Breaking: Governor @GavinNewsom orders retesting of DNA evidence in the case of convicted murderer Kevin Cooper, who has long insisted he is innocent




Cuba Warns U.S. Moving Special Forces Closer to Venezuela Under Guise of "Humanitarian Intervention"

By Jessica Corbett
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in May of 2018. (Photo: EFE/El Nuevo Diario)
As Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro urges the international community to condemn an ongoing U.S.-backed effort to overthrow him and calls for peaceful negotiations with critics led by self-declared "Interim President" Juan Guaidó, the Cuban government—which supports Maduro—claimed on Thursday that the Trump administration is moving special forces closer to Venezuela "in preparation for a military adventure under the guise of a 'humanitarian intervention.'"
In a lengthy statement denouncing the steps President Donald Trump and his allies have taken to oust Maduro—particularly National Security Advisor John Bolton and Republican Senator Marco Rubio (Fla.)—the Cuban government said:
"Between February 6 and 10 of 2019, several military transport aircraft have flown to the Rafael Miranda Airport in Puerto Rico, the San Isidro Air Base in the Dominican Republic, and other strategically located Caribbean Islands, most certainly without the knowledge of the governments of those nations. These flights took off from U.S. military facilities where Special Operation Troops and U.S. Marine Corps units operate. These units have been used for covert operations, even against leaders of other countries."
Pointing to a draft resolution that the Trump administration recently introduced at the U.N. Security Council that expresses concern about the humanitarian conditions of Venezuela, Cuba concluded:
"[T]he U.S. intends to fabricate a humanitarian pretext in order to launch a military attack on Venezuela and, by resorting to intimidation, pressure, and force, is seeking to introduce into this sovereign nation's territory alleged humanitarian aid...It is obvious that the United States is paving the way to forcibly establish a humanitarian corridor under international supervision, invoke the obligation to protect civilians, and take all necessary steps. It is worth recalling that similar behaviors and pretexts were used by the U.S. during the prelude to wars it launched against Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya, which resulted in tremendous human losses and caused enormous suffering."
The warnings out of Cuba come after Guaidó vowed on Tuesday, February 12, 2019, that foreign aid—which has already begun arriving along the border with Colombia and Brazil—will enter Venezuela on February 23 in spite of objections from Maduro, who has also characterized offerings of aid as part of a "political war of American empire" and "warmongering in order to take over" Venezuela.
Since Trump recognized Guaidó as Venezuela's leader last month, he has appointed war hawk Elliott Abrams as a special representative to the country, repeatedly threatened military action if Maduro doesn't turn over power to Guaidó, and seized billions-of-dollars in Venezuelan oil assets. In its statement on Thursday, Cuba charged U.S. actions are "causing serious humanitarian damage and harsh deprivation" to the people of Venezuela.
During a press conference late last month announcing the sanctions on Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Bolton—in a move that critics said was "likely not an accident"—held up a notepad on which he had written "5,000 troops to Colombia." A few days later, Bolton suggested that if Maduro keeps refusing to leave office, he could find himself locked up in a U.S. military prison at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba.
Common Dreams, February 14, 2019



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) Latest to Join Nationwide Uprising, Oakland Teachers Strike to Defend Public Education
    By Julia Conley, February 21, 2019

    Teachers rallied at Manzanita Community School in Oakland on Thursday as about 3,000 educators went on strike to demand fair pay and more investment in public schools. (Photo: @CTAJulian/Twitter)

    Nearly 3,000 teachers and other school staffers in Oakland, California are joining the nationwide wave of #RedForEd strikes on Thursday, demanding greater investment in the district's public schools, students, and teachers—instead of a continuation of the recent unregulated growth of charter schools in the area.

    As Oakland Education Association (OEA) president Keith Brown explained in theSan Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday, the union is demanding an end to school closures in favor of pouring money into charter schools, enough school nurses and counselors to adequately serve the district's 86 schools, raises for teachers, and smaller class sizes.

    "Oakland can't afford any more years of neglected, underfunded schools. If we stand idly by while the leadership of the Oakland Unified School District closes 24 out of 86 public schools, then students and families will pay the price for generations," Brown wrote.

    On picket lines in front of schools throughout the district, teachers carried signs reading, "Fund Our Future" and chanting, "On strike, shut it down, Oakland is a union town!"

    In a tweeted video, Brown and the OEA shared how billionaires including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have descended on Oakland public schools to influence school board elections, paving the way for the loss of many neighborhood schools and investment in charter schools. 

    "It's time for OUSD (Oakland Unified School District) to pick a side. Are you on the side of billionaires who fund our school board races, or the side of teachers, students, parents, and community?" the union asked.

    After two years of bargaining, the OEA was not satisfied with the latest offer from the OUSD, which came Wednesday and included a seven percent raise for teachers over three years.

    With Oakland now the fourth-most expensive city in the U.S., teachers are calling for a 12 percent salary increase over three years. The raise would help to recruit and retain high-quality teachers instead of driving them to more affordable districts, the OEA argues.

    "A stable workforce of educators earning a living wage, like those who inspired me to become a teacher, are a thing of the past," wrote Brown. "Oakland teachers are now the lowest paid in Alameda County. Meanwhile, a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland costs more than $2,330 a month, or about 60 percent of a starting teacher's salary."
    "No wonder teachers don't stay in Oakland. Every year, more than 500 teachers leave our schools to take other jobs," he added.

    In another video on the eve of the strike, Brown called the walkout a "historic moment" for the city and sent a message to students.

    "This is a fight for your education to make sure you have the resources that you need to learn and be successful students," said the 20-year veteran teacher and former OUSD student. "This fight is for the heart an soul of public education in Oakland...We are united for Oakland kids, we are striking to make sure our students have the schools they deserve."

    The OEA and OUSD are set to return to the bargaining table on Friday.

    "The central issue in this strike is the need for OUSD leadership to listen to voices here in Oakland by fully funding our neighborhood schools," wrote Brown. "We are aware that having no teachers in our schools will be a challenge for students, working parents and the entire city. But what's our alternative?"


    2) How to Answer Trump? Make America A Socialist Country
    By Danny Haiphong, February 20, 2019

    Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders won't align with Venezuela out of fear of being labeled "authoritarian" by the ruling elite.
    "None of demands put forward by Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez are possible without a massive transformation of society, like that in Venezuela nearly two decades ago."
    President Donald Trump expressed horror regarding socialism's popularity among sections of the U.S. population at his latest State of the Union address. He vowed that the United States would "never be a socialist country." Beneath the optics of Trump's address and Nancy Pelosi's "shade" clap is the stark reality that all sections of the U.S. capitalist oligarchy are at war with socialism at home and abroad.The social democratic and self-proclaimed "socialist" camp behind Bernie Sanders remains largely excluded from the halls of Washington and the ruling class certainly has no plans for that to change anytime soon. Oligarchs in the Democratic Party have flooded the 2020 primary with corporate candidates or faux-liberals who are more than willing to obey the dictates of neoliberal capital.
    Then there is the fact that the U.S. has escalated its war on the socialist country of Venezuela. U.S. sanctions have already cost the Venezuelan economy tens of billions of dollars. This is set to increase now that the Trump Administration has further tightened the U.S sanctions regime. The U.S. has lifted its veil to openly stage a coup against a sovereign nation.Trump and his minions have attempted to give imperial teeth to the strategy of the racist and oligarchic national bourgeoisie in Venezuela. The U.S. is hording the nation's resources to facilitate an economic crisis and create the conditions for regime change.
    "Oligarchs in the Democratic Party have flooded the 2020 primary with corporate candidates or faux-liberals."
    U.S. imperialism will likely make life more difficult for working class and poor Venezuelans, but its goal of regime change appears to have already failed. Juan Guaido and his supporters represent only a tiny minority of the Venezuelan population. The opposition is heavily divided, as evidenced by the fact that the Guaido faction decided not to elevate Henry Falcon--the opposition politician who lost in the 2017 presidential election that the rightwing labeled a "farce" and subsequently boycotted. The U.S. corporate media and the rightwing media in Latin America refuse to cover the massive demonstrations in support of president Nicolas Maduro.And while conditions in Venezuela are dire and the progress of the Bolivarian revolution threatened by U.S. intervention, the working-class and poor of Venezuela and Latin America as a whole understand just which political force is willing to build millions of homes for the poor and provide healthcare to the sick, and which political force wants to bring the nation back to the status of impoverished lackey to U.S. imperialism.
    Socialist democracy remains strong in Venezuela. The Venezuelan military has rejected the coup attempt of the United States. Socialist democracy doesn't exist in the United States. Social democratic "socialist" politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders have been hostile to the socialist government of Venezuela.They have ignored the words of Jimmy Carter, who in 2012 said that Venezuela possessed the most democratic electoral system in the world. They have also ignored the fact that no amount of imperialist war-mongering can erase the gains that the poor have made in Latin America as a result of the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela, gains that extend beyond the "bread and butter" issues of poverty and into the realm of dignity obtained through worker control and democracy.
    "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders have been hostile to the socialist government of Venezuela."
    Of course, it is difficult to even consider this fact given the cacophonous anti-Maduro and anti-socialist banter of the corporate media. Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders won't align with Venezuela out of fear of being labeled an "authoritarian" leader by the ruling elite.This once again reveals the central weakness of so-called social democracy in the U.S. and its imperialist friends in the West. Socialist-leaning sentiments are growing in the U.S. due to the unending attack of capitalism on the living standards of workers, most of whom are now poor or near poor by the economic measures of the ruling elites themselves. Social democrats like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez speak about improving the conditions of the masses, but only so long as U.S. imperialism's "democratic" institutions are not transformed to mirror the "communist" and "dictatorial" regimes of the Global South. Yet there is no better time than now to counter the anti-communism of a generation ago with the reality that none of demands put forward by Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez are possible without a massive transformation of society, not unlike the one that occurred in Venezuela nearly two decades ago.
    It is thus up to the people to make America a socialist country, especially Black people who have historically supported socialist arrangements more than any other section of the population. Bernie Sanders and the rest of the democratic socialist camp in the Democratic Party can be useful toward this end. Radical and revolutionary socialists share a common foe with the social democrats in the Democratic Party. That foe is the two-party duopoly—the political arm of the ruling class. The two-party duopoly wants nothing more than to prevent the reemergence of the Sandernistas in the 2020 race. Those of us who want to make the United States a socialist country should double down on efforts to expose the corporate Democratic Party. This will increase the likelihood that the Sandernista voting base is further pressured to abandon efforts to reform a political apparatus that has long been under the full control of the lords of capital.
    "The two-party duopoly wants nothing more than to prevent the reemergence of the Sandernistas in the 2020 race."
    Alignment with Sanders against the banks and the imperialists does not mean that we should be under any illusions about what Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez represent. The birth of the United States as a race-based arrangement has prevented European-style social democracy from ever taking hold in the U.S. state. U.S. capitalism is thus of a "special breed," an "exceptional" model of the fruits that enslavement and genocide can bring to the owners of property if they arrange their society based on the foundational principle of whiteness. While European capitalists had to grant concessions to united working class movements and the pressures of the Soviet Union, the U.S. was able to weaken the working class from the beginning by rallying most whites under the umbrella of imperialism so long as the boss shared a bit of the plunder of dehumanized African labor and indigenous land.
    Social democrats in the U.S. have yet to address the racist core of U.S. society and have proven more than willing to collaborate with imperialism whenever it is convenient for their survival amid hostile corporate forces in Washington. This explains why Sanders has been so critical of Venezuela's Maduro even when U.S. military hostility south of the U.S.' colonial border destroys any hope of instituting his domestic program. The same goes for Ocasio-Cortez's silence on Venezuela and the rest of the leftish Democrats puny defense of Ilham Omar, who was left nearly isolated by her comrades after she was ruthlessly attacked by the Zionist lobby for tweeting about AIPAC's influence over Congress.
    "Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic Party establishment are gearing up to smother the democratic socialists in their crib."
    Social democrats in the United States are politically to the right of the Second International, whose call to "defend the Fatherland" during the first imperialist World War still haunts the colonial world. The Sandernistas seek to bring back the "Golden Age" of capitalism through a 21st century New Deal. The refusal of Sandernista politicians to confront the issue of war and peace means that their New Deal will inevitable be a raw deal for the vast majority of the world's people living in squalor because of U.S. imperialism. Furthermore, U.S. imperialism and its racist state have made it quite clear that austerity is the only item on the menu that it is capable of cooking. Black America has suffered most from this arrangement, with capitalist exploitation and mass Black incarceration ensuring that nearly one-third of all Black men (and more and more women) have spent one-seventh of their working lives in prison.
    Black America has historically been the most pro-peace and pro-socialist section of the U.S. population. That was temporarily halted by the madness of the Obama-period, which tightened the grip of the Black political class and its white liberal benefactors over the political narrative of the Black polity. Trump has challenged the so-called democratic socialists in Washington by calling them out in the State of the Union address. However, Trump is the least of their worries. The likes of Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic Party establishment are gearing up to smother the democratic socialists in their crib during the 2020 primary. The Sandernistas must keep the democratic socialist spirit alive, if only to be crushed by the Democrats thereby creating more friendly space for revolutionary socialists to make Trump's nightmare a reality.
    Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the forthcoming book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People's History of Fake News- From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (Skyhorse Publishing, Release Date: April 2nd, 2019) . He can be reached at wakeupriseup1990@gmail.com.

    3) The Stench of Prejudice in Keith Tharpe's Death Sentence
    By Randell Kennedy, February 21, 2019

    The Supreme Court issued a last-minute stay because a juror's affidavit, in the court's words, presented "a strong factual basis" that Keith Tharpe's race affected the juror's vote.CreditCreditRon Chapple/The Image Bank, via Getty Images

    Several years after Keith Tharpe was sentenced to death for murder in 1991, a juror in his case signed an affidavit stating that there are two types of black people: good ones and "niggers." The juror, who was white, put the defendant in the latter category and said that he wondered "if black people even have souls."
    Mr. Tharpe sits on death row in Georgia. Although his lawyers assert that his punishment was tainted by juror racism, a state court ruled against Mr. Tharpe on that issue two decades ago.
    Since then, state and federal courts have put procedural obstacles in front of his efforts to appeal that ruling. Mr. Tharpe seemed to be doomed when the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rebuffed him. He was set to be executed in September 2017.

    But the Supreme Court issued a last-minute stay, shaken by the juror's disturbing affidavit which, in the court's words, presented "a strong factual basis that Tharpe's race affected [the juror's] vote for a death verdict."

    When the Supreme Court returned the case to the 11th Circuit, it again refused to examine the racial bias claim, offering new procedural impediments. As soon as March 1, the Supreme Court may decide whether it will review Mr. Tharpe's case.
    What is going on here?
    The struggle over Mr. Tharpe's fate has to do, in part, with a continuing dispute over whether the legal system should allow jury verdicts to be impeached by the post-verdict testimony of jurors.
    For a long time, federal and state courts almost always prohibited jurors from testifying about deliberations. In 2015, for example, after a sex crime conviction, the Colorado Supreme Court refused to consider testimony from two jurors who came forward to report that a fellow juror had expressed anti-Latino bias against the defendant and his alibi witnesses.
    In an opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court reversed the Colorado court, ruling that, amid serious allegations of racial juror bias, a reviewing court must be able to consider evidence from jurors, even if doing so opens jury deliberations to more scrutiny than otherwise allowed. 
    The court acknowledged the importance of supporting the finality of verdicts, protecting candor and confidentiality within the jury room and discouraging efforts to flip jurors beset by regrets. But it rightly concluded that even more imperative is eradicating racial discrimination from the criminal justice system. Racial bias, the court declared, "implicates unique historical, constitutional and institutional concerns" — a sentiment suggesting that even among some conservative jurists there exists a newly energized desire to rectify the racism that remains all too evident in our administration of criminal justice.

    More generally, the struggle over Mr. Tharpe's case has to do with the circumstances, if any, under which a government ought to be allowed to execute someone.
    One camp is relatively tolerant of contaminations, like racism, that might have affected sentencing. In an unpublished memorandum to his colleagues, Justice Antonin Scalia rebuffed a challenge to capital punishment, despite acknowledging that "the unconscious operation of irrational sympathies and antipathies, including racial, upon jury decisions and (hence) prosecutorial decisions is real … and ineradicable." The other camp is more demanding, recognizing the need for exacting scrutiny when it comes to assessing the validity of the most extreme form of governmental power: imposition of capital punishment.
    Some people in this camp oppose capital punishment altogether. They believe that we cannot trust the criminal justice system to impose a penalty as irrevocable as death. The Supreme Court of Washington State recently invalidated capital punishment because the death penalty there "is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner." Others in this camp tolerate the death penalty, but only if there is no substantial whiff of prejudice.
    The impending execution of Keith Tharpe cannot pass that test. There is the stench of prejudice, not just a whiff. In this case, remember, one of the 12 people who voted for death voluntarily admitted that he thought of Mr. Tharpe as a "nigger" and "wondered if black people have souls." Under these circumstances an execution would certainly be a miscarriage of justice. The Supreme Court must intervene out of an elemental embrace of due process.
    Randall Kennedy is a law professor at Harvard and the author of "Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word."

    4) Made on the Inside, Worn on the Outside
    Brands are using prison labor to provide inmates with jobs and training. But is it possible—and ethical—to build a profitable fashion business behind bars?
    by Elizabeth Paton and Andrea Zarate, February 21, 2019
    "Companies are literally advertising that they use slave labor now as a reason you should buy their product,"

    Peruvian inmates at work.CreditCreditAngela Ponce for The New York Times

    In a lush valley surrounded by the Peruvian Andes — past two sets of security gates, high fences, barbed wire and a rigorous pat-down — 13 women stood hard at work. They were weaving and knitting luxurious alpaca wool sweaters, deep-pile roll-necks and silky-soft track pants, destined to be sold to wealthy shoppers with lives far away, and a far cry, from their own. 
    All were prisoners at the women's penitentiary center in the city of Cusco, serving long sentences predominantly for drug-related crimes as well as murder, human trafficking and robbery. They were also employees of Carcel, a Danish brand founded in 2016 specifically to provide incarcerated women with jobs, training and, possibly, a crime-free future.
    More than two years into their program, both Carcel's founders and the Peruvian prison authorities say the project has been a measurable success. It's popular with prisoners and consumers alike and proof that the profitable and responsible production of luxury fashion can have a place behind bars. 

    Peru is becoming something of a case study on the issue of aid versus exploitation. A little more than 5,000 women are currently incarcerated there, and over 50 percent are actively employed in producing leather goods, clothing and textiles, according to INPE, the national penitentiary institute.

    Yet questions around the ethics of prison labor and regulation have also made headlines of late. There have been reports of Muslims incarcerated in brutal Chinese internment camps producing sportswear apparel, and strikes against imposed labor for paltry wages in American prisons. This month, tensions flared on social media when Carcel introduced a new line of silk garments produced from women's jails in Thailand. 
    "Companies are literally advertising that they use slave labor now as a reason you should buy their product," one person wrote on Twitter, prompting a chorus of outrage from hundreds. 
    "Your 'sustainable business model' includes the need for women to be in prisons," another user wrote, followed by a slew of confused-face emojis. The more Carcel posted explanations on its practices, payment models and prices, the angrier the online responses became.
    Carcel, a Danish brand, was founded in 2016 to provide incarcerated women with jobs, training and, possibly, a crime-free future.CreditAngela Ponce for The New York Times

    "Prison labor is a very complicated and opaque topic," said Peter McAllister, the executive director of the Ethical Trading Initiative, an alliance of companies, trade unions and nongovernmental organizations that back workers' rights.
    "On one hand, there are definitely well-intentioned brands with rehabilitation programs in place doing some good work all over the world," he said. "On the other hand, there are big questions to be asked around whether inmates should ever form the mainstream production of a profit-driven label, particularly given how many unacceptable cases of prisoner exploitation exist deep in the global fashion supply chain."

    Fashion has a long-established history in prisons, dating back to the 1700s. Traditionally, most manufacturing programs in countries like the United States or Britain were run either by government bodies or correctional boards in order to mass-produce low-value items at scale, like military uniforms. Inmates received well below the minimum wage, if anything at all. In the 1990s, with a record number of people behind bars in many countries, there was a boom in private companies employing prisoners for tasks as varied as telemarketing, the manufacturing of circuit boards, and garment production for brands like Victoria's Secret and J.C. Penney.
    Today, in Britain, the average prisoner engaged in some kind of employment earns around £10 a week, a government report from 2016 found. In the United States, the value of prison labor to the economy continues to add up — though not for inmates. The Bureau of Prisons operates a program known as Federal Prison Industries that pays inmates roughly 90 cents an hour to produce mattresses, eyeglasses, road signs, body armor and other products for government agencies, earning $500 million in sales in 2016.
    One product subcategory in particular has been gaining international traction in recent years: small, street trend-oriented brands selling clothing made by inmates, like Prison Blues in the United States, Stripes Clothing in the Netherlands and Pietà, another Peru-based label. All claim they can create a profitable and sustainable business model while also providing new jobs and opportunities for prisoners.
    Pietà was founded in Lima in 2012 by Thomas Jacob, a Frenchman who had once worked for Chanel, and currently employs around 50 male and female inmates from some of the largest jails in Peru. Prisoners manufacture anti-establishment logo T-shirts, sweatshirts, hand-knit sweaters, varsity jackets and high-top sneakers using locally sourced materials. Prices range from $8 for tote bags to $120 for jewelry.
    "There are a lot of men and women in jail very far from the image you may have of inmates, who just want to get by, to learn a skill, to work, to earn money," said Mr. Jacob, who has opened five Pietà stores in the Peruvian capital and says he is considering an international expansion.
    "Of course there are major challenges, from security issues and logistics in a high-security jail to brokering relationships with prison administrations and between inmates," he said. "But we are used to it all now."

    Inmates don't just make the clothes, he said — on occasion they also contribute to his designs, giving them both a creative outlet and training. Often, they act as models for advertising campaigns and are paid a portion of the sale price for each unit of clothing they produce, providing income they can send home to their families. Upon release, former inmates can continue working with Pietà, or seek jobs at other companies with Pietà's recommendation and support.
    Louise van Hauen and Veronica D'Souza, the founders of Carcel (which means "prison" in Spanish), met while living and working in Kenya. The former was a creative manager at a leather bag company and the latter was the head of a social start-up that made and distributed menstrual cups.

    Ms. D'Souza said a visit to a women's prison in Kenya in 2014 changed her thinking. "It became clear to me that virtually all of the inmates were mothers who were there because of poverty-related crimes, be it theft or prostitution. The same applies here in Peru," she said. As part of the drug-production chain in Latin America, cocaine paste must be transported from crop areas in remote parts of the country by drug mules. Many are women, and often, they are nonviolent, first-time offenders. According to INPE, 85 percent have children to support at home.
    "Often these women get incarcerated, then released, but struggle to find ways to provide for their children, and the crime cycle would start all over again," Ms. D'Souza said. "The system was clearly broken. It got me thinking about how we could create a new model that might break the cycle."
    Ms. van Hauen said she wanted to start somewhere with proximity to high-quality natural materials, where some of the skills required were already part of local culture. 
    "As one of the world's largest alpaca wool exporters, and a country where knitting is a national pastime, Peru was perfect," she said. Instead of designing streetwear, though, she and Ms. D'Souza decided to focus on the luxury end of the market.

    "Historically, lots of brands have struggled to make a profit or scale because of the low quality of product or design," Ms. van Hauen said. By having inmates create goods of higher value, the thinking goes, the products have better retail viability and healthier profit margins — and the women hone a more worthwhile skill set.
    Virginia Matamoros, the director of Cusco Female Penitentiary, said that the prison offered basic training in sewing, weaving, baking and gardening to all new inmates with the hope that they can then move on to working with companies that can prepare them for release. 
    "We accepted Carcel because it is an organized, formal company that works with good salaries and which has subsequently pushed the other companies that operate here to improve their pay rates and work schedule," she said. Ms. Matamoros added that increased access to work opportunities could lessen the likelihood of recidivism. "More than anything, it is extremely positive for their self-esteem," she said.
    In Cusco, the Carcel inmates are trained by more experienced weavers until they have developed the vocational skills to work a five-hour shift, five days a week. They earn cash salaries of 650 to 1,100 Peruvian soles ($180 to $329) per month, depending on their level of experience. Earnings in both Peru and Thailand are benchmarked against the national minimum wage. In Peru, this is 930 soles a month.
    "The women who work for us earn the same as an elementary schoolteacher here," Ms. D'Souza said. "We believe that a fair job inside of prison should be equal to a fair job outside of prison." 
    The prison takes a 10 percent cut of inmates' wages. The workers keep a portion for living expenses like food and soap, and Carcel pays the rest into their families' bank accounts. Beyond the base salary, women can also receive bonuses for the quality of their work, good behavior and overtime.

    "When I got here eight years ago, this prison was a really sad place," said Teodomira Quispe Pérez, 51, a widow and mother of six who has five more years to serve of a sentence for drug trafficking. She now oversees quality control in the Carcel workshop. "I am looking forward to getting out and buying my own machine. Working in this textile workshop takes me away from my imprisonment," she said, folding an order of $190 baby alpaca T-shirts bound for Net-a-Porter. The luxury e-commerce platform started to stock Carcel last summer.
    Benigna Salinas operates a knitting machine.CreditAngela Ponce for The New York Times

    "I do this to overcome my past and push forward for my daughter's sake because I am hoping I can be with her again someday," said another inmate, Flor Rosa Quispe Jacinto. Ms. Jacinto, 28, is in charge of training new workers in the three workshops and one classroom run by Carcel. Ms. Jacinto, who said she felt too ashamed to disclose the nature of the crime that put her in prison, showed off labels inside the garments that are printed with the name of both Carcel and the women who made it.
    It can sound too good to be true. "Prisoners by nature of their position are cut off from the rest of the world," said Mr. McAllister. "They don't have a voice. So the only stories you will ever hear from inmates about prison labor tend to be good ones, vetted by the companies or authorities involved." (None of the 11 inmates interviewed by The New York Times appeared to have been coerced or coached.)
    There is no question the work is selling. According to Elizabeth von der Goltz, the global buying director of Net-a-Porter, fashion brands with social purpose are increasingly popular with shoppers. 
    "Nearly all our Carcel styles sold out globally in just the first two weeks of launch, while the baby alpaca T-shirts are continuing to sell out week after week," she said.
    To meet demand, Carcel is now looking to double its staff base in the Peruvian prison. At the company's second production base in Thailand — the country with the most female inmates in the world — e-banking accounts are being developed for some prisoners and their relatives to minimize siphoning from wardens or companies. Carcel said it hoped to operate in a further three to five countries within the next five years.

    Considerable challenges remain. This week, Carcel halted sales in America when it became aware of a federal law that bans the import of goods made by convicts. The company is now seeking a waiver; it pointed out that the United States is one of the few countries that did not ratify a 2014 International Labor Organization convention on forced labor, despite domestic prison labor being legal. Net-a-Porter confirmed Wednesday that it would suspend Carcel sales until the issue was resolved.
    "The I.L.O. states on its website: 'a good indication of whether prisoners freely consent to work is whether the conditions of employment approximate those of a free labor relationship,' and that is what we root the principles of Carcel upon," Ms. D'Souza said from Copenhagen during a phone interview. "We treat them as employees of a company, not prisoners in a jail."
    Elizabeth Paton reported from London, and Andrea Zarate from Cusco, Peru
    My NYT comment:
    The issue is simple—pay real living union wages to inmates without charging them for soap—without taking a cut of their slave wages to pay for their own incarceration! This goes for slave prison labor here in the U.S., too. Slave prison labor is totally unconscionable. There is no "nice" slave labor. It's an oxymoron! Come to think of it, just give prisoners good paying jobs and let them out of prison. That way, they won't have to "commit crimes"—crimes of poverty—in the first place. That goes for the" good old USA," too! In the U.S. it costs upwards of $65,000-per-inmate-per year to keep them incarcerated. They could go to Harvard for that. It just makes no sense. Especially since most of the crimes prisoners commit ARE crimes of poverty. POVERTY IS THE REAL CRIME! —Bonnie Weinstein


    5) Gov. Newsom orders new DNA testing in Kevin Cooper's 1983 quadruple murder case out of Chino Hills
    PUBLISHED:  February 22, 2019 at 9:03 am  | UPDATED:  February 22, 2019 at 9:30 am
    Kevin Cooper listens during his preliminary hearing in Ontario in November 1983 for the murders in Chino Hills in June of 1983. (File photo by Walter Richard Weis / Staff Photographer)

    Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order Friday, Feb. 22, calling for new testing on DNA evidence in the 35-year-old quadruple murder case in Chino Hills.
    Kevin Cooper was convicted in the 1983 brutal slayings of Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and 11-year-old neighbor Christopher Hughes.
    Former Gov. Jerry Brown ordered DNA testing in the case in December of last year. The items in Newsom's order are different from the one issued by Brown.
    Newsom's order directs the testing of untested hairs collected from the victim's hands at the crime scene, blood evidence, fingernail scrapings from the victims and a green button.
    "I take no position as to Mr. Cooper's guilt or innocence at this time. Especially in cases where the government seeks to impose the ultimate penalty of death, I need to be satisfied that all relevant evidence is carefully and fairly examined," Newsom's executive order said.
    Cooper was scheduled for execution in 2004 but was stayed, however his appeals have been rejected by both the California and U.S. supreme courts.
    California hasn't executed anyone since 2006.

    6) 'We won't be trampled on': striking Mexican workers vow to fight the fight
    By David Agren, February 17, 2019
    Employees of Autoliv Mexico, the world's largest automotive safety supplier, strike in Matamoros. Photograph: STRINGER/Reuters

    Despite the winter chill in the air, the mood on the picket line outside the Matamoros Coca-Cola bottling plant was optimistic.
    "We're not fighting for ourselves, but for a better quality of life for our kids and their children. They won't be screwed over or trampled upon by these kinds of people any more," said Juan Luis Gaytán, 37, a mechanic at the plant, which is operated by Arca Continental, the world's second-biggest Coca-Cola bottler.
    Workers dressed in khaki uniforms brandished colourful homemade signs reading "We continue the struggle" and "20-32" – a reference to the strikers' demand of a 20% pay hike and a one-off 32,000-peso bonus.
    A wave of wildcat strikes has rolled across this Mexican border town, as thousands of workers walked off the job to demand better salaries, safer conditions – and union leaders who put members' concerns ahead of company interests.
    The strikes have closed or slowed production at dozens of maquiladora assembly plants and other factories located south of the border to take advantage of lower labour costs.
    But more than two weeks after the strike began, companies are still underestimating the workers' determination, Gaytán said. "They're absolutely confident we will give in. But if we give in, then things will stay the same."
    There have already been some victories: 48 maquiladoras represented by the Matamoros Industrial Workers and Labourers' Union announced a settlement to end their stoppages on 9 February, "having met the demands of our unionised workers".
    But local activists say the strikes are succeeding in spite of – not because of – the unions.
    At protest camps across the city, workers complain that union leaders are good at collecting membership dues, but not so efficient when it comes to sharing information or even copies of their collective contracts.
    "The union has always had us by the throat," said Heriberto Lomas, a striking employee at a plant manufacturing controls. "Everyone is scared they'll be fired. That's why they haven't gone on strike before."
    Despite paltry wages and shabby working conditions, widespread strikes are a rarity in Mexico. Business leaders boast often of "labour peace" – a euphemism for pliant unions, often chosen by the company itself, which receive a kind of "protection money" from management rather than negotiate on behalf of the workers.
    Nine out of 10 collective-bargaining contracts are agreed to without the consent – and sometimes without the knowledge – of the company's workers, according to the Wall Street Journal.
    Unused to negotiating, companies have been caught off-guard by the sudden outbreak of collective bargaining, said Aldo Muñoz, a labour expert at the Autonomous University of Mexico State.
    "Companies pay more money to protection unions than the bonuses that the striking workers are asking for in Matamoros," he said.
    The strikes have spread like wildfire in Matamoros, a city of 450,000 which sits across the border from Brownsville, Texas and has become a magnet for impoverished workers from across the country.
    Abdio Lorenzo moved to Matamoros 20 years ago from Veracruz and now employs 32 people in a company handling chemical waste. His invoices are going unpaid because of the strike, but like many locals, Lorenzo expressed sympathy for the strikers.
    "People aren't listening to their labour leaders any longer," he said. "It's become a social movement."
    The immediate trigger for the strikes was the inauguration in December of new president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as Amlo, who campaigned on a promise to improve workers' conditions and promote independent unions.
    Amlo has not commented on the Matamoros strikes, but observers say he inadvertently triggered the walkouts with a promise to double the minimum wage to 176.20 pesos per day ($9.28) in the northern border region.
    The increase triggered a clause in some collective contracts in the city which index link pay rises to the minimum wage. In turn, workers on other contracts walked off the job, demanding the same 20-32 deal.
    Even non-unionised workers have joined the strike, such as delivery drivers at the local dairy.
    Under a ragged tent pitched outside the Leche Vakita plant, strikers invoked the 20-32 deal, before a rail-thin driver pulled out a neatly printed list of other demands: paid overtime when trucks break down, life insurance – and danger money for out-of-town routes which take them through the most dangerous killing fields of Mexico's drug war.
    "They've promised these things for years and not done anything," said Martín Villanueva, who told the story of a colleague who was shot and killed after he got caught in a shootout between rival narcos.
    He had barely finished speaking when a car pulled up by the picket line, and a stocky man marched up to the drivers shouting that one of their trucks had damaged his vehicle.
    He pulled a gun, sending strikers – and a Guardian correspondent – running for cover.
    He had barely finished speaking when a car pulled up by the picket line, and a stocky man marched up to the drivers shouting that one of their trucks had damaged his vehicle.
    He pulled a gun, sending strikers – and a Guardian correspondent – running for cover.
    "There's a lot of unease over the fallout [of the strike]," Claudio X Gonzalez, a former president of the Mexican Business Council, recently told Reforma. "Losses are great because we're living in a world that is very integrated with supply chains that have to be very efficient and effective, and when you stop them, things foul up and costs rise."
    An Arca Continental spokesman said its wages and benefits "were 48% to 120% better than the maquiladora industry", while it offered "one of the best-paid jobs in the city".
    Susana Prieto Terrazas, a veteran labour lawyer who has been advising the strikers, said that she could not remember a similar outbreak of labour activism in Mexico.
    "Workers can't make ends meet and they don't even make enough to buy a basic basket of goods," she said in an interview. "The working class is at the end of its tether."


    7) Why Does Obama Scold Black Boys? 
    The former president still can't see the beautiful and complex range of black culture.
    By Derecka Purnell, February 23, 2019
    "Programs like My Brother's Keeper insist on making better versions of Trayvon Martin, the black victim, instead of asking how to stop creating people like George Zimmerman, the racist vigilante. Rather than encouraging them to dismantle the systems that deepen wealth inequality, Mr. Obama tells black boys to tuck their chains."

    President Obama speaking to young men in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday.CreditCreditJosh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    On Tuesday, former President Barack Obama spoke in Oakland, Calif., at a town hall for My Brother's Keeper, an initiative to mentor young black men that he started after George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in 2012.
    He and the basketball player Stephen Curry discussed mentorship, masculinity and mass incarceration. But his scolding of black boys drew the most attention. 
    "If you are really confident about your financial situation," Mr. Obama told the crowd, "you are probably not going to be wearing a eight-pound chain around your neck." 

    "Because you know," he continued, "'Oh, I got a bank account.' I don't have to show you how much I got. I feel good."

    His comments disappointed me because they're part of problematic practices, like calling out black children for having ghetto names like mine or wearing Air Jordans. Such remarks by Mr. Obama reflect his administration's failure, and to an extent that of My Brother's Keeper, to tackle the systemic inequality that shapes black people's lives in America.
    I went to Harvard Law School decades after Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, graduated. When I was there in 2014, nobody wore thick gold chains to show off their wealth. They wore thin ones to match their David Yurman bracelets. Canada Goose down jackets may as well have been part of a uniform during Boston winters. Students "summered," took "gap years" and graduated from "Sidwell." Harvard was the first place I saw a Rolex in real life. I wonder if it was the same model as the $15,000 Rolex that Mr. Obama wears in the Kehinde Wiley painting of him in the National Portrait Gallery.
    My Brother's Keeper's participants are less like my wealthy law school classmates and more like my brothers, cousins and childhood friends. Like my family, many of them have no reason to be "really confident" about their financial situation. And Mr. Obama is partly to blame for that. 
    Black families were hit the hardest during the financial crisis. Because of falling homeownership rates and layoffs, blacks lost over half their wealth between 2005 and 2009, according to a report from the National Association of Real Estate Brokers. Instead of bailing out families, Mr. Obama bailed out banks, failing to pursue specific policies that would have addressed the decline in black homeownership rates and equity.
    The economist William Darity painted a stark picture in a 2016 article in The Atlantic:
    Blacks working full time have lower levels of wealth than whites who are unemployed. Blacks in the third quintile of the income distribution have less wealth (or a lower net worth) than whites in the lowest quintile. Even more damning for any presumption that America is free of racism is our finding that black households whose heads have college degrees have $10,000 less in net worth than white households whose heads never finished high school.
    Yet Michelle's husband (as he introduced himself at the town hall) uses My Brother's Keeper to change life outcomes for boys of colors. But its solution to financial insecurity and the racist violence that led to Trayvon's murder are the same: community mentorship. This pales in comparison to reparations or any major social or legislative intervention that justice requires.

    At the Oakland event, Mr. Obama doubled-down on his finger-wagging. "Oftentimes racism, historically in this society, sends you a message that you are less than and weak," Mr. Obama said. "We feel like we got to compensate by exaggerating certain stereotypical ways that men are supposed to act, and that's a trap that we fall into that we have to pull out of." 
    This is also how conservatives depict black people, as the philosopher Cornel West explained in "Race Matters." Conservatives accuse them of being lazy and demand self-improvement. Liberals pity blacks for not being able to help themselves. But, to both groups, the burden is on black people to fix themselves. Neither conservatives nor liberals sufficiently challenge racist people or institutions that have long exploited poor people and people of color.
    To put it another way: Programs like My Brother's Keeper insist on making better versions of Trayvon Martin, the black victim, instead of asking how to stop creating people like George Zimmerman, the racist vigilante. Rather than encouraging them to dismantle the systems that deepen wealth inequality, Mr. Obama tells black boys to tuck their chains.
    Teenagers can be tough audiences and Mr. Obama could have just tried to be relatable. He's a masterful, charismatic storyteller. He sings, jokes and provokes. But throughout his candidacy and presidency, Mr. Obama repeatedly lectured black people. 
    In 2008, he scolded black parents for allegedly feeding their children "cold Popeyes" chicken, even though food deserts are becoming more prevalent in black neighborhoods. He shamed Ferguson and Baltimore protesters for resisting police violence with rocks, not the police officers whom the protesters were rightly defending themselves against. And in his Oakland comments, he criticized absent fathers, even though a 2013 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that black fathers were the most involved with their children daily than any other group of fathers. 
    What kind of men do these boys risk becoming, Mr. Obama asked? "If you are very confident about your sexuality, you don't have to have eight women around you twerking," Mr. Obama said. "Why are you all like, I mean, you seem stressed acting that way. Because I got one woman who I'm very happy with. And she is a strong woman."
    I admit. The former leader of the free world using "twerk" correctly made me giggle. But I felt uneasy.

    I cannot imagine being a "boy" in that room, who feels like a girl or who is a girl, or dreams of eight men twerking around him, or wants to twerk, or is curious about both boys and girls.
    Boys are probably stressed by the idea that they should already be confident about their sexuality as teenagers, or that a healthy sexuality exists between only a man and a "strong woman." Not eight nameless, faceless women who twerk around a man.
    Mr. Obama's comments reinforced toxic masculinity and they didn't really give us an alternative. In the town hall, there was no black feminism, nothing that recognized the ordinary humanity of black girls and women; they were either on a pedestal or on the floor.
    I am sure some boys of color will benefit from My Brother's Keeper. I am much more excited about programs, like Assata's Daughters in Chicago, which teaches black girls about oppression, abolition and how to organize social justice campaigns.
    But it's clear Mr. Obama's chains still bind him, even after leaving the Oval Office, from seeing the beautiful and complex range of black culture and the ways we choose to survive.

    My NYT Comment:
    Wow! What a great OpEd piece! Thanks, Derecka, for pointing out the "shame game" that took place at the My Brother's Keeper town hall. Shame on Obama! And he has so much to be shameful for—wars, bombings, drone executions,  deportations, privatization of jails that profit off of increasing the prison population, privatization of public schools,  bank bailouts, huge corporate tax breaks all at taxpayers expense—just to name a few of the shameful things he has done. 
    —Bonnie Weinstein


    8) Inside the Neoliberal Laboratory Preparing for the Theft of Venezuela's Economy
    By Justin Podur, Venezuelanalysis.com, February 20, 2019
    Ricardo Hausmann (right) is one of the neoliberal advisors to Juan Guaido (left) (Archive)

    As we watch a U.S.-backed coupunfold in a distant country, as in Venezuela today, our eyes are drawn to the diplomatic, military, and economic elements of the U.S. campaign. The picture of a scowling John Bolton with a big yellow notepad with the message "5,000 troops to Colombia" reveals the diplomatic and military elements. The New York Timesheadline "U.S. Sanctions Are Aimed at Venezuela's Oil. Its Citizens May Suffer First" reveals the economic element.
    But U.S. foreign policy mobilizes every available resource for regime change and for counterinsurgency. Among those resources, you will always find academics. The pen may not always be mightier than the sword, but behind every U.S.-backed war on a foreign people there will be a body of scholarly work.
    The academic laboratory of the Venezuelan couphas the highest academic pedigree of all—it's housed at Harvard. Under the auspices of the university's Center for International Development, the Venezuela project of the Harvard Growth Lab (there are growth labs for other countries as well, including India and Sri Lanka) is full of academic heavyweights, including Lawrence Summers (who once famously argued that Africa was underpolluted.) Among the leaders of the growth lab is Ricardo Hausmann, now an adviser to Juan Guaido who has "already drafted a plan to rebuild the nation, from economy to energy."
    In an interview with Bloomberg Surveillance, Hausmann was asked who would be there to rebuild Venezuela after the coup—the IMF, the World Bank? Hausmann replied (around minute 20,) "we have been in touch with all of them. …I have been working for three years on a 'morning after' plan for Venezuela." The hosts interrupted him before he could get into detail, but the interview concluded that bringing back the "wonderful Venezuela of old," for investors, would necessitate international financial support. Never mind that the "wonderful Venezuela of old" was maintained through a corrupt compact between two ruling parties (called "Punto Fijo") and the imprisonment and torture of political opponents—amply documented but forgotten by those who accuse Maduro of the same crimes.
    The Growth Lab website provides some other ideas of what Hausmann's plan likely includes: Chavez's literacy, healthcare, and food subsidy "Missions," a growth lab paper argues, have not reduced poverty (and, implicitly, should go.) Another paper argues that the underperformance of the Venezuelan oil industry was due to the country's lack of appeal to foreign investors (hence Venezuela should implicitly be made more appealing to this all-important group.) A third paper argues that "weak property rights" and the "flawed functioning of markets" are harming the business environment—no doubt strengthening property rights and getting those markets functioning again will be in the plan. If this sounds like the same kind of neoliberal prescription that devastated Latin American countries for generations and was imposed and maintained through torture and dictatorship from Chile and Brazil to Venezuela itself, that is because the motivation is to bring back the "wonderful Venezuela of old."
    Wall Street Journalarticle by Bob Davis from 2005 credits Hausmann with being part of the original Washington Consensus in 1989, "the economic manifesto [that] identified government as a roadblock to prosperity, and called for dismantling trade barriers, eliminating budget deficits, selling off state-owned industries and opening Latin nations to foreign investment." Decades later, if the WSJarticle is to be believed, Hausmann looked at the data and found "Deep reforms; lousy growth," and concluded that there "must be something wrong with the theories of growth."
    Hausmann's academic work is highly technical, macroeconomic modeling. The models reveal the consequences of the assumptions used to construct them: at times there is some data fit to them. Others are applied mathematics exercises. A paper on 2005 "Growth Accelerations" looks for periods when countries' economies grew quickly. An earlier paper, from 2002, presents a roundabout argument on the so-called "resource curse," in which oil-dependent economies (like Venezuela) suffer poor developmental performance, arguing at that time that "more interventionist policies to subsidize investment in the non-tradable sector may also have a role to play."
    But whether it was written by Hausmann or not, the economic plan of Guaido's post-coupgovernment has no such heterodox ideas in it, however. It is difficult to imagine Hausmann or Guaido going against Bolton, who told Fox News that "It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela." The post-coupVenezuelan economy will not be all about mathematically rigorous experiments in economic growth like Hausmann's academic work. It will be about the privatization of Venezuela's assets.
    Hausmann might have a long record of publishing models of economic growth, but he has maintained a passion for regime change in Venezuela for more than a decade—even at the expense of academic integrity. After the Venezuelan opposition failed to oust Chavez in a coupin 2002 and failed again to oust him using a strike of the Venezuelan oil company in 2003, they resorted to constitutional means—a recall referendum, in 2004. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the recall in the referendum, which featured then new electoral machines that did an electronic tally verified by printed ballots (still the system used in Venezuela and praised by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter in 2012 as the "best in the world") and was overseen by numerous international observers including the Carter Center. But Hausmann prepared a highly dubious statistical analysis to cast doubt on the outcome. Hausmann's dubious statistics were cited numerous times. More may have been made of them had they not been thoroughly discredited by the U.S.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR.) Mark Weisbrot of CEPR summarized the episode in a 2008 report:
    "...the political impact of economic and econometric research on Venezuela can be very significant. For example, in 2004, economists Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard's Kennedy School (a former Minister of Planning of Venezuela) and Roberto Rigobon of MIT published a paper purporting to show econometric evidence of electronic fraud in the 2004 presidential recall referendum. The theory of the fraud was implausible in the extreme, the statistical analysis was seriously flawed, and the election was observed and certified by the Carter Center and the Organization of American States. Nonetheless this paper had a substantial impact. Together with faked exit polls by Mark Penn's polling firm of Penn, Schoen, and Berland—which purported to show the recall succeeding by a 60-40 margin, the mirror image of the vote count—it became one of the main pieces of evidence that convinced the Venezuelan opposition that the elections were fraudulent. On this basis they went on to boycott the 2005 congressional elections, and consequently are without representation in the National Assembly.
    "The influence of this Hausmann and Rigobon study would probably have been much greater, but CEPR refuted it and then the Carter Center followed with an independent panel of statisticians that also examined these allegations and found them to be without evidence. Nonetheless, the Wall Street Journaland other, mostly Latin American publications, used the study to claim that the elections were stolen. Conspiracy theories about Venezuelan elections continue to be widely held in Venezuela, and are still promoted by prominent people in major media sources such as Newsweek, even with regard to the recent constitutional referendum of December 2, 2007."
    Hausmann's 2004 statistical gambit is actually an established part of the U.S.-coupplaybook. The academic analysis of an election and the finding of flaws, real or imagined, in an electoral process are the beginning of an ongoing claim against the target's democratic legitimacy. The created flaw is then repeated and emphasized. Even if it was spurious and debunked, as was Hausmann's 2004 analysis, it can continue to perform in media campaigns against the target. After years of such repetition, the target can safely be called a "dictator" in Western media, even if the "dictator" has more electoral legitimacy than most Western politicians.
    The elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown in a U.S.-backed coupin 2004. Haiti's Hausmann was an academic named James Morrell. After Aristide won reelection in 2001 in a landslide, he stood poised to make major legislative moves on behalf of the country's poor majority. Morrell published an article about how Aristide had "snatched defeat from the jaws of victory," because of irregularities in the election of eight senators (out of 19, 18 of which were won by candidates from Aristide's party:) only the votes of the top four candidates in the senatorial elections were counted for these senate seats. These senators would have won regardless of the methodology used, but these supposed irregularities were enough to initiate the financial punishment of Aristide's government: the suspension of Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) financing, to the tune of $150 million. All eight senators were made to vacate their seats, but the IADB never provided the loan. Morrell's article played a key role as the intellectual backing for the attack on the Aristide government's legitimacy, despite Aristide's overwhelming victory in the 2001 election and the contrived nature of the "irregularities" in the senate seats.
    The coupagainst Aristide unfolded over a period of years: economic warfare, paramilitary violence, and the eventual kidnapping of Aristide from the palace were the tactics of choice in that regime change. But the academics preceded the coup, and followed it, providing justifications and obfuscations of what was happening in the post-coup, counterinsurgency violence.
    Latin American social violence has even longer-running academic underpinnings. Today, Colombia's president Iván Duque (the protégéof the previous warlord-president Álvaro Uribe Vélez) leads the call for regime change in Venezuela. Duque's country was reshaped by a multigenerational civil war during which the countryside was depopulated, through paramilitary violence, of millions of peasants (many of them Afro-Colombian or Indigenous.) The academic theorist behind this was the Canadian-born, U.S. "new dealer" Lauchlin Currie, whose theory (summarized by academic James Brittain in a 2005 article,) called "accelerated development," was that "the displacement of rural populations from the countryside and their relocation to the urban industrial centers would generate agricultural growth and technological improvements for Colombia's economy." Currie implemented these ideas as the director of the foreign mission of the World Bank from 1950, and as adviser to successive Colombian presidents. Today Colombia continues to suffer from Currie's academic theories. Despite the peace deal of 2016, it has the largest internally displaced population in the hemisphere.
    John Maynard Keynes wrote that "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back."
    As Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton show in their article about him, Guaido is just such a practical man, a U.S.-foundation-funded street fighter for the rich neighborhoods of Caracas. But he certainly has use of the academic scribblers gathered at Harvard.
    When it comes to suppressing the people of Latin America in their hopes to control their own fortunes and their own resources, the scribblers have a key role to play, as much as their diplomatic and military counterparts.
    Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer. You can find him on his website at podur.org and on Twitter @justinpodur. He teaches at York University in the Faculty of Environmental Studies.
    Venezuelanalysis.com, February 20, 2019
    By John Pilger, February 22, 2019
    This photograph was produced by Agência Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency.

    Travelling with Hugo Chavez, I soon understood the threat of Venezuela.  At a farming co-operative in Lara state, people waited patiently and with good humour in the heat. Jugs of water and melon juice were passed around. A guitar was played; a woman, Katarina, stood and sang with a husky contralto.
    "What did her words say?" I asked.
    "That we are proud," was the reply.
    The applause for her merged with the arrival of Chavez. Under one arm he carried a satchel bursting with books.  He wore his big red shirt and greeted people by name, stopping to listen. What struck me was his capacity to listen.
    But now he read. For almost two hours he read into the microphone from the stack of books beside him: Orwell, Dickens, Tolstoy, Zola, Hemingway, Chomsky, Neruda: a page here, a line or two there. People clapped and whistled as he moved from author to author.
    Then farmers took the microphone and told him what they knew, and what they needed; one ancient face, carved it seemed from a nearby banyan, made a long, critical speech on the subject of irrigation; Chavez took notes.
    Wine is grown here, a dark Syrah type grape. "John, John, come up here," said El Presidente, having watched me fall asleep in the heat and the depths of Oliver Twist.
    "He likes red wine," Chavez told the cheering, whistling audience, and presented me with a bottle of "vino de la gente". My few words in bad Spanish brought whistles and laughter.
    Watching Chavez with la gente made sense of a man who promised, on coming to power, that his every move would be subject to the will of the people.  In eight years, Chavez won eight elections and referendums: a world record. He was electorally the most popular head of state in the Western Hemisphere, probably in the world.
    Every major chavista reform was voted on, notably a new constitution of which 71 per cent of the people approved each of the 396 articles that enshrined unheard of freedoms, such as Article 123, which for the first time recognised the human rights of mixed-race and black people, of whom Chavez was one.
    One of his tutorials on the road quoted a feminist writer: "Love and solidarity are the same." His audiences understood this well and expressed themselves with dignity, seldom with deference. Ordinary people regarded Chavez and his government as their first champions: as theirs.
    This was especially true of the indigenous, mestizos and Afro-Venezuelans, who had been held in historic contempt by Chavez's immediate predecessors and by those who today live far from the  barrios, in the mansions and penthouses of East Caracas, who commute to Miami where their banks are and who regard themselves as "white". They are the powerful core of what the media calls "the opposition".
    When I met this class, in suburbs called Country Club, in homes appointed with low chandeliers and bad portraits, I recognised them. They could be white South Africans, the petite bourgeoisie of Constantia and Sandton, pillars of the cruelties of apartheid.
    Cartoonists in the Venezuelan press, most of which are owned by an oligarchy and oppose the government, portrayed Chavez as an ape. A radio host referred to "the monkey". In the private universities, the verbal currency of the children of the well-off is often racist abuse of those whose shacks are just visible through the pollution.
    Although identity politics are all the rage in the pages of liberal newspapers in the West, race and class are two words almost never uttered in the mendacious "coverage" of Washington's latest, most naked attempt to grab the world's greatest source of oil and reclaim its "backyard".
    For all the chavistas' faults — such as allowing the Venezuelan economy to become hostage to the fortunes of oil and never seriously challenging big capital and corruption — they brought social justice and pride to millions of people and they did it with unprecedented democracy.
    "Of the 92 elections that we've monitored," said former President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Centre is a respected monitor of elections around the world, "I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world." By way of contrast, said Carter, the US election system, with its emphasis on campaign money, "is one of the worst".
    In extending the franchise to a parallel people's state of communal authority, based in the poorest barrios, Chavez described Venezuelan democracy as "our version of Rousseau's idea of popular sovereignty".
    In Barrio La Linea, seated in her tiny kitchen, Beatrice Balazo told me her children were the first generation of the poor to attend a full day's school and be given a hot meal and to learn music, art and dance. "I have seen their confidence blossom like flowers," she said.
    In Barrio La Vega, I listened to a nurse, Mariella Machado, a black woman of 45 with a wicked laugh, address an urban land council on subjects ranging from homelessness to illegal war. That day, they were launching Mision Madres de Barrio, a programme aimed at poverty among single mothers. Under the constitution, women have the right to be paid as carers, and can borrow from a special women's bank. Now the poorest housewives get the equivalent of $200 a month.
    In a room lit by a single fluorescent tube, I met Ana Lucia Ferandez, aged 86, and Mavis Mendez, aged 95. A mere 33-year-old, Sonia Alvarez, had come with her two children. Once, none of them could read and write; now they were studying mathematics. For the first time in its history, Venezuela has almost 100 per cent literacy.
    This is the work of Mision Robinson, which was designed for adults and teenagers previously denied an education because of poverty. Mision Ribas gives everyone the opportunity of a secondary education, called a bachillerato.(The names Robinson and Ribas refer to Venezuelan independence leaders from the 19th century).
    In her 95 years, Mavis Mendez had seen a parade of governments, mostly vassals of Washington, preside over the theft of billions of dollars in oil spoils, much of it flown to Miami. "We didn't matter in a human sense," she told me. "We lived and died without real education and running water, and food we couldn't afford. When we fell ill, the weakest died. Now I can read and write my name and so much more; and whatever the rich and the media say, we have planted the seeds of true democracy and I have the joy of seeing it happen."
    In 2002, during a Washington-backed coup, Mavis's sons and daughters and grandchildren and great-grandchildren joined hundreds of thousands who swept down from the barrios on the hillsides and demanded the army remained loyal to Chavez.
    "The people rescued me," Chavez told me. "They did it with the media against me, preventing even the basic facts of what happened. For popular democracy in heroic action, I suggest you look no further."
    Since Chavez's death in 2013, his successor Nicolas Maduro has shed his derisory label in the Western press as a "former bus driver" and become Saddam Hussein incarnate. His media abuse is ridiculous. On his watch, the slide in the price of oil has caused hyper inflation and played havoc with prices in a society that imports almost all its food; yet, as the journalist and film-maker Pablo Navarrete reported this week, Venezuela is not the catastrophe it has been painted. "There is food everywhere," he wrote. "I have filmed lots of videos of food in markets [all over Caracas] … it's Friday night and the restaurants are full."
    In 2018, Maduro was re-elected President. A section of the opposition boycotted the election, a tactic tried against Chavez. The boycott failed: 9,389,056 people voted; sixteen parties participated and six candidates stood for the presidency. Maduro won 6,248,864 votes, or 67.84 per cent.
    On election day, I spoke to one of the 150 foreign election observers. "It was entirely fair," he said. "There was no fraud; none of the lurid media claims stood up. Zero. Amazing really."
    Like a page from Alice's tea party, the Trump administration has presented Juan Guaido, a pop-up creation of the CIA-front National Endowment for Democracy, as the "legitimate President of Venezuela". Unheard of by 81 per cent of the Venezuelan people, according to The Nation, Guaido has been elected by no one.
    Maduro is "illegitimate", says Trump (who won the US presidency with three million fewer votes than his opponent), a "dictator", says demonstrably unhinged vice president Mike Pence and an oil trophy-in-waiting, says "national security" adviser John Bolton (who when I interviewed him in 2003 said, "Hey, are you a communist, maybe even Labour?").
    As his "special envoy to Venezuela" (coup master), Trump has appointed a convicted felon, Elliot Abrams, whose intrigues in the service of Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush helped produce the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s and plunge central America into years of blood-soaked misery.
    Putting Lewis Carroll aside, these  "crazies" belong in newsreels from the 1930s. And yet their lies about Venezuela have been taken up with enthusiasm by those paid to keep the record straight.
    On Channel 4 News, Jon Snow bellowed at the Labour MP Chris Williamson, "Look, you and Mr. Corbyn are in a very nasty corner [on Venezuela]!" When Williamson tried to explain why threatening a sovereign country was wrong, Snow cut him off. "You've had a good go!"
    In 2006, Channel 4 News effectively accused Chavez of plotting to make nuclear weapons with Iran: a fantasy. The then Washington correspondent, Jonathan Rugman, allowed a war criminal, Donald Rumsfeld, to liken Chavez to Hitler, unchallenged.
    Researchers at the University of the West of England studied the BBC's reporting of Venezuela over a ten-year period. They looked at 304 reports and found that only three of these referred to any of the positive policies of the government. For the BBC, Venezuela's democratic record, human rights legislation, food programmes, healthcare initiatives and poverty reduction did not happen.  The greatest literacy programme in human history did not happen, just as the millions who march in support of Maduro and in memory of Chavez, do not exist.
    When asked why she filmed only an opposition march, the BBC reporter Orla Guerin tweeted that it was "too difficult" to be on two marches in one day.
    A war has been declared on Venezuela, of which the truth is "too difficult" to report.
    It is too difficult to report the collapse of oil prices since 2014 as largely the result of criminal machinations by Wall Street. It is too difficult to report the blocking of Venezuela's access to the US-dominated international financial system as sabotage. It is too difficult to report Washington's "sanctions" against Venezuela, which have caused the loss of at least $6billion in Venezuela's revenue since 2017, including  $2billion worth of imported medicines, as illegal, or the Bank of England's refusal to return Venezuela's gold reserves as an act of piracy.
    The former United Nations Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas, has likened this to a "medieval siege" designed "to bring countries to their knees". It is a criminal assault, he says. It is similar to that faced by Salvador Allende in 1970 when President Richard Nixon and his equivalent of John Bolton, Henry Kissinger, set out to "make the economy [of Chile] scream". The long dark night of Pinochet followed.
    The Guardian correspondent, Tom Phillips, has tweeted a picture of a cap on which the words in Spanish mean in local slang: "Make Venezuela fucking cool again." The reporter as clown may be the final stage of much of mainstream journalism's degeneration.
    Should the CIA stooge Guaido and his white supremacists grab power, it will be the 68th overthrow of a sovereign government by the United States, most of them democracies. A fire sale of Venezuela's utilities and mineral wealth will surely follow, along with the theft of the country's oil, as outlined by John Bolton.
    Under the last Washington-controlled government in Caracas, poverty reached historic proportions. There was no healthcare for those could not pay. There was no universal education; Mavis Mendez, and millions like her, could not read or write. How cool is that, Tom?

    10) Judge Dismisses Charges in Boy's Decapitation on 170-Foot-Tall Water Slide
    By Jacey Fortin, February 24, 2019

    Jeffrey W. Henry at the Verrückt waterslide that he helped design for a Kansas water park. Criminal charges brought against him and others in connection with a fatal accident on the slide were dismissed on Friday.CreditCreditCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    After a boy died while riding a nearly 170-foot-tall water slide in Kansas in 2016, state attorneys brought criminal charges against operators and associates of the water park, accusing them of recklessness.
    But on Friday a judge dismissed the charges and said prosecutors had submitted "improper evidence."
    In his ruling, the judge, Robert Burns of Wyandotte County, wrote that there was "illegal evidence that should not have been presented to the grand jury" and called into question videos and expert testimony presented to jurors.
    The case focused on a waterslide at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kan. The slide, known as Verrückt, which is German for "crazy" or "insane," opened in 2014 and was marketed as the tallest waterslide in the world. Riders climbed 264 steps to the top before sitting in a raft that plummeted and then soared over a crest on its way to a runoff pool at the bottom.

    The rafts sometimes lifted from the chute momentarily, and the slide was covered with netting, supported by metal poles, so riders would not fall off. But riders sometimes struck the netting or the poles, and some injuries had already occurred when, in August 2016, Caleb Schwab, 10, got into a raft with two other riders.

    As his raft soared over the crest, Caleb was tossed toward the netting. He hit a metal pole and was decapitated.
    In 2017, Caleb's family received a settlement of nearly $20 million from Schlitterbahn and other companies involved in the slide, The Kansas City Star reported. Caleb was the son of Scott Schwab, a former Republican state senator who recently took office as the Kansas secretary of state. The two women in Caleb's raft — sisters who sustained facial injuries and bone fractures — also received settlementsfrom the park.
    Criminal indictments came in 2018. The defendants included Jeffrey W. Henry, a co-owner of Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts, which is based in Texas; John T. Schooley, a designer of the slide; and Tyler Austin Miles, a former operations director. Also indicted were Henry & Sons Construction Company and KC Waterpark Management, both affiliates of Schlitterbahn.
    They were accused of reckless behavior in the design, construction and operation of the Verrückt and faced various charges that included aggravated child endangerment and second-degree murder.
    In seeking the indictment, state attorneys showed grand jurors video footage filmed for a Travel Channel show, "Xtreme Waterparks," which featured the slide in an episode. The video was intended to show that the defendants had exhibited a reckless attitude toward the construction of the slide, Judge Burns wrote.

    "The video, though, is a fictional and dramatized version of events created for entertainment purposes," he wrote, concluding that it should not have been allowed as evidence.
    Judge Burns also wrote that the jurors heard expert testimony that suggested, incorrectly, that the slide's designers did not adhere to legal standards, and that the expert mentioned another, unrelated death at the Schlitterbahn park in Texas.
    Ultimately, he decided that the defense lawyers' arguments of "grand jury abuse" were credible.
    "I obviously recognize that the circumstances and events giving rise to these indictments are indisputably tragic," Judge Burns wrote. "A young child's life was lost and his troubling death was mourned by family, friends and the entire Kansas community and beyond."
    Winter Prosapio, a spokeswoman for Schlitterbahn, said the company welcomed the decision. "We are thankful for all the support and encouragement we've received," she added.
    "We agree with the court's decision that the grand jury was not given a fair picture of the evidence relating to this tragic accident," Justin Johnston, a lawyer for Mr. Schooley, said. "We don't know what the future holds, but hope that with a fresh look at the evidence and law, the parties can find a way to put this matter behind them."
    Tricia Bath, a lawyer for Mr. Miles, said "there is no question that Friday's ruling about what occurred before the grand jury was correct and the judge's reasoning legally sound."
    Lawyers for the other defendants either could not be reached on Saturday or did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    In a statement, the Kansas attorney general, Derek Schmidt, did not rule out seeking criminal charges again.
    "We are obviously disappointed and respectfully disagree with the court's decision," the statement said, adding that prosecutors would "take a fresh look at the evidence and applicable law in this tragic and troubling case to determine the best course forward."
    A lawyer who represented the Schwab family did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
    The Verrückt was demolished last year.


    11) "Austerity, That's What I Know:" The Making of a Young U.K. Socialist
    Alex McIntyre, 19, was brought up in Britain being reshaped by government cuts. He gave up on capitalism after a year in college.
    by Ellen Barry, February 24, 2019

    Alex McIntyre hanging out with a friend in his flat in Brighton, England. Mr. McIntyre is part of a group of young Wetherspoons employees who are fighting for better working conditions and fairer pay.CreditCreditMary Turner for The New York Times

    BRIGHTON, England — Alex McIntyre was raised on budget cuts.
    The youth center where he went after school was shuttered when he was 10. When he was 11, his mother’s housing benefit was shaved away, a casualty of the Welfare Reform Act. By the time the streetlight in his cul-de-sac began blinking off at midnight a few years later, these events had knitted together into a single story, about a government policy that had defined his childhood.
    “Austerity, that’s what I know, that’s my life,” said Mr. McIntyre. “I’ve never known an England that was a different way.”
    Now 19 and old enough to vote, Mr. McIntyre is making up for lost time. Over the last six months, he was drawn into the center of the Momentum movement, an ideological marketplace buzzing with rebranded socialism and trade unionism. His parents may have gotten their news from The Sun and The Daily Mail, but he listens to reports on the “crisis of capitalism” from Novara Media, a left-wing independent media group. Over Christmas he started reading Marx.
    Mr. McIntyre is the first in his family to attend college, part of a vast cohort of young Britons that was meant to embody upward social mobility. It is a paradox that so many in this bulge, like their counterparts in the United States, are giving up on free-market capitalism, convinced it cannot provide their families with a decent life.

    The general election of 2017 exposed the starkest generation gap in the recent history of British politics. Young voters broke dramatically for the Labour Party, whose socialist leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has promised to rebuild the welfare state and redistribute wealth. Hardened against the centrists of their parents’ generation, they have tugged the party to the left, opening up rifts that are now fracturing Labour.
    Students getting their hair cut at Black L’Amour, a Brighton barbershop popular for its low prices. Though the portion of Britons attending college has climbed to 49 percent, the highest level ever, they will graduate into a historic spell of wage stagnation.CreditMary Turner for The New York Times

    The young also saw their views on exiting the European Union — three-quarters of them voted to remain — bulldozed by Leavers their grandparents’ age. Mr. McIntyre is still angry that he was too young, by a year, to vote in that 2016 referendum. He is pale and lanky, discreetly tattooed, caustically funny and so well mannered that he would rather miss his train than cut into a line. (“Being British can be limiting,” he observed.)
    He is not representative of a generation. But his grievance is generational: that the state has taken away benefits his parents and grandparents enjoyed, like low-cost housing and free education.
    “We’re not blind to it. We’re not stupid, you know,” Mr. McIntyre said. “The reason we’re opposing what’s going on is what we’ve been dealt.”
    Britons who came of age in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008 will, in many cases, be worse off than their parents. Born on the wrong side of skyrocketing property values, 30-year-olds are only half as likely to own homes as baby boomers were at the same age. A third are expected to rent for their whole lives.

    Unlike previous generations, they are expected to foot the bill for an expensive education. The average graduate now owes the government more than 50,800 pounds, or $64,000, a debt to be paid back gradually upon securing a well-paid job, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The portion of Britons attending college has climbed to 49 percent, the highest level ever, but they will graduate into a historic spell of wage stagnation.
    Robert Ford, a professor of politics at the University of Manchester, recalled Margaret Thatcher’s thesis about homeownership: By allowing low-income Britons to buy the state housing they rented, she could make them into stakeholders in market capitalism, enlarging the Tory Party. With his students, realizing in their 20s that they are not likely ever to own a home, that process has been thrown into reverse.
    “All the risk has been shifted onto them,” he said. “They know this is not the situation their parents and grandparents were in. You’ve got a generation since the crisis with lower mobility and lower security. It makes them less convinced that the market delivers good outcomes.”
    Mr. McIntyre, center right, celebrating the series of walkouts and strike actions that he and his friends have organized.CreditMary Turner for The New York Times

    It was a big deal for Alex McIntyre to make it to college.
    He comes from a lower-middle-class neighborhood of Welwyn Garden City, north of London, one where life expectancy trails the national average. He grew up in a state-subsidized rental property and attended a school ranked “Requires Improvement” by the state educational inspection agency. His sister had her first child at 16.
    Social mobility was a mantra for the Conservative Party during those years. David Cameron promised this in 2010, as he announced the tripling of university tuition fees. Higher fees, he argued, would open up new spots and create better opportunities by encouraging market competition, something closer to the American system.
    “We have made our choice,” Mr. Cameron said. “A choice in favor of social mobility, in favor of a fairer society. Of a country where you can escape — truly escape — the circumstances of your birth.”
    Mr. McIntyre was a test case for this experiment. He was identified as gifted and enrolled in a charity program, the Social Mobility Foundation. He was sent to stay at Cambridge University, where he ate in a wood-paneled dining hall, served by waiters, an experience he described as “hilarious.” He thrilled his mother by saying he wanted to become a doctor.

    But once he arrived at the University of Brighton, that confidence collapsed. Rents in Brighton rose faster than anywhere else in England last year, according to Hamptons International, a rental agent. The room he found, at the top of a musty, water-stained stairway, cost more than his government maintenance loan could cover. When he added up his tuition and maintenance loans, the amount he will repay the government once he is in a secure job, it came to 46,500 pounds, or roughly $61,000. His anxiety was so intense that he tried to get an appointment for medication.

    “It’s that feeling of having absolutely nothing which I don’t want to even go near,” he said.
    The panic eased when he found a job as a kitchen assistant at a J.D. Wetherspoon pub. Wetherspoons is Britain’s ubiquitous low-cost restaurant chain, like Applebee’s, but with pints of ale. Its founder, a bluff self-made millionaire named Tim Martin, is an American-style celebrity entrepreneur who counts Walmart’s Sam Walton among his heroes.
    Mr. McIntyre worked the fryer, lowering hash browns and sausages in a metal basket into a spitting tub of hot oil, so that his hands were speckled with pinprick burns. He liked the Wetherspoons clientele, including the ones who lined up, shakily, for pints at 8 a.m. “Forgotten people,” he called them.
    But he seethed over the pay and working conditions. Five days a week he worked midnight-to-8 a.m. shifts, which left him shaky and ill. Was this adult life, this relentless precariousness? His co-workers did not offer much comfort: A lot of them already had university degrees.
    “Other people can’t pay their rent, and I’m a paycheck away from not being able to pay my rent,” he said. He was in this frame of mind when he was approached quietly by a co-worker, who asked him, a little mysteriously, “We’re fed up. Are you fed up?”

    A few months later, Mr. McIntyre strode out on to North Street for his first walkout, accompanied by their union rep from the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, demanding a minimum wage of £10 an hour. The strikers looked nothing like the coal miners of the 1980s printed on Britain’s collective memory; they were sons and daughters of the middle class, wearing wallet chains and leopard skin pants and Doc Martens. “You are already trending, No. 6 on Twitter,” whooped the union rep. “Solidarity from Plovdiv, Bulgaria!” someone shouted.
    Afterward, Mr. McIntyre was so exhilarated that he barely slept. “I’m sitting here with a cup of coffee, thinking, ‘What just happened?’ ” he said a little later. “This is not the end. It is the first step in something big.”

    He had passed into the world of the young left that has coalesced in Brighton, a bohemian university town. It is a world of anticapitalist workshops, anarchist retreats, “red gyms” and rent strikes, and it is embodied by Mr. Corbyn, 69, a grandfatherly socialist who was dismissed as an anachronism during the centrist era of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.
    Mr. McIntyre said he encountered new ideas every day now, like food on a cafeteria shelf. He met Callum Cant, a tall, thin, erudite doctoral student who has organized a Marx reading group for employees at Wetherspoons and edits Notes from Below, an online journal on “self-emancipation of the working class from capitalism and the state.”
    Mr. Cant, 24, who comes from a wealthy village in Hampshire, arrived at college in 2014 and was swept into protests against austerity and tuition hikes. He never drifted back to the path his parents expected of him, toward a job in London finance or journalism.
    “I get teased about coming from a private school among comrades,” he said. “But I got a look at what their lives were like. They weren’t happy. They weren’t fulfilled.”
    Callum Cant, center, describes capitalism as “a threat to the continuation of human life on this planet.”CreditMary Turner for The New York Times

    A group of young Wetherspoons employees met up with strikers from McDonald’s and T.G.I. Friday’s as they arrived in London last year for a rally to demand fairer pay and better working conditions at the Wetherspoons public house chain.CreditMary Turner for The New York Times

    Now, he is one of the group of hipster leftists who broadcast over Novara Media.
    One of them, the 26-year-old Ash Sarkar, thrilled left-wing Twitter in a televised debate this summer by eye-rolling Piers Morgan, one of Britain’s most famous journalists, who had mistaken her for a garden-variety Labour activist. “I’m a communist, you idiot!” she told him, throwing him a withering look reserved for the young who disdain the old. “I’m literally a communist!” (Novara now charges £15 for T-shirts with this quote.)
    One of its planks is “Fully Automated Luxury Communism,” the notion of a “post-work society” in which labor is largely automated and workers live off a “massively increased minimum wage.”

    Mr. McIntyre wasn’t certain where he stood on Marx, but he did feel at home with the trade union guys. A future was taking shape in Mr. McIntyre’s mind, complete with new friends and new ideas — the thing, in other words, that college had been supposed to provide.

    He wasn’t sure, anymore, about going into medicine. He called his mother one day to give her this news.
    “I thought I wanted to be a scientist, but I love politics,” he said later. “There are amazing opportunities with the bakers’ union.”
    He was, he acknowledged, of two minds, having invested so many years in preparing for college. “I’ve accrued half the debt, it would be quite dumb of me to completely abandon what I’ve worked years for,” he said. “On the other hand, my passion for what I do at uni has dwindled.”
    Protesters showing off their matching “Anti Capitalista” tattoos.CreditMary Turner for The New York Times

    She listened to him quietly and hung up the phone, he said. A single mother, she had worked two or three jobs the whole time he was growing up and still takes in ironing for extra cash. His applications to college had been thrilling for her, and she went through the choices with him, one by one.
    “She wants me to have a better future,” he said. “For her, that is going to university, getting a degree, earning loads of money.”
    The next day she called to tell him to stay in school. He said he would.
    At home for the holidays, he was warned not to discuss politics with his Thatcherite grandparents, and tiptoed around the subject. No one in his life has brought up the bitter, divisive strikes of the 1970s and ’80s, which soured public opinion against the labor movement.
    “Either they are left-wing or they aren’t political at all,” he said. “That’s young people. That’s us.”

    Mr. McIntyre has begun to count the months until he will graduate and throw himself into full-time activism.
    Before Christmas he was invited by the bakers’ union president, Ian Hodson, to speak to students in the left-wing stronghold of Liverpool. He drank pints of beer with veteran organizers, men with meaty forearms who spoke to him in a Lancashire twang about Maggie Thatcher and the Peasants’ Revolt. On his way home he stopped by a picket of shipbuilders at Liverpool’s docks, his first old-school industrial picket line.
    He was bleary, after nightclubbing with the bakers’ union president until 3 the night before, and wheeling a carry-on bag behind him.
    Then he saw what he had been looking for: the gray hulk of the Cammell Laird plant, and two dozen workers warming their hands over a fire in a steel barrel. They were picketing over layoffs, and complained that they had been replaced by Romanians. A half-finished icebreaker loomed at the pier, its deck crawling with tiny figures. “This is Franny, he built the Titanic,” joked one of the men, and offered Mr. McIntyre a bacon sandwich.
    “It’s so inspiring,” Mr. McIntyre said. “It gives me goose bumps.”
    He picked up a union banner and walked out to the roadway to hold it for a few minutes, trying to make eye contact with the drivers. Cargo trucks were barreling by and drenching his feet in plumes of water.
    A few of them saw him. A van marked “compressed air” honked. A street sweeper honked. So did a flatbed truck loaded with wooden pallets. Mr. McIntyre grinned. He was at home. “I love it,” he said.


    12) It’s Time for Pharmaceutical Companies to Have Their Tobacco Moment
    Elected officials have made a lot of noise about the cost of prescription drugs. Now they must demand answers from pharmaceutical companies.
    "Drug prices are soaring in a way that defies reason. A vial of insulin that cost less than $200 a decade ago now sells for closer to $1,500. Actimmune, a drug that treats malignant osteoporosis and sells for less than $350 for a one-month supply in Britain, costs $26,000 for a one-month supply in the United States."
    The Editorial Board, February 24, 2019

    Twenty-five years ago, Congress hauled before it the top executives of the nation’s seven largest tobacco companies and forced them to make a number of long-overdue admissions about cigarettes — including that they might cause cancer and heart disease and that the executives had suppressed evidence of their addictive potential. In one dramatic exchange, when pressed by Representatives Henry Waxman and Ron Wyden, the executives denied that their products were addictive but admitted that they would not want their own children to use them.
    The hearing ushered in a public health victory for the ages. In its wake, lawmakers and health officials enacted measures that would ultimately bring smoking rates in the United States to an all-time low.
    With seven pharmaceutical executives set to testify before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, one can only hope for a similarly pivotal moment for prescription drug prices. Like their predecessors in the tobacco industry, the drug makers will testify at a time of near-universal anger over industry antics.
    Drug prices are soaring in a way that defies reason. A vial of insulin that cost less than $200 a decade ago now sells for closer to $1,500. Actimmune, a drug that treats malignant osteoporosis and sells for less than $350 for a one-month supply in Britain, costs $26,000 for a one-month supply in the United States. And the prices of many drugs — that treat cancers, high blood pressure, allergies and more — have risen so much that average consumers are rationing them, at grave peril. Not even experts seem to know how those prices are set or why they keep rising.

    The industry’s own explanations — that other entities in America’s byzantine health care system are to blame for most price increases, and that its products are expensive and risky to make — are tough to swallow, given drug companies’ conspicuous profit margins. Its response to the crisis of soaring drug prices has been meager at best — and duplicitous at worst. Last year, several companies agreed to hold off on planned price increases, but only for six months, and only after President Trump chastised them on Twitter. Those same companies have aggressively resisted both state and federal efforts to enact formal changes to drug pricing rules.
    Mr. Trump has not kept his campaign promise to “negotiate like crazy” with drug makers to lower the cost of their products, and his statementlast May that the industry would soon announce “voluntary, massive” price cuts came to naught. But his bluster on the issue, along with his blueprint for resolving it, have at least helped to keep a spotlight on the pharmaceutical industry and its questionable practices.
    If the members of the Senate Finance Committee want to make use of that spotlight, here’s what to ask executives on Tuesday:
    How do you determine list prices for drugs? Who decides the factors that go into the companies’ drug-pricing formulas, and why can’t those formulas be made public? Senators should also ask Olivier Brandicourt, the chief executive of Sanofi — the only major insulin maker scheduled to participate in the hearing — why the cost of insulincontinues to rise year after year, given that the drug has been available for roughly a century, and in many cases still enjoys patent protection. On Friday, Senator Chuck Grassley and now-Senator Wyden, the ranking members on the Finance Committee, opened an investigationinto insulin prices. 
    What’s a fair profit margin for lifesaving products? A common lament among pharmaceutical executives has been that without enough profit from one drug, companies can’t afford to make the next one. That’s a fair point. Still, many leading companies enjoy billions of dollars a year in pure profit, even as lives are put at risk for want of basic medications. Insurers are subject to a 15 to 20 percent cap on profits and administrative expenses. Congress should consider a similar requirement for certain prescription drugs. 
    How much do you spend on research and development, and where do those dollars go? Pharmaceutical companies routinely argue that drug prices are high because research and development is expensive and because any successful drug is preceded by many failures. Industry critics, however, note that a good deal of basic research is funded by the federal government, through the National Institutes of Health, and not by the drug makers. Many leading drug makers spend most of their research dollars looking for new uses of existing drugs, not on risky innovations. And independent studies show that research and development costs for drug companies are not large enough to explain high drug prices.

    Why would any drug need more than 100 patents? Patent protection enables drug makers to recoup the money they spend developing and marketing a new product. But most experts agree that leading drug makers have gamed this system: By applying for dozens of patents for minor technical tweaks that provide little clinical benefit, they stave off competition for decades.
    Take Humira, which treats inflammatory disorders like arthritis and Crohn’s disease, and is the best-selling prescription drug in the world. In the two decades since the drug came on the market, its maker has applied for 247 patents, according the Initiative for Medicines, Access and Knowledge; it is currently protected from competition by more than 100 such patents. Richard Gonzalez, the C.E.O. of AbbVie, the company that makes Humira, will appear at Tuesday’s hearing. Can he justify that practice?
    What will you change? The senators must not allow drug makers to point the finger elsewhere on Tuesday. Yes, insurance companies and other entities play a role in the drug cost crisis. But this hearing is not about them. It’s about the pharmaceutical companies. And those companies need to take meaningful steps toward lowering drug prices. If the Finance Committee members come prepared on Tuesday, they could finally force the industry to help relieve the strain.


    13) Trump Calls Spike Lee’s Oscar Speech a ‘Racist Hit on Your President’
    By Alex Marshall, February 25, 2019

    Spike Lee holding his Academy Award for best adapted screenplay at the Oscars Governors Ball on Sunday.CreditCreditPatrick T. Fallon for The New York Times

    On Sunday night, Spike Lee won his first competitive Oscar, then made an acceptance speech that gained a standing ovation. But the events did not please at least one person apparently watching: President Trump. On Monday, he called Lee’s speech a “racist hit on your President.”
    Lee opened his speech, after winning best adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman,” by discussing slavery and his family’s experiences of it. “I give praise to our ancestors, who have built this country into what it is today along with the genocide of the native people,” he said.
    “The 2020 presidential election is around the corner,” Lee said. “Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate.”
    Lee did not mention the president in his speech, but that call to action seems to have angered him. “Be nice if Spike Lee could read his notes, or better yet not have to use notes at all, when doing his racist hit on your President,” Trump said in a tweet in the early hours of Monday morning.
    The president’s policies had “done more for African Americans (Criminal Justice Reform, Lowest Unemployment numbers in History, Tax Cuts, etc.) than almost any other Pres!” the president added.
    Trump did not dwell on the issue for long. Shortly afterward he tweetedabout “oil prices getting too high,” and a forthcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea (“With complete Denuclearization, North Korea will rapidly become an Economic Powerhouse,” he wrote).
    Theo Dumont, Lee’s publicist, said the director would not be commenting on Trump’s tweet.
    “BlacKkKlansman” is based on the story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. In interviews around its release, Lee said he wanted to draw a link between the Klan and events today. “We had to connect David Duke to Agent Orange,” he told The New York Times, using his own term for the president.
    At the end of “BlacKkKlansman,” Lee included footage of the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that descended into violence when protesters clashed with counterprotesters. He then showed footage of Trump saying there was blame on “both sides” for those events.

    When “Green Book” won best picture at the ceremony on Sunday, Lee made a disgusted gesture and started walking out of the theater as “Green Book” producers gave their speeches. Backstage, when asked by reporters about the coronation of “Green Book,” which detractors complain has a retrograde view of race, Lee replied, “No comment.”


    14) Spike Lee Won an Oscar. Read His Passionate Speech.
    by Sopan Deb, February 24, 2019

    Spike Lee accepting the award for best adapted screenplay for his film “BlacKkKlansman.”CreditCreditNoel West for The New York Times

    Spike Lee finally won his first competitive Oscar, and his acceptance speech was a doozy.
    At Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony, Lee won best adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman” (sharing the award with Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott) and walked on stage bursting with energy and emotion. Lee, who had received two previous nominations, for the 1997 documentary “4 Little Girls” and for 1989’s “Do The Right Thing,” started his acceptance speech by ordering the Oscar producers not to turn the clock on. (He used some more choice language and was bleeped.)
    The speech that followed touched deeply on black history and exhorted the crowd to get involved in the 2020 presidential election.

    The word today is “irony.” The date, the 24th. The month, February, which also happens to be the shortest month of the year, which also happens to be Black History month. The year, 2019. The year, 1619. History. Her story. 1619. 2019. 400 years.

    Four hundred years. Our ancestors were stolen from Mother Africa and bought to Jamestown, Virginia, enslaved. Our ancestors worked the land from can’t see in the morning to can’t see at night. My grandmother, [inaudible], who lived to be 100 years young, who was a Spelman College graduate even though her mother was a slave. My grandmother who saved 50 years of social security checks to put her first grandchild — she called me Spikie-poo — she put me through Morehouse College and N.Y.U. grad film. N.Y.U.!
    Before the world tonight, I give praise to our ancestors who have built this country into what it is today along with the genocide of its native people. We all connect with our ancestors. We will have love and wisdom regained, we will regain our humanity. It will be a powerful moment. The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there.


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