president was saying on the screen behind him, said Mr. Galeana, would not help his small business, his family or his five dozen employees.
    "What we need here is someone to help people looking for jobs," said Mr. Galeana, whose wife and American-born children work with him at the restaurant. "The things he says, they make me laugh."

    Residents of El Centro and several other towns along the California-Mexico border have watched with curiosity and apprehension in recent years as the president has escalated his calls for a wall along the southwest frontier. Mr. Trump repeated his warnings about such perils again Tuesday.

    "Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis," Mr. Trump said during his speech, delivered not long after a bitter impasse over funding for a border wall that shut down the government for 35 days. "Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our government, protect our homeland, and secure our very dangerous southern border."
    [Sign up for Crossing the Border, a limited-run newsletter about life where the United States and Mexico meet.]
    On a busy Tuesday night at D'Poly, patrons occasionally glanced at the screen that played the president's address to the nation. Most paid it no mind at all. Mr. Galeana and others said they had largely tuned out what the president has to say because, too often, his rhetoric is disconnected from what their communities really want. They have struggled to reconcile the president's warnings about threatening conditions on the border with their own experiences living in this quiet, largely agricultural hamlet.
    "What he's saying on the news is different from what we're seeing here," said Cecy Magallanes, 45, who is originally from Mexicali, not far across the border in Mexico, and works as a school bus driver.

    She said Mr. Trump's previous calls for a border wall seemed "like a strategy to get votes."
    "His wall — always his wall," added Cesar Salas, Ms. Magallanes's husband, shaking his head.

    Located on El Centro's Main Street, D'Poly and its clientele embody the biculturalism of border towns across the Southwest. Farm workers, white-collar professionals, big families and off-duty Border Patrol agents congregate here for tacos, sopes and flavored juices. Modern and minimalist, the restaurant's gray walls and dark wood floors could be the backdrop of an elegant Crate and Barrel photo shoot — save for an arresting pink mural of Frida Kahlo that instantly sets the room apart. Flashes of pastel pop from behind a tiled bar, which includes a display of "Dia de los Muertos" statuettes.
    [Read: State of the Union Fact Check: What Trump Got Right and Wrong]
    English and Spanish are heard virtually interchangeably at table after table. Latin pop plays in the background, songs like "Dónde Estarás" by the Mexican electrocumbia musician Raymix.
    Mr. Galeana, who owns the restaurant along with his wife, Teresa, said he and his family decorated with the idea of showcasing Mexican culture in a modern setting, a concept that "so often is lost" in Mexican restaurants in favor of stereotypical décor like sombreros.
    "Our idea was to show that Mexico is not just what the stereotypes say: It's so much more," he said. "We are proud of our culture, and we want to show that."
    That is what many of those here say they wish the president understood: Immigration and cross-national exchanges are celebrated in these towns along the border.
    Hildy Carrillo, the executive director of the Calexico Chamber of Commerce, has been sharply critical of President Trump's immigration policies. She watched with exasperation last year when Mr. Trump called the replacement of the town's border barrier "the start of our Southern Border WALL!" She said she feared the president's remark would turn Calexico into an anti-immigration symbol and make it seem unsafe.
    For that reason, Ms. Carrillo, a Democrat, chose not to watch the speech Tuesday — "one of the few I've ever missed," she said. She went shopping instead, she said, because "I refuse to get stressed out having to listen to him."

    Such frustrations are frequently expressed in towns along the southwest border, which spans nearly 2,000 miles from California to Texas. Public officials from El Paso took to social media after Tuesday night's speech to accuse the president of intentionally misleading the public after he said a border barrier had turned around high crime rates in the city. "Simply put, walls work and walls save lives," Mr. Trump said.
    "He lies. @POTUS is once again lying and using the #SOTU address to spread falsehoods about our beloved city of El Paso," Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat who represents El Paso, said on Twitter.
    A fact check by The El Paso Times on the matter, prepared in January but circulated heavily again on Tuesday night, found the city's crime rate peaked in 1993, but by 2006 had sharply declined to its lowest level in decades. Construction on the border fence that Mr. Trump appeared to reference began in 2008.

    The paper also pointed out that, before the Bush-era fence was approved, El Paso and Ciudad Juárez had been separated by a border barrier for decades.
    Before the speech on Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, a Democrat, denounced "the president's charade of border fear-mongering" and ordered the withdrawal of most National Guard troops stationed at the border in her state.
    Many people living along the border, including Mexican immigrants, say they understand the desire for strong border security. But in conversations here in El Centro on Tuesday, even those who agreed with some of the president's positions were quick to point out that his statements about immigrants, and Mexicans in particular, made them disinclined to support him.
    Aleyda Montejano, 21, who is Mexican-American, lives in the town of Imperial but goes to hairstyling school in Mexicali because it is less expensive. She said that she agreed with the president that there needed to be a deterrent to illegal immigration. But she said that message was difficult to separate from his tone.

    "The way he talks about Mexicans, I just don't agree with it," she said. "The reason people come here is to have a better life. But, about the border, there are some people that cross illegally and that's not right."
    Brian Arturo Posada, 19, an American citizen who grew up in Mexicali, said that he was sympathetic to some of the things Republicans in Washington talk about, like preventing abuse of social benefits such as unemployment insurance. But he said the president's tone in past speeches too frequently crossed the line when he talked about immigrants and Mexican laborers.
    "The only thing that really I didn't like was when he said all Mexicans are gangsters," he said. "That's not true, it's not true. And when he was keeping those kids in jails, that made me really mad."
    Meanwhile, several Mexican laborers in the region said they fear that the president's warnings about immigrants and crime exacerbates discrimination against them.
    Cristina Bejarano, 34, a Mexican laborer who picks cilantro and lives in Calexico, about 12 miles south of El Centro, said that life for her and other immigrants in the region can be difficult because of the nature of farm work. But she said she moved to the United States two years ago because, even if farm labor is backbreaking, her life and prospects are better here than in Mexico.
    She said she wished President Trump and others could understand that.
    "A lot of people haven't had a chance to meet any Mexicans," Ms. Bejarano said. "They say we're all criminals when we're not. Just because we're brown doesn't mean we're dirty."


    11) 21 Savage, American Rapper
    By Jon Caramanica, February 6, 2019

    21 Savage's style of rap has evolved from cold brutalism into something more reflective.CreditCreditAmy Harris/Invision, via Associated Press

    The video for "A Lot," 21 Savage's elegiac single, takes place at a formal dinner and party in a cloud-high mansion, a lavish and exuberant celebration of black wealth. But there's a moving sequence midway through that suggests trouble just beneath the surface.
    The cuts are quick — warm shots of confident guests at the dinner table interspersed with darker scenes in which they're suffering: poor health, financial hardship, criminal past, abuse, death of a loved one. The message of the video isn't exactly that nothing is as it seems, but more that where you end up may be far from where you came from, and that success doesn't cure all obstacles.
    When 21 Savage first emerged in 2015, he was a cold brutalist of a rapper whose verses verged on the dead-eyed. But just a few years on, he's taken a turn to the reflective. Later in the video, he added a ruminative new verse to the song, rapping, "Went through some things, but I couldn't imagine my kids stuck at the border," directly addressing the current administration's divisive immigration policies.
    [Never miss a pop music story: Get our weekly newsletter, Louder.]

    On Sunday, just a couple of days after that video's release, 21 Savage was arrested by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which said he was in this country illegally and placed him into deportation proceedings. As of Wednesday afternoon, he remained in ICE custody.

    Is 21 Savage American? By any measurement other than citizenship, yes. He was born She'yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph in England in 1992. According to Charles Kuck, one of his immigration attorneys, he came to the United States at age 7 and has been here continuously ever since, apart from a one-month period in 2005. He then re-entered the country on an H-4 visa, which expired in 2006, leaving him without legal status.
    But the events of the last few days underscore the ways in which the hard power of government authority and soft power of online conversation can align in peculiar and insidious ways. As news began to spread on social media of 21 Savage's arrest on Sunday, the meme and joke ecosystem that uses trauma as oxygen went into overdrive, reacting with special intensity to the revelation that 21 Savage — one of the titans of Atlanta's rap scene — was in fact British. As the government put his relationship with this country in peril, thousands of people chirped in online to poke at the unlikeliness, and precariousness, of his situation.
    That 21 Savage is in fact a British national is, ultimately, not particularly revelatory, or even meaningful. Foreign-born residents made up 13.7 percent of the United States population in 2017, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, published last year (which includes those in the country legally and illegally). Most of the humor turned on a high-society caricature understanding of England, and the dissonance of locating someone like 21 Savage — a seen-it-all stoicist with a dagger tattooed on his forehead — inside it. By and large, those people overlooked, or didn't think as far as, the more odious association: that of empire and colonization. (His mother's family hails from Dominica, a former British colony in the West Indies.)
    His success, however, is especially American. Growing up in some of Atlanta's poorest communities, 21 Savage had a troubled childhood. He's said that he dropped out of school to sell drugs, and has spoken in interviews of a youth marked by violence and crime. But after losing a close friend and a brother to gun violence, he turned to rapping. And within a year, he was one of Atlanta's most promising prospects.
    He's since worked with DrakeCardi B and Post Malone. His 2017 debut album, "Issa Album," went gold, and his second studio album, "I Am > I Was," released in December, debuted at the top of the Billboard album chart. At this Sunday's Grammy Awards, 21 Savage is nominated in two categories.

    He has also been maturing in the public eye — advocating for gun control, donating money to educate young people in Atlanta on financial literacy (an announcement made on Ellen DeGeneres's show, of all places), even walking alongside then-girlfriend Amber Rose in 2017 at her SlutWalk, a women's empowerment event, carrying a sign that read "I'm a Hoe Too."
    This is the American promise, no? To start from nothing and turn it into a bounty. To receive a cruel hand and still emerge victorious.
    And yet there is this other American promise, or threat, which is that all that comfort can be easily ripped away if it isn't achieved in the correct fashion.
    In the case of 21 Savage, whose public image was built on a kind of impenetrable toughness mixed with weary resilience, this moment of vulnerability was destabilizing. Even in his most intimate music, he never presents as anything other than an agent of control.
    But the immigration system is beyond his jurisdiction, even though, since becoming a public figure, he has taken steps to address his status. According to a statement released by his attorneys on Tuesday, in 2017 he applied for a U visa, which, according to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, can be issued by the government to crime victims "who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity." 21 Savage has said he was shot in 2013. The statement did not specify whether he cooperated with authorities.
    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that 21 Savage was arrested at the same time DeKalb County police arrested another rapper, Young Nudy, on unrelated charges. But 21 Savage was detained directly by ICE, Kuck said. 21 Savage also was convicted on felony drug charges in 2014. The conviction record was expunged in September 2018 as part of Georgia's first-offender program and the files have been sealed, according to Jacoby Hudson, who represented 21 Savage in the matter.

    (Though expunged convictions have been used in deportation proceedings, 21 Savage would be eligible for removal simply for the overstayed visa.)
    21 Savage is now among the highest-profile immigration detainees, his situation instantly becoming a flash point in national conversations about people living in this country without legal status, and in dialogues about the ways in which immigrants contribute to American society. A petition asking for his release started by Black Lives Matter has amassed over 200,000 signatures.
    On Tuesday, Jay-Z posted on Facebook that 21 Savage's detention "is an absolute travesty." Jay-Z has also hired an attorney, Alex Spiro of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan, to work on 21 Savage's case, Spiro confirmed in an email.
    A star who built his own success, 21 Savage has in one fell swoop re-emerged as someone in need of protection. But in his recent music and public life, his identity was already becoming more complex and nuanced, delivering tales about the horrors of life at the bottom salted with a fresh understanding of just how slippery it can be at the top.


    12) Australia's Most Important Writer Isn't Allowed Into the Country
    Behrouz Boochani won the country's most valuable literary prize for a book he wrote via WhatsApp. Will it do anything to change refugee policy?
    By Richard Cook, February 8, 2019

    Behrouz Boochani on Manus Island in 2017.CreditCreditAdam Ferguson for The New York Times

    Many writers have earned prison time as well as prizes; the Nobel laureates Liu Xiaobo and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn come immediately to mind. But there seems to be no precedent for what happened in Australia last week, when an author named Behrouz Boochani won the country's most valuable literary prize, the Victorian Prize for Literature, but was unable to collect his stipend in person. The same nation praising him is also keeping him in indefinite detention on a small island in the Pacific.
    Mr. Boochani is a journalist of Kurdish heritage from Iran who fled the country in 2012 when the pro-Kurdish newspaper he worked for was raided by the Iranian government. He escaped to Indonesia and then, in 2013, attempted to seek asylum in Australia via boat. For the past five years, along with 700 or so other inmates, he has lived on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. His is a prison sentence without an end date: Australia refuses to accept asylees attempting arrival via boat, even if they attain refugee status, and Iran rejects forcible repatriation of these individuals.
    Mr. Boochani has continued his journalism in the Australian immigration detention system, detailing the circumstances of its inmates in publications like The Guardian and The Saturday Paper. He also shot an award-winning documentary, "Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time," using a smuggled mobile phone. 

    But he has found that the malicious vagaries of the offshore prisons, like the one that has become his home, have defeated standard reporting. "The language of journalism has never been strong enough or critical enough to describe the suffering on Manus island and Nauru," he told me this week via WhatsApp from Manus. "The language used by journalists cannot expose this complicated system. I have always tried to create a new language by using different forms of critical literary language."

    That new language is on full display in his prizewinning book, "No Friend but the Mountains" — a work that encompasses, among other things, a novel, a poem, a testimony, a psychoanalytic tract and a political pamphlet. He wrote the book entirely via WhatsApp in messages sent to his translator and friend based in Sydney and Cairo, Omid Tofighian.
    The book is so unusual that Mr. Tofighian says it is a "non-genre," and the author and translator have agreed on the umbrella term "horrific surrealism" to cover it. The award, which Mr. Tofighian accepted on Mr. Boochani's behalf, is a piece of that horrific surrealism. "The Victorian state government is giving him this award, and the prize money," Mr. Tofighian told me, "and at the same time, the federal government won't allow him into the country and is basically torturing him. Keeping him in prison indefinitely. The paradoxes are almost incomprehensible."
    Mr. Boochani says he has a "paradoxical feeling" about the prize. "I really don't know what to say," he texted me. "I certainly did not write this book just to win an award. My main aim has always been for the people in Australia and around the world to understand deeply how this system has tortured innocent people on Manus and Nauru in a systematic way for almost six years. I hope this award will bring more attention to our situation and create change and end this barbaric policy."
    Mr. Tofighian believes the implications are deeper than policy. "What Behrouz wants to challenge with his book — and I think he's achieving that — is the ideology that drives all perceptions of refugees on all sides of politics, that these people are needy, passive and only looking for a helping hand," he said. "He thinks 'the problem I have faced in all of my work and all of my resistance is people only see me as a refugee. Not as a thinker, not as a knowledge producer, not as a creative.' And I think the book and the reward have really disrupted that."
    The policies they are challenging are not easily shifted. Among the Australian political class, there is a bipartisan, almost talismanic belief that governmental authority comes from a "strong" maritime border. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, invokes his time as minister for immigration as his chief qualification for office. This display is quite literal: On his desk is a model of a refugee boat with the legend "I Stopped These" written across it. Because members of the center-left Australian Labor Party support these measures as well — their moral qualms may keep them up at night, but in the morning they do the same thing — Australian writers, artists and intellectuals have formed some of the most vociferous opposition to the nation's architecture of offshore immigration detention.

    They have variously invoked compassion, shame, exposure and a liberal humanist tradition centered on the concept of storytelling. Storytelling promotes empathy, our country's most celebrated artists insist. It shines a light. It transmits truth.
    Except after more than 20 years of mandatory detention, on- and offshore, and the speeches, plays, books, performances, artworks and protests arrayed against it, the situation has not budged. Art and artists can hardly be blamed for this state of affairs, but it is difficult to square crowd-pleasing writers' festival speeches about how much writing matters with how little it has achieved so far.
    "Over the almost six years we have been exiled here, I have seen many artists, writers and journalists make work based around attempts to grow empathy among non-refugees in Australia," Mr. Boochani said. "Nothing changes because in the end the complexities of the structures of domination and oppression remain unchallenged." Empathy trips over an "unacknowledged layer of power."
    His book is a kind of counterproposal to this method, a form that is liberated in itself. What he calls "curiosity for a new life" — building relationships with the local Manusian people; cultivating his freedom of mind even as his body is captive — has helped him survive. Something similar has happened to the other refugees. "They have changed so much — they have transfigured into different beings," he said in an interview included in the book. "This has occurred for everyone. The process has been unsettling and vexed, and some have become totally cynical and pessimistic of the world and life. But in any case, all of them are unique in their own special way; they have become distinctly creative, they have unprecedented creative capacities. And in my view, this is incredible, it is phenomenal to witness."
    "On its own, the award will do nothing, absolutely nothing," Mr. Tofighian said. "But it has opened a crack. There is a collective movement, and we can use that crack to tear things apart. I think something can happen. Hope remains with this kind of event." Perhaps. So far the Australian government has acknowledged Mr. Boochani's win with only an embarrassed silence.
    Richard Cooke (@rgcooke) is the author of a forthcoming book about America, "Tired of Winning."

    13) Nehanda Abiodun, 68, Black Revolutionary Who Fled to Cuba, Dies
    By Daniel E. Slotnik, February 8, 2019

    Nehanda Abiodun in 2015. Ms. Abiodun had been living in Cuba to elude arrest on charges that linked her to violence committed by radicals in the 1970s and '80s.CreditCreditNoah Friedman-Rudovsky

    Nehanda Abiodun, a radical black nationalist who was charged in the deadly botched robbery of a Brink's armored truck in 1981 and then spent decades as a fugitive in Cuba, a hero to would-be revolutionaries and a criminal to many others, died on Jan. 30 at her home in Havana. She was 68.
    Her death was confirmed by Henry Louis Taylor Jr., a historian who has interviewed Ms. Abiodun for a biography of her he is writing with Linda McGlynn, a social worker and senior research fellow at the University at Buffalo, where Professor Taylor also teaches urban planning.
    Self-described revolutionaries belonging to the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army committed a rash of domestic bombings and hijackings in the 1960s and '70s in what they called resistance to the United States government. Ms. Abiodun (pronounced ah-BEE-oh-dun) was suspected of conspiring with members of both groups.

    The radicals were charged with attacks against government targets and with helping another revolutionary, Assata Shakur (who was known as Joanne Chesimard before choosing an African name), escape in 1979 from an upstate New York prison. Ms. Shakur had been convicted in the killing of a New Jersey state trooper in a shootout in 1973. The groups supported their activities with armed robberies.

    On Oct. 21, 1981, a group of radicals tried to steal $1.6 million from a Brink's armored truck in Nanuet, N.Y., a little less than 30 miles northwest of Manhattan. Several gunmen ambushed three Brink's guards while they carried money out to the truck, killing one of them, Peter Paige. During their escape the gunmen got into a firefight with police officers at a roadblock in nearby Nyack, N.Y., and killed two, Edward O'Grady and Waverly Brown.
    Some of the conspirators stole cars and fled, and some were captured right away; one of those seized was Kathy Boudin, who was driving a getaway car and had been on the run for about a decade. Others, like Mutulu Shakur (not related to Assata), who was said to have been the heist's ringleader, were not apprehended for years.

    Ms. Abiodun was indicted in 1982 on conspiracy, racketeering and other charges in the robbery, though the authorities released few specifics about what they believed was her specific role. She went underground before she was indicted and was never captured.
    Ms. Abiodun never admitted to taking part in the crimes, but she did defend the perpetrators. She told the black power website The Talking Drum that she had little sympathy for the police officers killed in the robbery.
    "They were upholding the genocidal and oppressive policies of the United States," she said. "They were soldiers who were at war with us."

    Ms. Abiodun hid out during most of the 1980s and had moved to Cuba by 1990, having received political asylum. There she joined dozens of American fugitives, including Ms. Shakur.
    Many Americans viewed Ms. Abiodun and her comrades as unrepentant terrorists. Family members of the slain police officers and an officer wounded in the robbery expressed outrage when people who took part in the heist came up for parole or were granted it. At her death, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's website listed Ms. Abiodun as a wanted domestic terrorist and offered $100,000 for information leading to her arrest.
    Though Ms. Abiodun feared extradition to the United States, she made a point of speaking to activists and journalists.
    "I have a commitment to those who have sacrificed their lives for us," she told Ebony magazine in 2014. "I'm talking about from the time of slavery, the first Africans who were brought here, that gave their lives for us to be free."
    Ms. Abiodun was born Laverne Cheri Dalton in Harlem on June 29, 1950, to Wesley and Marge Dalton. Her mother worked for United Airlines, and her father was a bodyguard for Malcolm X for a time. Laverne grew up immersed in the black power movement.

    After graduating from high school, she studied journalism at Columbia University. But she left before completing her degree to work in a methadone clinic in Harlem in the early 1970s, when an epidemic of heroin addiction was ravaging minority communities in New York.
    She left the clinic to join an experimental rehabilitation facility in the South Bronx, the Lincoln Detox Center. The center, which was connected to activist groups like the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican-American organization, treated addicts with acupuncture and coupled their treatment with political education and community engagement.

    The center's spending came under government scrutiny, and Mayor Edward I. Koch shut the facility down in 1978.
    "I began to understand the politics surrounding drug addiction, racism and control," Ms. Abiodun said in 2014. "It was a way of, once again, capitalism trying to destroy our lives."
    She became more radicalized after the clinic closed, taking the name Nehanda Isoke Abiodun and joining the Republic of New Afrika, which sought to create an independent black country in the Southern states.
    In Cuba Ms. Abiodun became a kind of grande dame of revolution. She taught political education and championed Cuban hip-hop, forming a Havana chapter of Black August, a grass-roots group that promotes the genre, and working to further the careers of Cuban rappers like the duo Obsesión. She said she saw hip-hop, at its best, as a way to address social problems.
    Ms. Abiodun is survived by a son, a daughter and two grandchildren.
    Professor Taylor, her biographer, said Ms. Abiodun told him that "all she wanted was to be a mom and lead a normal life, but the government created a condition where she had to fight back."
    Ms. Abiodun said that once she had committed to revolution, there was no turning back.
    "I don't have the luxury of changing my mind," she said in 2014. "Freedom is freedom, and I've been fighting for freedom since I was 10 years old."


    14) El Paso's Message for Trump Before Rally: Don't Speak for Us
    By Simon Romero, February 10, 2019
    "But while El Paso has long been relatively safer than other American cities its size, the violent crime rate in the city actually climbed briefly just before and in the two years after authorities installed fencing on the border as part of an effort to improve border security during the administration of George W. Bush."

    A young woman and her friends celebrate her quinceañera by posing for photographs at an overlook in El Paso. The tension surrounding President Trump's planned visit to the city on Monday is revealing political fissures.CreditCreditJessica Lutz for The New York Times

    EL PASO — Ahead of President Trump's scheduled rally in this West Texas city aimed at building support for his proposed wall on the border with Mexico, people from across the ideological spectrum in El Paso had a message for him on Sunday: Don't speak for us.
    "The president is just wrong about the wall and wrong about El Paso," said Jon Barela, a lifelong Republican and chief executive of the Borderplex Alliance, an organization promoting economic development in a cross-border industrial hub with a combined population of more than 2.7 million, taking in the cities of El Paso, Ciudad Juárez and Las Cruces.
    Mr. Barela disputed Mr. Trump's widely discredited assertion that border fencing had cut violent crime in El Paso, pointing to F.B.I. data showing that the city has ranked for decades among the safest urban areas its size in the United States — long before American authorities started building some fencing along the border about a decade ago.

    "As a fiscally conservative Republican, I just don't understand how spending $25 billion on a wall with limited effectiveness is a good idea," Mr. Barela said in an interview. "Mexico is an economic and strategic ally of the United States, and an antiquated effort to place a barrier between us just won't work."

    [This month, we're launching a limited-run weekly newsletter about life on the border, far from the tug-of-war of Washington politics. Sign up here to receive the first issue of Crossing the Border when it launches.]
    Dee Margo, the Republican mayor of El Paso, voiced similar criticism of Mr. Trump's description of El Paso, in his State of the Union address, as "one of the nation's most dangerous cities" before the barrier went up on the border. Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat recently elected to Congress to represent El Paso, is asking Mr. Trump to apologize and meet with migrant families seeking asylum in the United States.
    The tension surrounding Mr. Trump's planned visit to El Paso on Monday is revealing political fissures. A Democratic bastion in a state where Republicans have long wielded dominance in statewide politics, El Paso is also home to Beto O'Rourke, the former local congressman who is a star of the Democratic Party and a potential challenger to Mr. Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
    At the same time Mr. Trump is scheduled to speak before about 6,000 people at the El Paso County Coliseum, Mr. O'Rourke will speak at another rally a mile away. Mr. O'Rourke said in an essay on Medium that Mr. Trump "will promise a wall and will repeat his lies about the dangers that immigrants pose."

    El Paso, where Hispanics account for about 80 percent of the population, was already hostile ground for Mr. Trump. In the 2016 election, he took only about 26 percent of the vote in El Paso County.

    Still, the president shouldn't have a problem filling the venue. Some of his supporters in the city remain eager to hear what Mr. Trump has to say.
    "I'd like to see a wall go up along the entire border," said Joshua Ascencio, 21, a cavalry scout in the United States Army who has plans to become an agent with the Border Patrol when he leaves the military. Mr. Ascencio said he was looking forward to Mr. Trump's rally.
    "I'm a supporter of the president and I think it's important to be there for him," said Mr. Ascencio. "I want to hear him on border security."
    Still, for many others in this city of immigrants the mere idea of Mr. Trump coming to El Paso to promote his administration's crackdown on immigration raises hackles.
    "The president of the United States is, disgracefully, nothing more than a racist," said Mayra Cabral, 37, an immigrant who grew up across the border in Ciudad Juárez and now cleans tables at a restaurant in El Paso, where she has lived for the last 19 years after marrying an American citizen.
    Ms. Cabral laughed out loud when asked about Mr. Trump's claims that Hispanic immigrants bring crime to the United States. She said that El Paso is normally so calm that it's "boring here sometimes." Ms. Cabral added that she and her family were not getting waylaid by talk of the president's visit; on Saturday night, they hosted a quinceañera for her 15-year-old daughter attended by about 300 people.
    "I was able to do this for my daughter because I work at a job that people born in the United States won't do," Ms. Cabral said. "Trump likes to call us criminals, but what about all the Americans in the country who commit violent crimes? Why doesn't he talk about them for once?"

    Mr. Trump appears to have homed in on El Paso after meeting with Republican officials from Texas in January in McAllen, a city affected by a large influx of migrant families traveling through the Rio Grande Valley. At that meeting, Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas told Mr. Trump that the construction of border fencing in El Paso caused crime to fall in the city.
    But while El Paso has long been relatively safer than other American cities its size, the violent crime rate in the city actually climbed briefly just before and in the two years after authorities installed fencing on the border as part of an effort to improve border security during the administration of George W. Bush.
    Mr. Paxton tried to back up his assertion that a border wall in El Paso had cut crime rates by referring to a "131-mile fence that was completed in 2010." PolitiFact, the nonpartisan fact-checking website owned by the Poynter Institute, questioned Mr. Paxton's claim, pointing out that while Texas does have 131 miles of fencing not all of it is even in El Paso.

    The contested assertions of a senior state official comes at a time of ratcheting tension in Texas over the treatment of Latino voters by Republican state officials, who in January called into question the citizenship status of nearly 100,000 voters. County officials found that the list of voters, which was referred to by Mr. Paxton in a campaign fund-raising email with the headline "VOTER FRAUD ALERT," actually included scores of naturalized citizens.
    The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit this month against Mr. Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott and Secretary of State David Whitley of Texas, arguing that they conspired to purge Latinos from voter rolls following a surge in turnout by Latino voters in the midterm elections.
    Governor Abbott and United States Senator Ted Cruz, the Republican who narrowly defeated Mr. O'Rourke to hold on to his seat in November, are among the Republican officials from around the state who are expected to attend the rally on Monday in support of Mr. Trump.
    But elsewhere along the border, there has been rising opposition among state and local officials to the president's security strategies.

    New Mexico's governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, announced last week that she had ordered a partial withdrawal of National Guard troops from her state. "New Mexico will not take part in the president's charade of border fear-mongering by misusing our diligent National Guard troops," Ms. Grisham, a Democrat, said in a statement.
    Early Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California announced that his state, too, would withdraw National Guard troops sent earlier to help the federal government boost security at the border.
    In Nogales, Ariz., the City Council on Wednesday passed a resolutioncondemning the recent installation of new barbed wire along the existing border wall in that city, calling it an "indiscriminate use of lethal force" that is "typically only found in a war, battlefield or prison setting."
    Gaining public support for the idea of a wall at an event such as the rally in El Paso will be important for Mr. Trump, as talks for a bipartisan agreement on border security appeared to have stalled on Sunday amid lingering disagreement over how much should be spent on a border barrier. President Trump, who initially proposed spending $25 billion on a wall, now is looking for $5.7 billion. Democratic lawmakers have talked about a figure closer to $1.3 billion to $2 billion.
    A second government shutdown could be in the works if no agreement is reached.
    Bob Giles, a car dealer from Lafayette, La., who is building a new Volvo dealership in El Paso, said that he understood how Mr. Trump's proposed wall could seem like a good idea from an "outside perspective."
    "But when you spend time in El Paso and talk to people, it's clear they take offense that a wall made a difference in the city," said Mr. Giles. While Mr. Trump often speaks of a crisis on the border, Mr. Giles said he hasn't seen one.
    "That's not the word I would choose," he said. His own hope is to sell cars not just to Americans, but also to business executives from Juárez who have homes in El Paso. "This is an incredibly vibrant market with lots of construction going on," he said. "It makes a difference when you see it with your own eyes."


    15) Denver Teachers Once Hailed Performance-Based Pay. Now They're on Strike Over It.
    By Julie Turkewitz and Dana Goldstein, February 11, 2019
    Teachers rallied at the State Capitol in Denver last month. A districtwide strike is expected on Monday.CreditCreditDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Teachers rallied at the State Capitol in Denver last month. A districtwide strike is expected on Monday.CreditCreditDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    DENVER — Amber Wilson was once an evangelist for performance-based pay systems for teachers, and went from school to school in Denver years ago, pushing her fellow educators to support one for their district.
    But more than a decade after the city adopted such a system, Ms. Wilson, an English teacher, says it has morphed into "a monster of unintended consequences."
    Pay-for-performance models like Denver's offer teachers bonuses for raising student achievement and for taking on tougher assignments, such as in schools with many students from low-income families. Ms. Wilson and many of her fellow educators across the country say that this model — once hailed as a way to motivate teachers — has delivered erratic bonuses while their base salaries stagnate amid rising living costs.

    "We've been experimented on and it didn't work," said Ms. Wilson, 45. "And it's time for us to say: 'No, no, no.'"

    She expects to be on a picket line in the bitter cold on Monday, striking with as many as 5,700 educators to protest the pay system she had once promoted.
    Over the past year, in red states and blue states, in big liberal cities and in tiny Appalachian towns, teachers have fought back against core tenets of education reform in the past two decades: that you can make schools better without increasing funding, and that competition for resources among teachers and institutions, through school choice, is good for students.
    Now, another one of those tenets, performance-based compensation, is under attack.
    Denver's pay system, called ProComp, went into effect in 2006 and became a national model. It was initially developed in partnership with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the local union that is now fighting it and upending the routines of more than 72,000 students with a districtwide strike.
    The foundational principle of ProComp — evaluating teachers according to how well their students perform — was later enshrined in Colorado law and then in Race to the Top, President Barack Obama's signature education initiative.
    But such evaluation models typically required more testing of students in order to gather evidence of teacher impact — a change that was unpopular with parents, students and educators alike.

    Since 2016, federal and state laws have shifted districts away from using student performance to judge teachers. In many ways, ProComp is now seen as a relic of an earlier era of school reform.
    Denver teachers and their union leaders argue that it is more important to raise teachers' base pay than to offer them modest and unpredictable bonuses. In a city surging with new money from the technology, aerospace and marijuana industries, teachers say they are struggling to pay off student loans and cannot afford rent, much less buy a home.
    "I'm striking so I can feed my kids without using a food bank," said Rebecca Lovvorn, a single mother of three children and an English teacher inside a juvenile detention center. "I have kids that are doing very illegal activities that I know for sure make better money than I do. They are 15 years old. And that is a hard rationale to confront."
    Ms. Lovvorn will make about $44,000 this year, she said, with a bonus of about $2,000 for working in a school deemed difficult to serve. But she expects to take home just $31,200, after taxes and health insurance payments. (The federal poverty rate for a family of four is $25,100.)
    The average Denver teacher earns $63,400 per year, including any ProComp bonuses. The union wants more money to go to base salaries, in part by reducing a proposed $2,500 bonus for teachers in high-poverty schools, and eliminating a proposed $3,000 incentive for teachers in the district's 30 highest-priority schools.
    The union and the district are also battling over the types of teacher education courses that would lead to higher pay.
    While the differences may seem slight to some, Rob Gould, the lead teacher negotiator, said in an interview that philosophically the two were still far apart. "They believe they should spend more money on higher bonuses," he said of the district.

    Denver's new school superintendent, Susana Cordova, said in a recent video message that she believed the two sides were close to an accord, and that she agreed teachers need "more in their base salaries."
    Central to the debate over ProComp is whether the system has worked to attract and retain good teachers, and to improve achievement for Denver children. More than half of public school students here are Latino. Two-thirds qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and a third are still learning English.
    A 2014 study from the University of Colorado Boulder found that ProComp resulted in "very small" positive effects on students' math scores and "very small" negative effects on students' reading and writing scores. The report cautioned that the results had little "practical significance."
    In a separate paper, the Boulder researchers found that teachers who scored highly under ProComp were less likely to leave the district than those with low scores. Teacher retention is one of the goals of the program.
    Nevertheless, Derek Briggs, a professor of education and an author of the studies, said he was not surprised that the pay system had prompted a strike.
    "It's been an ongoing source of dissatisfaction," Professor Briggs said. While educators enrolled in ProComp can earn thousands of extra dollars annually, fluctuations in pay from year to year — even when teachers perceive no change in their own efforts on the job — cause resentment and anxiety, he said.
    Still, many education reformers continue to support Denver's commitment to performance pay, calling it a crucial tool for raising achievement for nonwhite and poor children.

    "What I find to be really troubling is the union's insistence that we return to a system of pay that approaches compensation like the great equalizer," said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group.
    Tying pay to seniority and education levels, but not to performance, she said, "allows us to set up this facade where we pretend that all teachers are equally gifted and bring equal skills to the table."
    Underlying the battle in Denver is the fact that school funding in Colorado was about $2,000 below the national average per student in 2016. The state requires all tax increases to be approved directly by referendum, and during the midterm elections this past November, voters rejected an initiative to raise money for schools by increasing corporate taxes and personal income taxes on those earning over $150,000 a year.
    Last April, thousands of Colorado educators walked out of classroomsto protest low education funding.
    Denver schools will stay open during this week's strike, and the district plans to staff its teachers with substitutes who will earn $212 a day, double the normal rate. Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat and the founder of two charter schools, has said the strike could cost the district $400,000 a day, representing one to two percent of the budget if it lasts one week.

    Jack Begg contributed research.


    16) Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten collapse of nature'
    By Damian Carrington, February 10, 2019

    The rate of insect extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. Photograph: Courtesy of Entomologisher Verein Krefeld

    The world's insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a "catastrophic collapse of nature's ecosystems", according to the first global scientific review.
    More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.
    The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are "essential" for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.
    Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: "The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet.
    "Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades," they write. "The repercussions this will have for the planet's ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least."
    The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.
    "If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet's ecosystems and for the survival of mankind," said Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, who wrote the review with Kris Wyckhuys at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing.
    The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is "shocking", Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: "It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none."
    One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. "If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death," he said. Such cascading effects have already been seen in Puerto Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.
    The new analysis selected the 73 best studies done to date to assess the insect decline. Butterflies and moths are among the worst hit. For example, the number of widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suffered the biggest recorded insect falls overall, though that is probably a result of being more intensely studied than most places.
    Bees have also been seriously affected, with only half of the bumblebee species found in Oklahoma in the US in 1949 being present in 2013. The number of honeybee colonies in the US was 6 million in 1947, but 3.5 million have been lost since.
    There are more than 350,000 species of beetle and many are thought to have declined, especially dung beetles. But there are also big gaps in knowledge, with very little known about many flies, ants, aphids, shield bugs and crickets. Experts say there is no reason to think they are faring any better than the studied species.
    A small number of adaptable species are increasing in number, but not nearly enough to outweigh the big losses. "There are always some species that take advantage of vacuum left by the extinction of other species," said Sanchez-Bayo. In the US, the common eastern bumblebee is increasing due to its tolerance of pesticides.
    Most of the studies analysed were done in western Europe and the US, with a few ranging from Australia to China and Brazil to South Africa, but very few exist elsewhere.
    "The main cause of the decline is agricultural intensification," Sánchez-Bayo said. "That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides." He said the demise of insects appears to have started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and reached "alarming proportions" over the last two decades.
    He thinks new classes of insecticides introduced in the last 20 years, including neonicotinoids and fipronil, have been particularly damaging as they are used routinely and persist in the environment: "They sterilise the soil, killing all the grubs." This has effects even in nature reserves nearby; the 75% insect losses recorded in Germany were in protected areas.
    The world must change the way it produces food, Sánchez-Bayo said, noting that organic farms had more insects and that occasional pesticide use in the past did not cause the level of decline seen in recent decades. "Industrial-scale, intensive agriculture is the one that is killing the ecosystems," he said.
    In the tropics, where industrial agriculture is often not yet present, the rising temperatures due to climate change are thought to be a significant factor in the decline. The species there have adapted to very stable conditions and have little ability to change, as seen in Puerto Rico.
    Sánchez-Bayo said the unusually strong language used in the review was not alarmist. "We wanted to really wake people up" and the reviewers and editor agreed, he said. "When you consider 80% of biomass of insects has disappeared in 25-30 years, it is a big concern."
    Other scientists agree that it is becoming clear that insect losses are now a serious global problem. "The evidence all points in the same direction," said Prof Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex in the UK. "It should be of huge concern to all of us, for insects are at the heart of every food web, they pollinate the large majority of plant species, keep the soil healthy, recycle nutrients, control pests, and much more. Love them or loathe them, we humans cannot survive without insects."
    Matt Shardlow, at the conservation charity Buglife, said: "It is gravely sobering to see this collation of evidence that demonstrates the pitiful state of the world's insect populations. It is increasingly obvious that the planet's ecology is breaking and there is a need for an intense and global effort to halt and reverse these dreadful trends." In his opinion, the review slightly overemphasises the role of pesticides and underplays global warming, though other unstudied factors such as light pollution might prove to be significant.
    Prof Paul Ehrlich, at Stanford Universityin the US, has seen insects vanish first-hand, through his work on checkerspot butterflies on Stanford's Jasper Ridge reserve. He first studied them in 1960 but they had all gone by 2000, largely due to climate change.
    Ehrlich praised the review, saying: "It is extraordinary to have gone through all those studies and analysed them as well as they have." He said the particularly large declines in aquatic insects were striking. "But they don't mention that it is human overpopulation and overconsumption that is driving all the things [eradicating insects], including climate change," he said.
    Sánchez-Bayo said he had recently witnessed an insect crash himself. A recent family holiday involved a 400-mile (700km) drive across rural Australia, but he had not once had to clean the windscreen, he said. "Years ago you had to do this constantly."

    "Looking beyond what Krasner says to the underlying opinion from judge Leon Tucker, the possible far-reaching implication here is that, if someone was a prosecutor, they shouldn't then get to sit as a judge on the cases that came up when they were a prosecutor."

    Larry Krasner, Philadelphia District Attorney elected in 2018

    Larry Krasner was elected district attorney of Philadelphia in 2018 with a radically progressive mandate. As a former public defender and civil rights lawyer, he has been long critical of the criminal punishment system. He's perhaps the most "progressive prosecutor" in the country, and has already effectively decriminalized marijuana, sued Big Pharma companies, and required his deputies to consider the costs of mass incarceration in their sentencing recommendations. Activist Shaun King has said Krasner was "exceeding expectations" and that his sentencing memorandum was a "dream come true." But recently, Krasner has received criticism from fellow reformers, after announcing that his office would challenge a judge's decisionin favor of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther controversially imprisoned for the 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner. 
    On Saturday, the Intercept published a story by Eoin Higgins in which Krasner made his first statements in defense of his decision on the Abu-Jamal case. The basis for Abu-Jamal's current appeal is pretty simple—he argues that one of the judges was biased. Specifically, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice—Ronald Castille—who ruled on Abu-Jamal's previous appeals, had also been the Philadelphia District Attorney while that office was prosecuting pieces of Abu-Jamal's case. Abu-Jamal argues that Castille should have recused himself. After a recent Supreme Court decision on the subject, a Philly judge agreed with that argument and granted Abu-Jamal's petition, calling for the tainted hearing to be re-argued before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Krasner's office appealed, which surprised and puzzled many allies. Why, they wondered, would a supporter of reform oppose a judge's ruling that would require more substantial neutrality from judges? 
    Here are the justifications Krasner gave in his interview with Higgins:  
    [The judge's decision] is a narrow, technical decision in one sense, but incredibly complex and nuanced and affects many other cases… I hope that the people who are critical take a deep breath and wait and see what it is we actually say in the brief that we file in this matter… The opinion that was written by the court contained language that, potentially, could result in having to rehear possibly thousands of cases… As this case evolves, we will continue to try to make the right decisions and to see things in all their complexity and nuance… At the same time, we will try to do individual justice to all of the people affected by the case involving Mumia Abu-Jamal.
    Krasner, then, offers two primary defenses for his decision. First, he asks critics to give him time—they don't yet know what he will write in the final brief his office files and it could potentially be something good for criminal defendants. He can't tell us what it is, though, and says that he is limited in what he can say right now regarding ongoing litigation. For his second defense, he says that the case is "complex and nuanced" (a phrase he repeats) and could have wide-ranging implications. 
    So the arguments here boil down to: "Trust me" and "It's complicated."
    There is a certain part of me that likes Krasner and wants to give him the benefit of the doubt. In some sense we have very similar legal backgrounds, both having done criminal defense work (particularly for activists) and having sued police departments. His career has earned him a degree of trust, and indicates that he has a commitment to actual justice in the criminal punishment system. 
    But despite this background, and despite his record so far as Philly DA, Krasner's defense is unconvincing, and he shouldn't be granted the kind of deference he's seeking. 
    It's possible, of course, that Krasner is right. Perhaps his team will file a brief that knocks our socks off and somehow simultaneously bolsters Mumia's claim and takes the opportunity to make great procedural reforms to the criminal system. I doubt it. In fact, this is extremely unlikely given his stated concern about making too many cases eligible for review. But even if it was true that he had something up his sleeve, he still doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt. It's Krasner's job, as a person in power, and especially as a prosecutor, to prove why we should believe his arguments. The burden is on him to justify his actions. "Wait and see" and "It's too complicated, you wouldn't understand" are not only condescending answers, but they don't provide us with any actual reasons why we should believe Krasner is doing the right thing. Krasner needs to explain why it's complicated, and what we're supposed to be waiting for. When progressives get in positions of power, it's not only their obligation to do good, but also to use their platforms to shed light on the inner workings of the system and provide space public education. One of the ways power insulates itself is by disguising how it actually operates. Progressives are obligated to pull back the veil. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, doesn't hesitate to tell us how things work on the inside—she doesn't resort to "leave me alone, shut up, and let me get on with the job." Krasner, on the other hand, invokes familiar rhetoric of the powerful: Ordinary people wouldn't understand, they are owed no explanations, they need to quit whining and let experts use their judgment. 
    Krasner also invokes a favorite lawyerly aphorism: "I can't talk about ongoing litigation," which is the go-to excuse for those who don't want to have to publicly defend their reasoning. But this cliche is no defense in this case. Krasner could quite easily tell us why he won't accept the judge's pro-Mumia decision (which was actually quite middle-of-the-road, rejecting Mumia's more pointed argument and granting only a narrower claim). In many cases, lawyers can't talk about aspects of cases—they owe a duty of confidentiality to clients and must often keep their work secret. This is not the case here: This is an appeal of an old case, Krasner's only client is the state, and he is the boss and can do as he pleases. The only reason not to share his argument is that he doesn't want to tip off Mumia's defense team, which itself should show that he's not, in fact, committed to being generous to the defense. 
    Transparency, then, should require Krasner to be straightforward with us rather than issuing meaningless condescending verbiage. But beyond transparency, the justification he gives just doesn't hold up. The only substantive argument he makes is that the decision could have far-reaching impacts that he wants to limit. That could be a reasonable fear, in a case where on first blush a rule seemed sound but would have bad consequences if applied to all. But Krasner doesn't say what the possible impacts are, except that "thousands" of cases could suddenly become reviewable. Making cases more reviewable should be a good thing, though! If Krasner is a "progressive" DA, he should want cases to be reviewed to see if the judge was neutral. Looking beyond what Krasner says to the underlying opinion from judge Leon Tucker, the possible far-reaching implication here is that, if someone was a prosecutor, they shouldn't then get to sit as a judge on the cases that came up when they were a prosecutor. That's a good rule. Many federal judges and a significant number of state judges start out as prosecutors, and limiting the extent to which they can work on cases they have touched is good policy. It might also mean that fewer prosecutors become judges, since they would have to recuse themselves so often, and that would be a useful corrective to the current imbalance. Unless Krasner is concerned that he might someday want to be a judge, and doesn't want to limit his own chances, even a small limit on the ability of people to switch from being the prosecutor to being the judge would be in the interest of fairness. 
    No one should have expected perfection from Krasner, or from any prosecutor. He still remains better than most, but this case is an example of something important. There is a wearingly familiar pattern when exciting reformers are elected to public office: They go in with zeal, then sooner or later they're doing precisely the thing they said they wouldn't do, and giving the public patronizing lectures about how we simply don't understand "complexity and nuance." It's true, of course, that wielding power well is tricky and making policy is more difficult than making campaign slogans. But it's also true that being in office doesn't just open your eyes to unforeseen constraints—it also cramps your imagination and distances you from those who you promised to serve. The cure for this is a demand for explanations: If it's complicated and nuanced, explain how. "I operate under limitations you activists are unaware of" is plausible, but we need to know what the limitations actually are. Power does not deserve deference, and real reformers offer explanations, not excuses.


    18) Yellow Vests and Red Unions Strike Together
    By Richard Greenman, February 10, 2019

    On Tues, Feb. 5, as the Macron government pushed harsh repressive laws against demonstrators through the National Assembly, the Yellow Vests joined with France's unions for the first time in a day-long, nation-wide "General Strike."
    At the very moment when in Paris the lower house was voting to implement Macron's proposed laws designed to suppress public demonstrations (a legal right protected in both the French Constitution and the U.N. Human Rights Declaration) tens of thousands of their constituents were out in the streets all over the country demonstrating and striking against Macron's authoritarian, neo-liberal government. The demonstrators' demands ranged from better salaries and retirement benefits, restoration of public services, equitable tax codes, an end to police brutality, and banning the use of "flash-balls" on demonstrators, to Macron's resignation and the instauration of participatory democracy.
    Deaf to the angry people's legitimate grievances, unwilling to deal with them, Macron has given himself no other choice than to legislate new repressive legal restrictions to suppress their continued free expression. This resort to open repression can only serve to discredit the government's handling of a crisis largely of his own making, treating a spontaneous social movement among the 99% as if it were a terrorist or fascist conspiracy. The unpopular President's repressive tactics will inevitably backfire on him. The French are extremely jealous of their liberties, and Macron's monarchical arrogance can only remind them of how their ancestors dealt with Louis XVI.
    Moreover, the Yellow Vests, who have been a painful thorn in Macron's side since last November, were now demonstrating together with the French labor unions, whom he thought he had tamed last Spring. This convergences came in response to a call for a one-day "General Strike" issued by the CGT and Solidaires, who for the first time invited "any Yellow Vests who felt like it" to join. In the event, quite a few did feel like it, despite the CGT's previous hostility to the Yellow Vests and despite their own fundamental suspicion of all "representative" structures, like established parties and unions (whom the Yellow Vests justifiably fear would attempt to coopt them, speak in their name, and sell them out).

    A Day of Action and Convergence
    For a "first date" the one-day Strike came off very well, somewhat to the surprise of both parties. And if this tentative Red-Yellow alliance continues to solidify (and there is every indication that it will) France will likely become ungovernable and the ruling classes will be up against the wall. What might happen next rich in possibility, for the French, with their long history of popular revolutions, have been singularly inventive in coming up with new political arrangements. For now, let us look more closely at what may in retrospect be an historic day.
    The Strike began at exactly midnight when a rowdy crowd of 200-300 demonstrators near Paris blocked the giant Rungis produce market (which replaced Les Halles, the legendary "Belly of Paris), cutting off food to the capital with trucks lining up outside. You can see the Yellow Vests among the Red flags of the CGT in this video from Le Parisien.[1] They even set up a barricade. In the early hours there were also blockages at the airport of Nantes and at the University there, at a key toll-gate near Toulouse, while in Grenoble transport was perturbed all morning.
    All told there were demonstrations in at least 160 different localities, all different in size and conduct, mostly improvised by people on the spot at the last minute. There were big ones in the Channel ports Le Harvre, Rouen and Caen. In Strassbourg about 1500, in Lyon 5000 including 500 Yellow vests. In Marseille the Yellow Vest march converged with the CGT at the Stock Exchange, a shift of targets for the Yellow Vests from government to finance capital.
    In Paris, instead of the usual union march through the popular quarters from the Bastille to Nation, the CGT-led strikers invaded the fancy Right Bank territory, violently contested for twelve weeks by the Yellow Vests, marching boldly up the Rue de Rivoli with its luxurious shop-windows (and construction sites with bricks lying around). They then held an impromptu rally at a major intersection, tying up traffic and baffling the police.[2]
    Here in Montpellier, as elsewhere in France, the crowd was big, but no bigger than some of the previous Saturday Yellow Vest demos – as was the case all over France. But this Tuesday it was largely a union crowd. On the other hand, after weeks of gassing peaceful protestors, the police presence was extremely discrete, and one Gendarme was filmed explaining to the Yellow Vests protestors that the Gendarmes had "nothing against them," that his family supported the movement, explaining that they were soldiers and sworn to obey orders (the Gendarmerie is under the military). They Yellow Vests answered that they "had nothing against the Gendarmes either." See amazing video.[3]
    When I arrived at the gathering point, the loudspeakers of the CGT sound-truck were blaring out a long boring speech – complicated stuff concerning the Euro. No possibility of conversation much less convergence. Next up the line came a contingent of CGT people, quite a number of whom were wearing yellow vests with bright red CGT emblems on them. This "dual" identity underscores the naturalness of the convergence of the two movements of working class people who have nearly identical economic goals and all the same enemies. Like the Red-Yellow CGT activists, nearly every Yellow Vest has by now personalized her/his attire, inscribing slogans on them like: "End of Month/End of World: Same Combat," "Macron Resign!" "Down with Capitalism" and the very popular "Government of the People, By the People and for the People" (The French haven't a clue they're quoting Lincoln, an American!)
    At the front of the column, after the CGT banner, were the Yellow Vests, perhaps 200 strong behind our banner and singing aloud. I was a little disappointed by the low turnout of Yellow Vests. Also that they didn't go back and fraternize and mingle with the union folk, as one woman proposed and I attempted, in spite of the loud recorded CGT music. At the end of the march, our Montpellier Yellow Vest had planned to hold an open-mike speakout, but that didn't come off either. But as comrades kept reminding me, it was an important first step, and we'll be back. We make our road by walking.

    Who Are these Yellow Vests?
    Since Nov. 17, 2018, the popular, nation-wide, self-organized Yellow Vests movement has been keeping up the pressure on the neo-liberal Macron regime with daily protests at traffic circles and weekly demonstrations in dozens of cities. It is made up of average, lower middle-class French people, mostly provincials, whose lives have gotten worse under neo-liberal policies. They are mostly "little people" who are struggling to make ends meet and are tired of being ignored and humiliated by France's elites.
    Last November, they began to turn off their TVs, come out of their houses, join together at traffic circles and toll booths, get to know each other, grill sausages and feel empowered, rather than isolated and helpless. They thus humanized these "noplaces" or non-places created by the automobile civilization that had stripped their villages of post-offices, bakeries and cafés forcing them to spend two hours every workday in their cars.
    The Yellow vests represent a demographic cross section of France– naturally minus the top 2% or 3%. And, unfortunately, for the moment, minus the 10% (?) of France's doubly oppressed, discriminated immigrant communities. The Arabs, Berbers, Black Africans and other immigrants who do most of the dirty jobs, who are rarely seen in civil service jobs, and whose youth riots in the Banlieues (Projects) seriously challenged President Sarkozy in 2005. (Partly due to my suggestion, the Montpellier Yellow Vests are starting to reach out to the immigrant communities.)
    Coming from many different backgrounds, the Yellow Vests wisely chose to put aside their political differences and party preferences, avoid pointless arguments, and focus on the struggle that unites them, each speaking for her or himself (alternating genders to maintain parity). As the weekly protests continued, the Yellow Vests were slowly refining their goals and tactics and discovering how to organize themselves while retaining their autonomy. After more than two months, on Jan. 25-27, delegates from 75 local Yellow Vest Assemblies came together in the town of Commercy (Lorraine) for their first "Assembly of Assemblies" and wrote a democratic, egalitarian, anti-racist Declaration (discussed below) which soon achieved a consensus around the country. So a functioning federation with common goals is now emerging.
    Remarkably, the Yellow Vests' rebellion has persisted week after week despite a government campaign of brutal police repression – including thousands of injuries (some serious), several deaths, a thousand arrests, and routine tear-gassing of peaceful groups. The Yellow Vests have persisted despite being constantly vilified by the government and media as fascists, violent terrorists, "a hate-filled mob" (Macron) etc. Yet, amazingly, according to the latest polls, 77% of French people at large think their mobilization is "justified" (up from 74% in January.)
    Most remarkable of all, they have wrung some actual concessions from Macron, who, after disdainfully declaring he would "never" give in to an unruly mob, was forced to rescind the tax on Diesel fuel that the movement had originally crystalized around, and promised a raise in the minimum wage and a cut in taxes on retirement income (both of which turned out to be shams on close examination).
    These practical victories, won by an autonomous group that refuses to anoint leaders or to negotiate, have deeply embarrassed the French labor movement and particularly the "militant" CGT (General Confederation of Labor, historically affiliated with the French Communist Party) which, after months of stop-and-go strikes last Spring, failed to block the implementation of Macron's neo-liberal "reforms," which took away many benefits won by French labor during the great struggles of the past.[4]
    The defeated strikers returned to work last Sept. with their tails between their legs, simmering mad; and it was out this void of active opposition to Macron's ongoing neo-liberal offensive that the Yellow Vests spontaneously emerged and spread across the country, with their spectacular direct action tactics. Many union members, more or less disgusted with their leaders, joined the Yellow Vests from the start. The Yellow Vests organized themselves via Facebook pages, socialized in traffic circles and parking lots and grew into an autonomous social movement. They stood up for themselves and for the rest of France's working poor, unemployed, single mothers, and retired people. They spontaneously organized mass civil disobedience, successfully opposing Macron's economic program of taking from the poor and giving to the rich (from whose soft white hands the wealth will theoretically "trickle down.")

    The CGT
    The immediate response to the rise of the Yellow Vests on the part of the CGT and its leader, the unsmiling, mustachioed Martinez (picked by Central Casting for the "tough-guy" part) was suspicion ('petty-bourgeois fascists?') and hostility. Martinez and the other union bureaucrats could not help seeing the Yellow Vests as competitors, and thus as a threat to their own hegemonic status as official representatives of the workers – especially after Macron's "concessions."
    After shocking reports of police violence unleashed by Macron's government against the Yellow Vests' third Saturday demonstration, and in direct response to an appeal for calm from Macron, on Dec. 6, the leaders of the CGT and all the other labor federations except for Solidaires, signed a Déclaration of solidarity – not of solidarity with the injured and arrested demonstrators, but with the Macron government, the alleged representative of the "peaceful republican order!"[5] In return for what many described as a "betrayal," the labor movement's clique of professional negotiators accepted Macron's invitation to "resume the social dialogue" – that is to allow them to sit at the table with him and negotiate more give-backs of workers' rights.
    The union leadership's pledge of allegiance to the neo-liberal flag did not go down well in the union ranks. And so the very next day, Martinez and the other union leaders spun in the wind like weathercocks, started acting militant, and called for a national labor demonstration (legal) on Fri. Dec 14. The union leaders' strike demands covered the same basic economic demands as the Yellow Vests. The event was to be a demonstration of power, a public-relations leadership challenge, and it was pointedly planned for Friday, not Saturday – the Yellow Vests' demonstration day (the only free day for many of them, for example single parents, workers in offices and small businesses who don't have strike pay or legal rights to strike). The Friday Dec. 14 union demonstrations were hardly imposing compared to Saturday's Yellow Vest evens, so the ploy fizzled.
    Two months later, the CGT's issued another call for a one-day "General Strike" on Feb. 5 (a Tuesday). It seemed like a replay of the same ploy, but in a gesture toward the more and more obvious need for "convergence," Martinez opened a crack for Yellow Vests "to join if they wished" (as he said the day before the Strike). However the next day, blowing with a different wind, he changed his tune and actually made some sensible remarks about convergence:
    "People have been saying for more than two months that we must talk and find common demands. We have them. There is no reason we shouldn't march side by side, the ones behind the others. What is important is to have a successful first day of action together, because I find that the bosses have been let off easy [by the Yellow Vests – Ed.] and it is time to bring to account the big bosses of this country."
    Martinez remark about needing to attack the big bosses was both pointed and to the point. The Yellow Vests, given their broad and varied social composition, have naturally focused on the consumer issues they have in common as working folk struggling to make ends meet: high prices, unfair taxes and declining social services, directing their anger at the government, the media and the political elite. Their signs often denounce "capitalism," but as a group they have no direct relationship with big industry and finance in whose interest Macron rules. Yet clearly, only with the active participation of France's organized workers can this broad popular movement succeed – for example through an unlimited general strike with occupations of workplaces and public spaces as in 1968.

    The Opening of  Chapter Two in the Movement?
    More encouraging, Martinez' co-organizer of the Feb. 5 strike, Cécile Gondar-Lalanne, whose union Sud-Solidaires has been supportive of the Yellow Vests from the start, declared: "if today works out, we must look forward doing it again, to constructing a common movement." To this observer, such a convergence of the Reds with the Yellows, if it develops, might release a revolutionary power greater than anything we have seen in modern history.
    The Yellows, composed of a cross-section of the common people in the provinces already have the support of the vast majority of French people. They have held off the government for thirteen weeks and show no sign of relenting. The Reds, meaning the organized workers, have the power to strike and bring a halt to France's major industries, transportation, energy and all public services, as they did in 1936 and 1968.
    United, the Reds and the Yellows have the potential to change the system, and many of the Yellows clearly have system-change on their agenda.
    System-change is definitely not on the agenda of Martinez and the other union bureaucrats, whose social status, like that of the members of the National Assembly, depends on their role as the official "representatives" of their constituents within the existing system. Given the pressure from below, Martinez has no choice but to play at "convergence" with the Yellow Vests today, but it is only to outmaneuver them and secure his official status as labor's representatives. This is precisely what the Yellow Vests feared from the start when they founded their movement on autonomy – perhaps remembering the dismal role played by the CGT in ending the general strike and popular uprising that shook up the De Gaulle regime in 1968 (and whose 50th anniversary was being celebrated all over the media all last year).
    So Red-Yellow convergence is taking place in a conflictual context pitting the traditionally hierarchical, vertical discipline of the CGT and other French labor organizations against the innovative, horizontal self-organization of the proudly autonomous Yellow Vests. The presence, observed in Montpellier and on the videos of the Feb. 5 event, of demonstrators with big red CGT badges on their Yellow Vests, is already significant. The fact that these Red-Yellow (Orange?) activists dare to openly display their independence within the tightly organized culture of the CGT is a sign of cracks opening in that bureaucratic structure through which imaginative wildcat initiatives may emerge.
    Convergence is also developing from below, through mutual understanding. According to the investigative journalism site Médiapart (whose coverage of this event was superb) "a not very militant" CGT member who has been out with his Yellow Vest on the roundabouts and demonstrated every Saturday remarked that "there are lots of employees who can't strike, who work in small shops and whose relations with their bosses are too direct. But they understand that the problem is big capital."
    In Paris, a young man up from Lognes with his wife (who had never before demonstrated) and his Yellow Vest group held out a CGT flyer showing a red arm and a yellow arm holding each others hand. He concluded: "Today may be the beginning of Chapter Two of our movement. We must all converge!".
    Two railroad workers on the Paris-East line share his hopes. "The CGT has always been a fighting union, we're on the side of labor, not capital. Before taking a definite position on the Yellow Vests, we needed to wait to see how this movement was going to clarify its outlook. Now, their discussions and demands are interesting, indeed attractive, rather leftist," they judged. "This movement has evolved on the ideological plane, the Yellow Vests have become conscious through their struggle. It's time to converge, to join together."

    Yellow Vests' Self-Education in Action
    Over time, the Yellow Vests' objectives have indeed deepened, as evidenced by the evolution of the home-made signs at demonstrations, by lists of progressive demands from various local groups, and finally, at the end of Jan. 2018, by a Declaration (reproduced below) voted by a "General Assembly of General Assemblies" attended by Yellow Vests mandated by some 75 different local groups. A second Assembly, bringing together many more groups, is being prepared as the Yellow Vests structure themselves in a loose federation and learn to represent themselves through delegates selected (always one woman and one man) with limited mandates and subject to recall (the system of the Paris Commune of 1871).
    The Commercy Declaration defines their goals as "dignity," an "end to inequality," "free public services," "higher" salaries, retirements, etc., taxing the super-rich to pay for them and the restructuring of France as a participatory democracy through referendums. At the same time, in response to charges by Macron, the media, and any number of groups on the far Left, The Yellow Vests Declaration declares: "we are neither racist, nor sexist, nor homophobic, we are proud to come together with our differences to build a society of solidarity." Although this radical Declaration is not a binding program, it expresses a consensus and has been quickly adopted by many Yellow Vest groups, who are looking forward to a larger nationwide Assembly of Assemblies in two months.
    The investigative site Médiapart sent two reporters up to Commercy after the Assembly of Assemblies and filmed their conversations with a couple of dozen local Yellow Vests, giving us an intimate view of how this diverse group interacts and makes decisions – a long process of patience, respect, tolerance, and conscious self-education. They explain how each individual brings pieces of the truth from her/his knowledge and experience, from which a consensus is achieved. (Or not achieved, on subjects where they are not ready to decide and sweep under the rug until they are).
    The atmosphere is one of trust and comradeship and active listening. Interventions are short and to the point. Viewing the video, I was struck by the contrast between the locals' discourse and that of the two academic sociologists, both charming and well intentioned, who tended to go on and on and talk over each other, adding very little. The local Yellow Vests, whatever their education levels, have all learned to express themselves in public succinctly, and some have become quite eloquent. Linked by common struggle, pooling their knowledge, they are tapping into "the Wisdom of Crowds" long known to socialists and recently studied by psychologists.
    They also have fun and laugh a lot. For example, here in Montpellier, the first report on the Agenda of last Sunday's General Assembly was on the question of how to curse and insult the "forces or order" (cops). The rapporteur went through a whole list of insults which, like "cocksucker" are offensive to gays, or women, or sex itself. It was both hilarious and instructive. He the proposed a number of really nasty, but politically correct insults, and his report was approved by the group. This Saturday we are going to demonstrate wearing masks, to mock the government's vicious liberticidal anti-demonstration laws which criminalize covering your face.

    Macron's Throne Is Shaky
    As for Macron, his popularity hovering around 22% thanks to his regal pretentions, inflexible neo-liberal orthodoxy, methodical use of violence to suppress the expression of legitimate citizen grievances and criticism, and his contemptuous way of talking down to his angry subjects. This figure is slightly above the 18% of the 2017 Presidential vote he got on the first round, before being elected as the only alternative to "the fascist LePen." Compare this with approval of the Yellow Vests, which stands at 77%. The French hate nothing worse than being talked down to and taken for jerks, and Macron is his own worst enemy, for example when he declared that the presumably lazy French had "lost the taste for effort" – when more than half of them are breaking their backs just to survive.
    Macron's latest ploy is the "Great Debate," a public-relations charade designed to counter the Notebooks of Grievances being circulated by the Yellow Vests in imitation of the Cahiers de Doléances of the 1789 Revolution. The "Great Debate" consists of a serious of programmed meetings between Macron or one of his Ministers and the elected Mayors of a region. Hardly democratic considering how many mayors are the tools of local real estate interests and political mafias. Nonetheless, some mayors are actually honest and sincere, and at the very first televised "Debate," the first mayor to take the floor made a searing critique of Macron and his handling of the crisis. Now questions are filtered in advance. Whom does Macron think he's fooling?
    Curiously, the French public intellectuals and philosophers, who occupy a much larger space in the media than their American counterparts, have mostly turned a cold shoulder to the Yellow Vests. If I'm not mistaken, only two have seriously take up their defense: the popular libertarian philosopher Michel Onfray (author of 100 books) and the historian-anthopologist-essayist Emmanuel Todd. They alone carry on the contrarian tradition of Voltaire, Zola and Sartre into the 21st Century, our epoch in which the mediatized intellectuals, like the media personalities, the media owners, the politicians and the labor leaders have all become integral parts of what the French call "the political class."
    Meanwhile, Macron is traveling outside of France and playing a role in international affairs to deflect from the intractable crisis at home, while the media keep up a business as usual façade, respectfully reporting the Great Debate and reducing the Yellow Vest insurrection to a weekly tally of the number of demonstrators (aren't they declining yet?), the number of arrests and of cars burnt. I suppose that like frightened little kids, the French elites think that if they hide their eyes all these angry little people will go away, but they won't. What will Act XIII (or Chapter Two) reveal?

    Call from the First Assembly of Assemblies of the Yellow Vests
    We, the Yellow Vests of the roundabouts, of the parking lots, of the squares, of the assemblies, rallies and demonstrations, have gathered on January 26 and 27, 2019, as an "Assembly of Assemblies," bringing together a hundred delegations, in response to a call by the Yellow Vests of Commercy.
    Since November 17, from the smallest village, from the rural world to the largest city, we have risen up against this deeply violent, unjust and unbearable society. We will no longer let ourselves be pushed around! We are rebelling against the high cost of living, precariousness and poverty. For our loved ones, our families and our children, we want only to live in dignity. It's unacceptable that 26 billionaires own as much as half of humanity. Let's share the wealth and not the poverty! Let's put an end to social inequality! We demand an immediate increase in wages, social minima, allowances and pensions; the unconditional right to housing and health, to education; and free public services for all.
    It is for all these rights that we are occupying roundabouts on a daily basis, that we organize actions and demonstrations, that we discuss everywhere. With our yellow vests we retake the floor, we who have never had it.
    And how has the government responded?  With repression, contempt, denigration. Many dead and thousands wounded, massive use of firearms that mutilate, blind, injure and traumatize. More than 1,000 individuals have been arbitrarily detained and sentenced. And now the new "anti-wrecker" law is applied to stop us from demonstrating. We condemn all such violence against protesters, whether from the police or violent gangs. None of this will stop us! To demonstrate is a fundamental right. End impunity for the police! Amnesty for all the victims of repression!
    And what a dirty trick is the so-called great national debate – in fact it's just a government propaganda campaign that manipulates our desire to debate and decide! True democracy, as we practice it in our assemblies, in our roundabouts, is neither on television nor in the fake roundtables organized by Macron.
    After having insulted us and treated us as less than nothing, now he points to us as a hateful fascistic and xenophobic mob. But we are quite the opposite: neither racist, nor sexist, nor homophobic, we are proud to come together with our differences to build a society of solidarity.
    We are strengthened by the diversity of our discussions. At this very moment hundreds of assemblies are developing and proposing their own demands. These concern real democracy, social and tax justice, working conditions, ecological and climatic justice, and the end of discrimination. Among the claims and strategic proposals that are the most debated, we find: the eradication of poverty in all its forms, the transformation of institutions (citizen's initiative referenda, constituent assembly, abolition of the privileges of elected officials …), the ecological transition (energy injustice, industrial pollution …), the equality and the taking into account of all regardless of their nationality (people with disabilities, male/female equality, an end to the neglect of popular neighborhoods, the rural world and the DOM-TOM [overseas territories] …).
    We, the Yellow Vests, invite everyone to join us with their own means and abilities. We call for continuation of the acts of protest (act 12, against police violence at the police stations; acts 13, 14 …), to continue the occupations of the roundabouts and the economic blockades, to build a massive strike starting on February 5th. We call for committees to be formed at workplaces, at schools and everywhere else so that this strike can be built from the bottom up by the strikers themselves. Let's take things into our own! Do not remain alone – join us!
    Let's organize ourselves in a democratic, autonomous and independent way! This assembly of assemblies is an important step that enables us to discuss our demands and our means of action. Let us federate to transform society!
    We urge all Yellow Vests to circulate this call. If as a group of Yellow Vests you agree, add your signature and send it to Commercy (assembledesassemblees@gmail.com). Do not hesitate to discuss and formulate proposals for the next "Assemblies of the Assemblies," which we are preparing for right now. Down with Macron – power to the people, for the people and by the people!

    [2] Information from the investigative journalism website subscriber-supported website, Médiapart, at whose studio Macron's justice department recent attempted to conduct a warantless search, scandalizing civil libertarians. https://www.mediapart.fr/journal/france/050219/gilets-jaunes-et-rouges-cela-peut-etre-le-debut-du-chapitre-deux-de-notre-mouvement
    [4] Please see: Richard Greeman « Spontaneous Teachers' Strikes Sweep Conservative U.S. States. French Strikes Remain Stalled"  http://divergences.be/spip.php?article3348


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