San Francisco’s Air Quality Index: 22
ZOOM WEBINAR: Moving Money
from the Military to Human Needs
Register at: https://tinyurl.com/y3un85rg
Do Trump and coronavirus have you down? Then join us on September 26 to celebrate the 15 year anniversary of one of the world’s most beautiful projects: Cuba’s Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade!
The Henry Reeve Brigade will celebrate its 15th anniversary next month! Yes, it will have been 15 years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and prompted then-Cuban president Fidel Castro to offer to send doctors to help treat patients in the storm’s aftermath. The US government refused this offer, but Cuba was not deterred from wanting to show the world some much needed solidarity.
Since its founding, the brave women and men of the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade have given emergency medical assistance to more than 3.5 million people in over 50 countries. To honor their compassion and commitment, we will hear directly from Cuban doctors working on the frontlines of the pandemic.
What: Cuban Doctors Speak: 15 years of the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade
When: Saturday, September 26 at 8pm ET / 5pm PT
Where: Online via Zoom, YouTube and Facebook.
There’s even more good news: Danny Glover will be on with us to offer his commentary, and journalist/author Vijay Prashad will host this fascinating conversation! Please join Danny, Vijay, and the Cuban medical personnel for this celebratory event. We promise it will nurture your soul.
Alicia Jrakpo and Medea Benjamin
P.S. The attacks on Cuba’s medical internationalism are not stopping! Even Human Rights Watch (HRW), a liberal NGO, has joined in on the Trump administration’s campaign to slander this amazing example of solidarity. If you have not already, please read the rebuttal to the HRW report then sign and share the petition asking HRW to retract their flawed report!
Also, Vijay Prashad has just published a lovely article about why Cuban doctors deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Check it out!
P.P.S. 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel just made a video endorsing the Nobel for Cuban Doctors campaign! Click here to watch it!.
Want to make your own short video explaining why you support the Henry Reeve Brigade? Upload it to Twitter and tag @CubaNobel. Then we’ll be happy to like and retweet it! It’s a great way of spreading the word about the campaign.
We look forward to working with you to continue the aspirations of the Nobel Peace Prize for the Cuban Doctors campaign. Watch for our upcoming webinars and film series.
Alicia Jrapko and Medea Benjamin
Co-Chairs of the Cuba Nobel Prize Committee
To update your email subscription, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The six remaining Kings Bay Plowshares defendants have had their sentencing dates moved from September to October 15 and 16. They had requested a continuance because they want to appear in open court in Georgia and the virus situation there is still too out of control to safely allow it.
Steve Kelly has now served almost 29 months in county jails since the action in April, 2018 so has already met the guidelines for his likely sentence. The court may not want to grant him further extensions. (You can send a postcard to Steve to let him know you're thinking of him. Directions on writing here.)
The other defendants are not sure if they would prefer to seek more continuances or choose virtual appearances for sentencing in solidarity with Steve on those dates in October if it appears unsafe to travel to Georgia at that time. Check the website for updates.September 9 will be the 40thanniversary of the first plowshares action in King of Prussia, PA. Eight activists, known as the Plowshares Eight, entered the GE plant where nosecones for nuclear missile warheads were manufactured. They hammered on several and poured blood on the nosecones and documents.
Emile de Antonio’s 1983 film, In the King of Prussia, is about the trial of the Plowshares Eight. The judge is played by Martin Sheen and the defendants are played by themselves. It’s available for viewing on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUph8GWFupE
Call for the immediate release of
Syiaah Skylit from CDCR custody!
Sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/gavin-newsom-call-for-the-immediate-release-of-syiaah-skylit-from-cdcr-custody-blacktranslivesmatter?recruiter=915876972&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=abi_gmail&utm_campaign=address_book&recruited_by_id=7d48b720-ecea-11e8-a770-29edb03b51cc
Syiaah Skylit is a Black transgender woman currently incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP). Syiaah has been a victim of multiple acts of brutal, senseless violence at KVSP at the hands of prison staff and others in custody. Many of these attacks are in retaliation for her advocacy for herself and other trans women.
Syiaah’s life is currently at risk due to racist, transmisogynist violence at the hands of the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCr). While all the offending officers should be fired, this isn’t about a couple of bad apples. We have centuries of evidence that prison will never be safe — for Black people, for trans people, and especially not for Black trans women.
“I’m not going to make it out of this prison alive if I’m left here any longer.”
— Syiaah Skylit, June 2020
While incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison between 2018 and the present, prison staff have subjected Syiaah to severe and persistent physical, sexual, and psychological abuse (see below for examples, with content warnings). Staff at Kern Valley State Prison are also responsible for the 2013 death of Carmen Guerrero, a transgender woman who was forced to be housed with an individual who made it clear to officers that he would kill Ms. Guerrero if he was celled with her. Earlier this year, that individual was given the death penalty for killing Ms. Guerrero just eight hours after CDCR officers forced them to cell together.
Facing immediate danger, Syiaah has repeatedly asked to be transferred to a women’s facility and CDCR has repeatedly denied her requests. We demand that Governor Newsom and CDCR immediately release Syiaah to her community and family before she falls further victim to the lethal danger that transgender people face in prison.
[Content note: assault, sexual violence, anti-Black racism, transmisogny]
While in CDCR custody between 2018 and the present, Syiaah has:
- Been physically attacked by CDCR staff multiple times;
- Been threatened with sexual assault with a baton by CDCR staff;
- Been forced by CDCR staff to parade through the yard naked from the waist down;
- Been stripped naked by CDCR staff and left overnight in her cell without clothes, blankets, or a mattress;
- Been attacked by other people in custody who admitted that CDCR staff directed them to do so;
- Had her property stolen and destroyed by CDCR staff;
- Been maced in the face and thrown in a cage after reporting an assault;
- Been intentionally placed on the same yard as an individual she testified against who is facing attempted murder charges for his assault of a transgender woman. As Syiaah feared, this individual violently attacked her as revenge. This man was then allowed to attack a gay man after attacking Syiaah.
- Been intentionally placed on the same yard as individuals with histories of attacking trans women and other LGBTQI+ people, in spite of her pleas to be placed separately;
- Been thrown in administrative segregation after being the victim of an attack;
- Has had all of her recent documented complaints of discrimination and violence rejected under false pretenses;
- Has had contact with her legal representatives restricted to one phone call a week;
- Has been humiliated and discriminated against for going on a hunger strike as a form of protest;
- Has expressed numerous, documented concerns for her safety and had them blatantly ignored.
In spite of the constant violence Syiaah continues to survive, she continues to demonstrate her resilience and dedication to learning and growing. She has earned certifications in many educational and vocational programs and support groups.
We as Syiaah’s community and chosen family are ready to support her with a safe and successful reentry plan if Governor Newsom uses his executive powers to grant her clemency. Organizations that can offer Syiaah comprehensive reentry support including housing and employment upon her release include TGI Justice Project, Transgender Advocacy Group (TAG), and Medina Orthwein LLP.
Please sign and share this petition to #FreeSyiaah and declare #BlackTransLivesMatter!
Please also check out our social media toolkit to support Syiaah!
[Please do not donate as prompted after signing, as the money goes to change.org and not to any cause associated with Syiaah.]
Art by Micah Bazant at Forward Together.
Write to Kevin “Rashid” Johnson:
Kevin Johnson #264847
Wabash Valley Correctional Facility
6908 S. Old U.S. HWY 41, P.O. Box 500
Carlisle, IN 47838
Snowden vindicated by court ruling – time to drop
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA telephone surveillance program revealed by Edward Snowden was illegal and likely unconstitutional. This ruling should finally end any remaining debate on whether Snowden’s actions constituted whistleblowing, and on his necessity of going to the press. The question now is how to remedy the legal and ethical dilemma he was placed into. It’s time to either drop his charges or pardon him.
The court’s ruling validates Snowden on multiple levels. It settles beyond doubt that his belief in the illegality of the programs he witnessed was reasonable. The panel of judges ruled that the mass telephone surveillance conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act was illegal. And while they refrained from issuing a ruling on the Constitutional challenge, they strongly suggested that the program was in violation of the Fourth Amendment. They ruled that the government’s claims about the effectiveness of the surveillance had been lies, and that its legal theory about the necessity of mass collection of phone data was “unprecedented and unwarranted.”
Legally, a whistleblower does not need to ultimately be proved correct about the concerns they report. If they simply have a “reasonable belief” their employer is breaking the law, they are entitled to whistleblower protections. While any plain reading of the Fourth Amendment and the FISA statutes should have sufficed to prove a reasonable concern, this ruling is beyond sufficient affirmation that Snowden’s concern was “objectively reasonable”.
While he should have been able to make a protected whistleblower disclosure based on such concerns, those channels were not a realistic option. As an outside contractor, he would not have been guaranteed protection under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) statute in place at that time. Critics of Snowden also conveniently ignore the history of other NSA employees who blew the whistle on these programs before him. The internal channels were used to “catch and kill” the complaints of at least four previous surveillance whistleblowers, placing them – and even the Congressional intelligence committee staffer they went to – under criminal leak investigations. Snowden saw, for example, the punitive treatment of NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake. Drake went through every conceivable internal channel: his boss, the NSA Inspector General (IG), the Defense Department IG, and the House & Senate Intel Committees. Not only did they fail to redress his grievances, many acted to further punish him: ignored his concerns, marginalized him, forced him out, blacklisted him, and ultimately drove his failed criminal prosecution.
Snowden correctly assessed that the only remaining option was to go to the press, and the 9th Circuit ruling credits him for choosing that path, noting that his disclosures enabled “significant public debate over the appropriate scope of government surveillance”. Indeed, this ruling simply would not have been possible without his public disclosures. The government had long maneuvered to keep mass surveillance programs beyond this kind of judicial scrutiny.
As a witness to large scale illegality, and without effective or safe channels, Snowden was placed in a dilemma: break his agreement to protect classified information, or break his sworn oath to uphold the laws and defend the Constitution. He chose to honor his higher duty and so turned to the only other available channel that could serve as a check against government wrongdoing: the press. Snowden turned to the “Fourth Estate” and it played exactly the role the Founders intended. We cannot now prosecute him as a spy or abandon him to a lifetime of exile for having done so.
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)
Take Action Now
Write, email and call the Nebraska Board of Pardons. Request that they expedite Ed’s application, schedule his hearing for the October 2020 meeting and commute his sentence.
His peers criticized this appearance. The press purposefully didn't cover it. He simply wanted to inspire young minds with the beauty and power of science, drawing attention to the power of ALL human minds, regardless of race.
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.” -Albert Einstein
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Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Reality Winner Tests Positive for COVID, Still Imprisoned
With great anguish, I’m writing to share the news that NSA whistleblower Reality Winner, still in federal prison, has tested positive for COVID-19. Winner, despite her vulnerable health conditions, was denied home release in April – the judge’s reasoning being that the Federal Medical Center, Carswell is “presumably better equipped than most to deal with the onset of COVID-19 in its inmates”.Since that ruling, COVID infections at Carswell have exploded, ranking it now as second highest in the nation for the number of cases, and substantially increasing the likelihood that its medical capacity will be overwhelmed.This news comes one week after Trump’s commutation of convicted felon Roger Stone, and two months after the home release of Trump’s convicted campaign manager, Paul Manafort:Donald Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s prison sentence is galling on numerous levels. It’s a brazen act of corruption and an egregious obstruction of an ongoing investigation of the President and his enablers. There are few figures less worthy of clemency than a Nixonian dirty trickster like Stone. But the final twist of the knife is that Reality Winner, the honest, earnest, anti-Stone of the Russian meddling saga, remains in federal prison.
Please share this with your networks, and stand with us in support of Reality Winner and her family during this critical time.
Thank you,Jesselyn Radack
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)
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You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this listWHISPeR Project at ExposeFacts 1627 Eye Street, NW Suite 600 Washington, DC 20006
Subject: Shut Down Fort Hood! Justice for Vanessa Guillén. Sign the petition!
SHUT DOWN FORT HOOD NOW!JUSTICE FOR
PFC. VANESSA GUILLÉN!
Sign the Petition
In late April, Pfc. Vanessa Guillén went missing from her base in Ft. Hood, Texas. It took her family and friends working night and day to appeal to the commanding officers to get any attention whatsoever about her whereabouts. Vanessa had told her family she had been sexually harassed by her supervisor.For more than three months, Vanessa’s higher-ups paid little attention to her family’s urgent pleas to investigate her disappearance. She was treated as being disposable.In late June, her body was found 25 miles from the base. Vanessa had been tragically murdered by her abuser who later killed himself upon capture.The unspeakable crimes against Vanessa Guillén have opened a floodgate of testimonies about sexual assault in the military. Many women and LGBTQ2S+ people are telling their heartbreaking stories with the hashtag #iamvanessaGuillén.Vanessa’s death is a result of sexual harassment in the military, which is deplorable. Fort Hood is the worst. According to the Pentagon’s own reports, it has the most sexual assaults of any Army post in the country. That is why it must be shut down now!In addition, Fort Hood, the single biggest military post in the U.S. armed forces, is named after a Confederate general. Its name glorifies racism and slavery.When Vanessa Guillén enlisted in the Army, she thought she’d be doing good and it would be helpful to her. Instead, it destroyed her. But how could it not when the military exists not to help people, but to defend Wall Street? It invaded and still occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, killing millions, just for oil profits.The case for Justice for Vanessa is very much linked to the movement for Black Lives. Young people of color must have other options than police violence or going to war for their future.WE DEMAND:•Investigate Fort Hood Commanding General Robert White and others for conspiracy to cover up Pfc. Vanessa Guillén’s murder. Why did it take a mass movement to find what happened?
•Shut down Ft. Hood! There is no other way to end the deplorable conditions soldiers face.
•Job training, education, COVID-19 relief, not war! If we shut down the Pentagon, the annual U.S. defense budget of $1 trillion could be used for people’s needs, not war.
•End misogyny and homophobia in the military. Justice for Vanessa and all survivors.
147 W 24th St.
New York City, NY 10011
This legacy belongs to all of us:
“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forest to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. . . Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature–but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.” The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man 1876. —Friedrich Engels
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On (Official Video 2019)
BlackRock loves to make a killing on killing: Over a thousand Americans have been killed by Tasers — 32 percent of them are Black Americans. Tasers are made by the colossal law enforcement supplier Axon Enterprise, based in Arizona.
One of their top shareholders happens to be Blackrock. Recently Blackrock has been trying to be sympathetic to the atrocities of murders waged on Black Americans and communities of color. If we ramp up massive pressure and blow the whistle on their deadly stocks, we can highlight that divesting from Tasers and the war in our streets will be a step in the right direction in building a fair and just society.
This issue is important to having peace in our streets. But this will only work if people participate. Send an email to Blackrock to divest from the Taser manufacturer Axon Enterprise which is responsible for the killing of thousands of Americans, and CODEPINK will pull out all the stops to make sure Blackrock execs hear our call:
Blackrock could do this. They recently announced that they were divesting from fossil fuels — signaling a shift in their policies. If CEO Larry Fink cares about “diversity, fairness, and justice” and building a “stronger, more equal, and safer society” — he should divest from Tasers.
Plus, compared to Blackrock’s other holdings, Taser stocks aren’t even that significant!
But if Blackrock does this, it could be the first domino we need to get other investment companies on board too. Send an email to BlackRock and share this widely!
If there’s one thing our community stands for, it’s peace and social justice. And one way we can help achieve that is by cutting off the flow of cash into the manufacturing of Tasers. So, let’s come together to make that happen, and help prevent more innocent Americans from being killed with these senseless tools.
Nancy, Carley, Jodie, Paki, Cody, Kelsey, and Yousef
To update your email subscription, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you haven't seen this, you're missing something spectacular:
On Saturday May 30th filmmaker and photographer David Jones of David Jones Media felt compelled to go out and serve the community in some way. He decided to use his art to try and explain the events that were currently impacting our lives. On day two, Sunday the 31st, he activated his dear friend author Kimberly Jones to tag along and conduct interviews. During a moment of downtime he captured these powerful words from her and felt the world couldn’t wait for the full length documentary, they needed to hear them now.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
Ultimately, the majority of human suffering is caused by a system that places the value of material wealth over the value of
human life. To end the suffering, we must end the profit motive—the very foundation of capitalism itself.—BAUAW
(Bay Area United Against War Newsletter)
Ultimately, the majority of human suffering is caused by a system that places the value of material wealth over the value of
human life. To end the suffering, we must end the profit motive—the very foundation of capitalism itself.
(Bay Area United Against War Newsletter)
I didn't do nothing serious man
please I can't breathe
I can't breathe
I can't breathe
man can't breathe, my face
just get up
I can't breathe
I can't breathe sh*t
I can't move
my stomach hurt
my neck hurts
some water or something
I can't breathe officer
don't kill me
they gon' kill me man
come on man
I cannot breathe
I cannot breathe
they gon' kill me
they gon' kill me
I can't breathe
I can't breathe
please I can't breathe"
Then his eyes shut and the pleas stop. George Floyd was pronounced dead shortly after.
By ShakaboonaTrump Comic Satire—A Proposal
Write to Shakaboona:Smart Communications/PA DOCKerry Shakaboona Marshall #BE7826SCI RockviewP.O. Box 33028St. Petersburg, FL 33733
Enough is Enough: Global Nuclear Weapons
Veterans Join Call for a Global Ceasefire
www.couragetoresist.org ~ 510.488.3559 ~ facebook.com/couragetoresist
Oakland, CA 94610-2730
"The biggest block from having society in harmony with the universe is the belief in a lie that says it’s not realistic or ￼humanly possible."
"If Obama taught me anything it’s that it don’t matter who you vote for in this system. There’s nothing a politician can do that the next one can’t undo. You can’t vote away the ills of society people have to put our differences aside ban together and fight for the greater good, not vote for the lesser evil."
—Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)
When faced with the opportunity to do good, I really think it’s the instinct of humanity to do so. It’s in our genetic memory from our earliest ancestors. ￼It’s the altered perception of the reality of what being human truly is that’s been indoctrinated ￼in to every generation for the last 2000 years or more that makes us believe that we are born sinners. I can’t get behind that one. We all struggle with certain things, but I really think ￼￼that all the “sinful” behavior is learned and wisdom and goodwill is innate at birth. ￼ —Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)
Major Tillery, a prisoner at SCI Chester and a friend of Mumia, may have caught the coronavirus. Major is currently under lockdown at SCI Chester, where a coronavirus outbreak is currently taking place. Along with the other prisoners at SCI Chester, he urgently needs your help.
500 E. 4th St.
Chester, PA 19013
Telephone: (610) 490-5412
Email: email@example.com (Prison Superintendent). firstname.lastname@example.org (Superintendent's Assistant)Please also call the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections at:Department of Corrections
1920 Technology Parkway
Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
Telephone: (717) 737-4531
This telephone number is for SCI Camp Hill, which is the current number for DOC.
Reference Major's inmate number: AM 9786
Email: email@example.comDemand that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections immediately:
2) Disinfect all cells and common areas at SCI Chester, including sinks, toilets, eating areas and showers;
3) Provide PPE (personal protective equipment) for all inmates at SCI Chester;
4) Provide access to showers for all prisoners at SCI Chester, as a basic hygiene measure;
5) Provide yard access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
6) Provide phone and internet access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
7) Immediately release prisoners from SCI Chester, including Major Tillery, who already suffers from a compromised immune system, in order to save their lives from execution by COVID-19.
It has been reported that prisoners are now receiving shower access. However, please insist that prisoners be given shower access and that all common areas are disinfected.
The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton was formally deported and flown out on a U.S. military plane. His pardon by President Rodrigo Duterte has drawn anger from activists.
By Jason Gutierrez, Sept. 13, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/13/world/asia/philippines-us-marine-transgender-woman.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
MANILA — A U.S. Marine who received a pardon from President Rodrigo Duterte for the killing of a transgender woman was deported from the Philippines on Sunday.
Immigration agents escorted Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton to a waiting U.S. military cargo plane from the Philippine military’s headquarters in Manila on Sunday, just days after Mr. Duterte ordered the soldier released, saying he had been treated unfairly.
The Philippine immigration commissioner, Jaime Morente, said on Sunday that Lance Corporal Pemberton was barred from ever returning to the country as a consequence of the deportation order.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila said that Mr. Duterte’s “absolute pardon” of Lance Corporal Pemberton meant there were no legal impediments to his departure.
“All legal proceedings in the case took place under Philippine jurisdiction and law,” the embassy said in a statement. “Lance Corporal Pemberton fulfilled his sentence as ordered by Philippine courts and he departed the Philippines on Sept. 13.”
It was not immediately known where in the United States the plane carrying Lance Corporal Pemberton was heading.
Mr. Duterte’s decision to pardon the Marine had angered gay and transgender rights activists as well as nationalist groups that resent American military involvement in the Philippines, a longtime ally in the Asia-Pacific region and a former U.S. colony. Opponents of the pardon had held peaceful protests asking the president to reconsider.
On Sunday, Lance Corporal Pemberton’s lawyer, Rowena Flores, said her client was “extremely grateful” for the president’s action, calling his freedom an “act of compassion.”
Lance Corporal Pemberton, then 20, was convicted of homicide in 2015 for the killing of Jennifer Laude, 26. He was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison — a term that was later reduced to 10 years.
Rather than serving his sentence in a Philippine prison, Lance Corporal Pemberton was held at Camp Aguinaldo, the Philippine military headquarters outside Manila, in keeping with a Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States. That pact gives the U.S. authorities certain jurisdiction over troops who become involved in criminal cases while on training missions here.
Mr. Duterte had threatened to scrap the agreement early this year but reversed his stand in June. His spokesman, Harry Roque, said last week that Mr. Duterte might have granted the pardon to ensure that the Philippines would receive priority consideration for any Covid-19 vaccines being developed by American scientists.
Mr. Roque, who as a lawyer once represented the family of Lance Corporal Pemberton’s victim, criticized a Philippine court’s decision this month to release the Marine less than six years into his sentence. The president’s office initially said it would seek to block the court order before Mr. Duterte announced he was issuing a pardon. On Thursday, Mr. Roque said he respected the president’s decision, which he said was based on the “broader national interest.”
“While I represented the Laude family in the past, if it means that the pardon could result in all Filipinos getting a vaccine if the Americans develop it, I do not have a problem with that,” he said.
On Sunday, Ms. Flores, the lawyer, said that Lance Corporal Pemberton “extends his most sincere sympathy for the pain he caused.”
“He wishes he had the words to express the depth of his sorry and regret,” she added.
Prisoners are more vulnerable than ever to the twin crises of the pandemic and a historic wildfire season.
By Tim Arango and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Sept. 14, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/14/us/prisons-fires-coronavirus.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage
Inmate firefighters clearing a fire line on the Walbridge Fire, during the L.N.U. Complex fires in August. The prisoner firefighting program has long been controversial. Credit...Max Whittaker for The New York Times
As wildfires tore through huge swaths of Oregon this week, prisoners were hurried away from the encroaching flames — not to freedom but to an overcrowded state prison, where they slept shoulder-to-shoulder in cots, and in some cases on the floor. Food was in short supply, showers and toilets few, and fights broke out between rival gang members.
They were safe from one catastrophe, but delivered to another: the coronavirus pandemic, which has spread at an alarming rate in America’s prisons.
“From what we know about Covid-19, how quickly it can spread and how lethal it can be, we have to prepare for the worst,” said Bobbin Singh, executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center, a prisoner advocacy organization.
Twin crises of the pandemic and a devastating wildfire season have left a significant toll in prisons along the West Coast. Virus outbreaks have spread through cellblocks — Oregon’s state prison system has had 1,600 infections over the last three months — even as poor ventilation systems have whipped in smoke from the fires outside.
The dilemma for prison officials, too, is complex, as they grapple with managing large facilities through simultaneous dangers. Before the fires started, the virus spread in America’s prisons partly because routine transfers of prisoners proceeded without testing them first for the coronavirus and isolating those infected. Now fires have forced Oregon officials to move so many prisoners so quickly that some inmates and advocates for prisoners say they fear it is only a matter of time before transferred inmates begin falling sick with the virus.
“Right now, it’s this situation of, no matter which way you turn there’s something waiting,” said Rasheed Stanley-Lockhart, who was released from prison in California in January after serving 18 years for armed robbery, and now works for Planting Justice, a nonprofit in Oakland, Calif., that helps newly released prisoners. “Turn here, there’s covid. Turn here, there’s the fires. You turn here, there’s mass incarceration as a whole.”
There have been more than 200,000 coronavirus infections in American prisons and jails and nearly 1,200 deaths since the pandemic began. As the wildfires have raged, the problems have been especially acute in Oregon, where officials ordered evacuations of about 2,750 prisoners.
Kristina Boswell, a prisoner in Oregon who was moved overnight on Friday from a state prison in the fire zone to one away from the threat of fires, described a chaotic evacuation in an audio recording her lawyer shared with The Times. She said prisoners were bound together with zip-ties and loaded into buses in the middle of the night, without their medications or water. When they arrived at the new prison, she said, there was a shortage of mattresses and no chance of social distancing.
“We’re all in dorm settings,” said Ms. Boswell, who was among more than 1,300 female prisoners moved to Deer Ridge Correctional Facility in Madras, Ore. “Everyone is crammed in.”
Ms. Boswell said prisoners were watching newscasts of the fires, and worried about their families outside. She said prisoners had gone almost 24 hours without food.
“I hate not knowing what’s going to happen,” she said. “I’m worried about my family out there.”
Her lawyer, Tara Herivel, a public defender in Portland, said of the wildfire evacuations: “It’s like Covid doesn’t even exist.”
Jennifer Black, a spokeswoman for Oregon’s Department of Corrections, said that the fires had created a highly difficult situation for everyone in the state. “Our daily operations have been affected and life at some of our institutions is not ideal for those who live and work at them,” she said, “However, life and safety are our first priority and we will return to normal operations as soon as conditions allow.”
In California, thousands of dry lightning strikes set off ferocious wildfires in Northern California in August. As thousands of people evacuated homes in the city of Vacaville, and volunteers rescued animals from the encroaching flames, thousands of people incarcerated in two prisons, some suffering from the coronavirus, were not moved. Even the animal shelter just up the road from the prison complex was emptied.
The fire ultimately did not reach the prisons — known as the California State Prison, Solano and the California Medical Facility — but prisoners and their families grew increasingly anxious as the flames crept closer.
A spokesman for the California’s corrections agency said no prisons are currently threatened by wildfires, and that there are “longstanding evacuation contingency plans in place in the event a prison needs to be evacuated.” When the fires were burning near the prisons in Vacaville, the spokesman said prisoners were given N95 masks.
Laurie Johnson said her husband, Orlando Johnson Sr., who is imprisoned at the medical facility for a robbery, had tried to block the fire from his mind — and sight — as it approached, covering up a small window through which he could see smoke and a reddening sky. He smelled the smoke, Ms. Johnson said, and caught a glimpse of a newscast on television that said some Vacaville residents were being ordered to leave their homes.
Ms. Johnson’s husband has asthma and a heart condition that she fears makes him more vulnerable to both the virus and smoky air.
“Half of my life is him, and I have no control over what’s going to happen,” said Ms. Johnson, who lives a half-hour from the prison and has not been able to visit her husband since March because of virus restrictions. “I’m doing all these things on the outside, trying to bring him home sooner, but it’s just Russian roulette — there’s no control.”
Families of prisoners worry that so many people in close quarters could lead to a large virus outbreak, especially because similar prison transfers elsewhere in the country in recent months have turned deadly because of the virus. None of the prisoners who were transferred in Oregon have been tested for the virus, according to the Oregon Department of Corrections, which acknowledged overcrowding at the Oregon State Penitentiary, where prisoners from three facilities have been taken in recent days as the fires intensified.
At San Quentin State Prison in California, 26 inmates have died of the virus and more than 2,500 prisoners and staff have been sickened since infected prisoners from a Southern California prison were transferred to San Quentin in May without being tested.
And at an immigration detention center in Farmville, Virginia, a botched inmate transfer in June led to the death of one detainee and the infection of at least 339 others — nearly every single person housed at the facility, according to court documents and federal data.
Adnan Khan, who was previously incarcerated in California and now runs Re: Store Justice, a criminal justice reform organization, spent three years at the prison in Solano. As the fires were bearing down in the area last month, he said he spoke with a friend at the prison over the phone.
“I got a call and honestly, man, I could literally hear people coughing in the background,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Is that Covid, what’s going on?’ My friend says, ‘No, there’s fires here.’”
He said his friend told him that corrections officers were walking into the building with ash on their hats and shoulders. Mr. Khan said he had no confidence that prison officials would be able to safely evacuate prisoners if a fire became threatening enough.
“Approximately 7,000 people in both prisons,” he said. “And Covid. And buses. Where are you going to get all these buses from? Fire evacuations are relatively fast. You can’t just take your time.”
In California, some activists who had been lobbying for prison reform because of the pandemic, are now pushing for releases, or at least evacuations, because of the fires.
“As a coalition we came together about Covid and our demand was always mass releases as the only way to mitigate future deaths and to mitigate the pandemic,” said Courtney Morris, an activist in Northern California who helped organize a protest outside the Sacramento home of Ralph Diaz, the secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, for failing to evacuate the prisons in Vacaville. “And then it also became a demand for mass evacuations.”
Mr. Stanley-Lockhart, the former prisoner, said he knows the dangers of fires firsthand. While he was incarcerated, he worked among the ranks of prisoners who joined firefighting crews, and is a trained emergency medical technician.
Every month while he was in San Quentin, he said, he participated in evacuation drills for staff and corrections officers, but still worried that he and other prisoners would be left behind in a fire.
California has long relied on prison firefighting crews to battle blazes. This year, facing a historic wildfire season and with resources stretched thin, there are fewer prisoner firefighters available, either because they were released early because of the pandemic or became sick.
The prisoner firefighting program has long been fiercely debated. Some activists have called it exploitative, because firefighters earn up to just over $5 a day — and an extra $1 per hour while fighting fires — for such dangerous work. $1 an hour for such dangerous work. Others have said it is deeply unfair that once inmate firefighters are released from prison they are not allowed to become professional firefighters because of their criminal records.
As Mr. Stanley-Lockhart was being interviewed on the phone Friday, he suddenly paused when he received a text message, alerting him that Gov. Gavin Newsom of California had just signed a bill that will allow more inmates who work as firefighters while serving their sentences to get jobs with fire departments once they are released.
“Sorry,” he said, as he paused. “That’s huge.”
As a medic in San Quentin, Mr. Stanley-Lockhart found himself increasingly administering care and CPR to aging inmates, another consequence he said of the long sentences that have led to America having the highest incarceration rate in the world.
“It tends to attack your sense of hope,” he said. “If Covid doesn’t get us, the fires will get us. If the fires and Covid don’t get us, we’ll never be able to come out from underneath these sentences.”
Timothy Williams, Mike Baker, Danya Issawi and Libby Seline contributed reporting.
Stop thinking that the horrors of the world will simply work themselves out.
By Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist, Sept. 13, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/13/opinion/activism-trump-masks-climate.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Supporters at President Trump’s rally in Minden, Nev., on Saturday. Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times
I have often wondered how major world tragedies and horrors were allowed to unfold. Where were all the good people, those who objected or should have? How did life simply go on with a horror in their midst?
How did the trans-Atlantic slave trade play out over hundreds of years? How did slavery thrive in this country? How was the Holocaust allowed to happen? How did the genocides in Rwanda or Darfur come to be?
There is, of course, nearly always an explanation. Often it is official policy; often it is driven by propaganda. But I’m more concerned with how people in the society considered these events at the time, and how any semblance of normalcy could be maintained while events unfolded.
It turns out that our current era is providing the unsettling answer: It was easy.
As I write this, nearly two hundred thousand Americans have died — many of them needlessly — from Covid-19, in large part because the Trump administration has refused to sufficiently address the crisis, be honest with the American people and urge caution. Instead, Trump has lied about the virus, downplayed it, resisted scientists’ warnings and continues to hold rallies with no social distancing and no mask requirements.
Things are poised to get worse: Models now predict that the number of Americans killed by the virus could double between now and Jan. 1. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington:
“We expect the daily death rate in the U.S., because of seasonality and declining public vigilance, to reach nearly 3,000 a day in December. Cumulative deaths expected by Jan. 1 are 415,090; this is 222,522 deaths from now until the end of the year.”
And yet, Americans still flock to Trump rallies, Republicans continue to defend his pandemic response and it is not clear that he will be defeated in November. We are, in many states, back to restaurants and bars, schools and churches, gyms and spas. It’s not as if we don’t know that there is a deadly virus being transmitted through the air, but it seems as though many Americans, weary of restrictions, have simply made their peace with it.
We have a climate crisis that continues to worsen. Storms are getting stronger. Droughts are severe. Rivers are flooding. The sea level is rising. And yet, we don’t do nearly enough to stop it and may not do enough before it’s too late to do anything.
Right now much of the West Coast is ablaze with hellish scenes of orange skies, and yet too many of us entertain climate change deniers, or, perhaps worse, know well the gravity and precariousness of the situation and still haven’t changed our habits or voted for the candidates with the boldest visions to save the planet.
Right now, China has detained as many as one million mostly Muslim citizens, in indoctrination camps, hoping to remold many into what The New York Times called “loyal blue-collar workers to supply Chinese factories with cheap labor.”
And yet, the world does little. Many look away. Life goes on.
This is how these catastrophes happen — in full sight — and people with full knowledge don’t revolt. People sometimes think that the issue is far away, or if it’s not, that it’s too big and they are too powerless.
They think provincially, or even parochially, concerned with their own house, their own street, their own community.
“It’s too bad that those children are in cages, but I can’t worry about that now, the clothes in the dryer need folding.”
“It’s too bad that an unarmed Black man just got shot by the police, but I can’t worry about that now, the yard needs mowing.”
I guess in some ways this impulse is self-protecting, preventing the mind and spirit from becoming overwhelmed with angst and rage. But, the result is that evil — as a person or system — rampages, unchecked, taking your personal laissez-faire as public license.
If you don’t complain, you condone.
But this mustn’t be. Stop thinking of yourself as weak or helpless. Stop thinking that things will simply work themselves out. Stop thinking that evil will stop at the gate and not trample your own garden.
Gather the energy. Gather your neighbor. Fight, vote, email, post. Do all you can to stand up for the vulnerable, for the oppressed, for the planet itself. Don’t let history record this moment as it has recorded too many others: a time when good people did too little to confront wickedness and disaster.
As Edmund Burke wrote in his 1770 “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents”: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
But you may be more familiar with another quote often attributed to Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
The Clayton County Sheriff’s Office said the deputy was terminated for “excessive use of force” after a video showing him pinning and punching Roderick Walker, 26, was circulated widely on social media.
By Allyson Waller and Aimee Ortiz, Sept. 13, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/13/us/Roderick-Walker-Georgia-police.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
A sheriff’s deputy in Georgia has been fired after video circulated on social media showing him pinning and beating a Black man after a traffic stop, the authorities said on Sunday.
The sheriff’s office in Clayton County, just south of Atlanta, said in a statement that the deputy had been fired for “excessive use of force.” The deputy, whose name was not released, was initially placed on unpaid administrative leave after the department was “made aware of a video posted on social media involving a deputy using physical force on a man,” the sheriff’s office said.
Cellphone footage of the confrontation, which took place on Friday, was recorded by at least two bystanders and shared widely on social media. The videos show two deputies, who are white, pinning and beating the Black man, Roderick Walker, 26, in the street.
Shean Williams, a lawyer representing Mr. Walker and his family, demanded that he be released from the Clayton County Jail in Jonesboro, Ga., where Mr. Walker remained in custody on Sunday on two counts each of battery and obstructing or hindering law enforcement officers, according to jail records.
At a news conference on Saturday night, Mr. Williams said that Mr. Walker and his girlfriend returned a rental car on Friday and then paid a man to take them to their next destination. Mr. Williams said the car they were riding in was pulled over because it had a broken taillight.
The deputies asked Mr. Walker for his identification even though he was not the driver, Mr. Williams said. The deputies “became upset when he inquired — like every American citizen has the right to inquire — ‘Why are you asking me for my ID? I’m not driving, and I have not done anything wrong,’” Mr. Williams said.
“The next thing you know — and you’ve seen on the video — he’s attacked, beaten in his face, throughout his body,” Mr. Williams said. “He is choked, he is unable to breathe.”
At one point, the videos show one of the deputies punch Mr. Walker several times in the head. Both deputies appear to be on top of Mr. Walker, using their body weight to apply pressure to his neck and torso.
Mr. Walker appears to say “I can’t breathe.” He also appears to lose consciousness as the deputies roll him over to reveal his bloodied face. A woman who was recording one of the videos can be heard screaming throughout the interaction, and an officer asks her to return to a car as she pleads with them.
One of Mr. Walker’s four children witnessed the encounter, Mr. Williams said.
The sheriff’s office said in its statement that Mr. Walker had been denied release on bond because of a felony probation warrant out of Fulton County, Ga., for cruelty to children and possession of a firearm by a felon, and a separate warrant for failure to appear in court in Hapeville, Ga.
The department said that Mr. Walker had received medical treatment, including X-rays of his head, and that no fractures were detected. He was being monitored by a doctor in the jail’s hospital, the sheriff said.
Calling for Mr. Walker’s release, Mr. Williams mentioned the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which set off nationwide protests this spring.
“We could, unfortunately, be talking and mourning his life,” Mr. Williams said, surrounded by members of Mr. Walker’s family outside the Clayton County Jail in Jonesboro, Ga. “We have seen this happen in George Floyd. We’ve seen this happen on too many occasions, and we’re just tired of it.”
Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense and Educational Fund, wrote on Twitter on Saturday night that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation should “immediately take over the investigation.”
The Georgia chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. called for similar action. The organization said in a statement that it was “meeting with the family to come up with legal support and next steps for community action.” In a separate statement on Saturday, it also called for the resignation of the Clayton County sheriff, Victor Hill; for the termination of the two sheriff’s deputies; and for the county’s district attorney to drop all charges against Mr. Walker.
Researchers say drug companies need to be more open about how vaccine trials are run to reassure Americans who are skittish about getting a coronavirus vaccine.
By Katie Thomas, Sept. 13, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/13/science/coronavirus-vaccine-trials.html
The morning after the world learned that a closely watched clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine had been halted last week over safety concerns, the company’s chief executive disclosed that a person given the vaccine had experienced serious neurological symptoms.
But the remarks weren’t public. Instead, the chief executive, Pascal Soriot of AstraZeneca, spoke at a closed meeting organized by J.P. Morgan, the investment bank.
AstraZeneca said on Saturday that an outside panel had cleared its trial in Britain to begin again, but the company still has not given any details about the patient’s medical condition, nor has it released a transcript of Mr. Soriot’s remarks to investors, which were reported by the news outlet STAT and later confirmed by an analyst for J.P. Morgan.
Another front-runner in the vaccine race, Pfizer, made a similarly terse announcement on Saturday: The company is proposing to expand its clinical trial to include thousands more participants, but it gave few other details about its plan, including how it would determine the effectiveness of the vaccine in its larger study.
It’s standard for drug companies to withhold details of clinical trials until after they are completed, tenaciously guarding their intellectual property and competitive edge. But these are extraordinary times, and now there is a growing outcry among independent scientists and public health experts who are pushing the companies to be far more open with the public in the midst of a pandemic that has already killed more than 193,000 people in the United States.
These experts say American taxpayers are entitled to know more since the federal government has committed billions of dollars to vaccine research and to buying the vaccines once they’re approved. And greater transparency could also help bolster faltering public confidence in vaccines at a time when a growing number of Americans fear President Trump will pressure federal regulators to approve a vaccine before it is proved safe and effective.
“Trust is in short supply,” said Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist and health care researcher at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., who has spent years prodding companies and academic researchers to share more trial data with outside scientists. “And the more that they can share, the better off we are.”
Last week, nine pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca and Pfizer, pledged to “stand with science” and rigorously vet any vaccine for the coronavirus — an unusual pact among competitors. But the researchers said that missing from the joint statement was a promise to share more critical details about their research with the public and the scientific community.
None of the three companies with coronavirus vaccines in advanced clinical trials in the United States have made public the protocols and statistical analysis plans for those trials — the detailed road maps that could help the independent scientists better understand how the trials were designed, and hold the companies accountable if they were to deviate from their plans. In some cases, crucial details about how the trials have been set up — such as at what points an independent board can review early study results, or under what conditions a trial could be stopped early — have not been made public.
“We’ve never had such an important clinical trial — or series of clinical trials — in recent history,” said Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., and a longtime expert on clinical trials. “Everything should be transparent.”
Public confidence in the drug companies’ findings and federal regulators’ rigor will be critical in persuading Americans to get vaccinated. A growing number of people are skeptical. A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation this past week found that nearly two-thirds of Americans — 62 percent — are worried that the Food and Drug Administration will rush to approve a coronavirus vaccine without making sure it is safe and effective, under political pressure from Mr. Trump.
Pharmaceutical companies are counting on their vaccine research to help them rebuild reputations that have been tarnished by soaring drug prices and the industry’s role in fueling the opioid epidemic.
In an effort to restore public trust, senior regulators at the F.D.A. took the highly unusual step of promising in a USA Today op-ed piece on Thursday to uphold the scientific integrity of the process of evaluating treatments and vaccines, and to maintain the agency’s independence.
Representatives for the three companies with vaccine candidates in large, advanced trials in the United States — Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca — said they had released many details about the trials.
Pfizer said in a statement that the novelty of the virus and the fast-moving nature of the coronavirus crisis had meant that the protocol had to be flexible “to enable us to enhance the evaluation of the potential vaccine’s safety and efficacy.” The company said it would publish the full protocol from the trial as part of its submission to a medical journal “that will include results, enrollment criteria and final number of participants enrolled.”
On Saturday, Pfizer said it would ask the F.D.A. for permission to expand its trial to 44,000 participants, from its initial target of 30,000. But the announcement raised new questions about how the company would be able to know the results by its goal of the end of October, with so many new participants. A Pfizer spokeswoman, Amy Rose, said, “We are not going to speak to timing or specifics of any interim analyses.”
AstraZeneca did not initially report that a participant’s illness had halted its clinical trials around the world. The studies were paused last Sunday, but not reported until the news was broken by STAT on Tuesday. The company still has not disclosed the patient’s illness that led to the pause, even though it has discussed the medical condition of another participant who developed multiple sclerosis in July, which led to another brief halt of the trial. That illness was determined to be unrelated to the vaccine.
The company said that Mr. Soriot’s appearance at the J.P. Morgan meeting was part of a long-planned event, and that he largely discussed the company’s business outlook, with a few questions about the trial. The New York Times has reported that the patient developed symptoms consistent with transverse myelitis, or inflammation of the spinal cord.
A spokeswoman for AstraZeneca, Michele Meixell, said that while trial sponsors were required to notify the doctors operating clinical trial sites if an “unexplained event” occurred, “it is not common practice for those pauses to be communicated beyond the clinical community involved in a trial — including the media — in order to protect the privacy of individual participants and maintain the integrity of the trial.”
There is precedent for greater transparency. The large Recovery trial being run by the University of Oxford in Britain — which helped determine that the steroid dexamethasone reduces deaths in patients with Covid-19 — has published its trial protocol and statistical analysis plans.
While the broad outlines of the vaccine trial designs have been made available — including on a federal clinical trial registry — crucial details remain a mystery.
For example, Pfizer’s chief executive has said the company could apply to the F.D.A. for emergency authorization of its vaccine as early as October. But the company has not said how many times — and at what point in the trial — it will allow an independent review board to examine its study data to evaluate whether the evidence of safety and efficacy is strong enough that it can stop the trial early and apply for an emergency approval from federal regulators.
And none of the companies have published the criteria they will use to determine when these outside boards would advise stopping the trial, which could happen if the vaccine showed overwhelming efficacy, if it showed that it did not protect against Covid-19 or if it was linked to serious safety issues.
These so-called interim analyses are the subject of intense interest, because they are the only way that late stage trials could be halted early.
Company executives have provided some trial details when they have spoken on discussion panels or at investor conferences, or in news releases. But researchers looking for clues have had to comb through transcripts, videos and articles posted online, rather than to examine documents that the companies provided.
The lack of transparency is unacceptable, several researchers said, given that the federal government has billion-dollar deals with each of the companies.
“Look, we paid for it,” said Saad B. Omer, the director of the Yale Institute for Global Health. “So it’s reasonable to ask for it.”
A federal clinical trial registry details the number of trial participants, who should be included and excluded from the study, and the main outcomes. But it only skims the surface, Dr. Krumholz said. “The protocols are much more detailed.”
Peter Doshi, who is on the faculty at University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore and an editor with The BMJ, a medical journal, said he recently requested the protocols from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. None of the companies shared them, he said.
“I imagine most of the public would like to believe scientists are all sharing their data, that this process is open to scrutiny among the scientific community,” said Dr. Doshi, who has helped pressure drug makers to share trial records with researchers. “Just not true.”
Dr. Doshi said the protocols could help researchers answer important questions about the studies, and possibly to critique them. For example, can the trials determine whether the vaccine can prevent Covid-19 and complications in high-risk groups like older adults? When the researchers test for the coronavirus, how do they account for false results?
Other independent scientists said they were eager to examine the trials’ statistical analysis plans, which would guide them in analyzing the results.
“Frankly, I would love to know what they’re planning to do, and how they’re planning to do it,” said Dr. Judith Feinberg, the vice chairwoman for research in medicine at West Virginia University in Morgantown.
By making these documents public, outside experts said they would be able to hold the companies accountable if they changed the way they analyzed the results.
“There’s no downside” to sharing the documents, said Dr. Paul A. Offit, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia who serves on the F.D.A. advisory committee that will review coronavirus vaccines. “People are skittish about these vaccines. I think it helps to be transparent.”
Dr. Omer said he was in favor of the companies releasing the protocols and analysis plans, but he said he also worried that, in the wrong hands, the technical documents could be misinterpreted.
“You cannot kid around with this kind of stuff,” he said. In the long run, however, he said it was to the companies’ advantage to allow qualified researchers to evaluate the plans.
If independent researchers agreed the trials were set up properly — and Dr. Omer said he expected that would be the case — that could help enhance their credibility. They can say: “Hold your horses. No need to jump up and down.”
Maybe the wildfires will finally force America to recognize that.
By Farhad Manjoo, Opinion Columnist, Sept. 16, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/16/opinion/california-wildfires.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Among the few remaining advantages that Americans can claim over other countries is the relative cleanliness of our air. Air pollution is a leading risk factor for early death; it is linked to an estimated four million premature fatalities around the world annually. But over the last 50 years, since Congress passed environmental legislation in 1970, air quality in the United States has steadily improved. Today, America’s air is significantly cleaner than in much of the rest of the world, including in many of our wealthy, industrialized peers.
Well, not literally today, considering I needed an N95 mask to walk to the mailbox this morning. Over the last few years, for weeks and sometimes months in late summer and fall, my home state, California, and other parts of the American West erupt in hellish blaze, and plumes of smoke turn the heavens visibly toxic.
In some of the country’s most populous cities in the last few weeks, the concentration of dangerous particulates in the air shot up to levels worse than the averages in the most polluted cities in China, India and Pakistan. Ash generated by some of the largest wildfires in California’s and Oregon’s history fell across the region like snow. The sky burned Martian orange — a hue so alien that smartphones struggled to faithfully photograph it.
I have been searching for some glint of optimism during an otherwise bleak time. While choking through a walk this past weekend (I had to leave the house), I came up with this: Maybe such disasters will finally force us to recognize the steep costs of incompetent, neglectful, uncaring government.
Like America’s failed response to the coronavirus, the wildfires and poisonous air are best seen as a product of negligence at all levels of society, from individuals to cities and states to a federal government that, in recent decades, exited the business of getting anything done. These were natural disasters exacerbated by human weaknesses: a reluctance to plan, a preference for denial over prevention, for consumption and convenience over caution, and for quick fixes over lasting change.
Now, the singed chickens are coming home to roost. Militarily and economically, the United States remains an indomitable superpower. But in just about every other way, we have been exposed as a fragile nation, whose overlapping vulnerabilities can be attributed to a political system that has ceased caring about the most basic of citizens’ needs — even that of fresh air.
Donald Trump did not cause these fires; no lawmaker did. But as I watched the president’s brief photo op this week — he popped into town near Sacramento on Monday for about two hours, a layover between campaign events in Nevada and Arizona — it struck me that he is the embodiment of a political and cultural rot that will remain long after he’s left the scene.
In Sacramento, all of Trump’s familiar tics were on display. There was magical thinking: “It’ll start getting cooler, you just watch,” he told a state official who implored him to recognize that climate change is contributing to worsening wildfire seasons. There was the absence of empathy, with just a perfunctory mention of the people who’ve lost homes and businesses. And there was ego-driven denial. When the official pointed out that scientific consensus disagreed with Trump, the president all but pouted and stuck his fingers in his ears. “I don’t think science knows, actually,” he said.
Science does know, actually. Trump has argued that California’s fires could be addressed by better forest management. “You gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests,” he said last month. He’s not totally wrong. Experts do say that improved management would mitigate fires (though they prescribe managed burns rather than whatever “cleaning floors” might mean).
But that is far from the whole story. A barrage of scientific evidence shows that climate change has intensified droughts and hotter, drier weather across the Western United States, which has made brush, trees and other organic matter more combustible. According to one study, between 1984 and 2015, climate change contributed to the near-doubling of the geographical area vulnerable to wildfires in the West. To put it in a way that might register with the president: We now have twice as much floor to clean.
If you live in the West, the connection between climate change and fire is unavoidable. A month ago, we suffered a record-breaking heat wave that baked the earth into kindling. Then the match was struck. The Bay Area woke up to a sky flashing blue with dry lightning — lightning unaccompanied by rain. Nearly 9,000 strikes hit the ground, sparking fires across the region.
Can the climate-denying right really continue to ignore this basic cause-and-effect? Trump’s brand of denial is hardly unique. In some ways, it is embedded in our political system. Trump has ignored climate change because it’s been politically easy to do so. The effects of climate change are imprecise, and in the case of the wildfires, they’re almost not his problem, as the Electoral College allows him to write off the West Coast entirely. (Trump often tweets as if “blue states” are not even part of the country.)
The political challenges will remain even if Joe Biden wins the White House and Democrats gain control of Congress. Environmental legislation is difficult: It imposes identifiable short-term costs and inconveniences on people and businesses in return for long-term benefits for society as a whole.
It may seem that passing rules to protect the earth would require unusual political courage. But we have tackled these problems before. The late 1960s and early 1970s were no model of political comity in the United States; that era, like ours, was a time of intense polarization, with a citizenry restive for change.
But according to a fascinating history of the Clean Air Act by Brigham Daniels, Andrew P. Follett and Joshua Davis that was published recently in the Hastings Law Journal, Richard Nixon and Democrats in Congress passed the law precisely because Americans had become so cynical about their government. Lawmakers saw fixing the environment as a difficult goal they could nevertheless achieve: “Vietnam, civil rights, and Soviet tension may all have been out of reach, but cleaning the air seemed to be attainable, and gains could be measured and seen,” the authors write.
The same logic holds today. Dirty air and fire surround us, but we still have the collective capacity to mitigate them. Breathing is important. Let’s get to it.
Extreme temperatures and more severe droughts, the result of human-caused climate change, have created a world that’s ready to burn.
By Veronica Penney, Sept. 16, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/16/climate/wildfires-globally.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Wildfires are devastating the American West, but the United States isn’t the only place on Earth that’s burning. This year, other countries have also experienced their worst wildfires in decades, if not all of recorded history.
In each case, the contributing factors are different, but an underlying theme runs through the story: Hotter, drier seasons, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, have made the world more prone to erupt in flames.
“We don’t have a fire problem; we have many fire problems,” said Stephen J. Pyne, an emeritus professor at Arizona State University who studies wildfires and their history. “One, obviously, is a deep one. It has to do with fossil fuels and climate.”
Here’s a look at some of the worst recent blazes and how humans played a role in them.
The Arctic and Siberia
The Arctic as a whole is experiencing warming at more than twice the pace of the rest of the world. Record-low snow cover, high temperatures and dry soils, almost certainly a result of human-caused climate change, have all contributed to the fires.
This summer, portions of the Arctic shattered wildfire records set just last year, which at the time was the worst fire season in 60 years. The Russian town of Verkhoyansk became the first place above the Arctic Circle to experience temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 38 Celsius, in June. Record heat also thawed combustible, but usually frozen, peatland, which fed wildfires that burned an area roughly the size of Belgium.
While no lives were lost, smoke smothered the Russian countryside and the burned land emitted a surge of planet-warming carbon dioxide — about as much as Norway emits annually.
In the humid tropics, climatic conditions play a smaller role in wildfires. There, clearing and burning land for agriculture is the primary cause of fires.
In July, Central Kalimantan Province on Borneo declared a state of emergency as fires burned out of control. That followed severe fires in Indonesia last year and in 2015, the year of a drought in the country that was linked to El Niño, the periodic warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean that can affect weather worldwide.
Even without dry conditions, though, agricultural practices played a crucial role in the fires.
“It’s very, very rare to see fires naturally,” said Ruth DeFries, a professor of sustainable development at Columbia University. “When we see fires in the humid tropics, there is a human ignition source behind it.”
“Without the land use, you could have dry conditions associated with El Niño and not have fires,” Dr. DeFries said.
The worst fires on record are burning now in the Pantanal wetlands in the country’s south. Farther north, in the Amazon rain forest, tens of thousands of fires are still burning after a summer of blazes. In June, Brazilian officials called the Amazon fires the worst in 13 years.
As in Indonesia, deforestation for agriculture is a primary culprit. Farmers and ranchers cut down trees on the edge of the rainforest and set them on fire to clear the land for crops or grazing. But climate change is a force multiplier: During droughts like the current one in the country, those fires penetrate farther into forests, burning more trees and causing more damage.
Unlike the wildfires in California, which burn tree canopies, fires in the Amazon often creep along the forest floor “essentially no higher than my knee,” said Jennifer Balch, an associate professor of geography at the University of Colorado Boulder and director of the university’s Earth Lab. “And they can go for a very long period of time.”
Fires are raging now across grasslands in the Paraná Delta and around farmland in central Argentina, where farmers and ranchers have been burning fields for a century to improve their soil. This year, the fires got out of control.
“It’s easy for fires to leave the perimeters of someone’s property and just burn huge areas,” said Virginia Iglesias, a research scientist at the Earth Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder who lived in Argentina most of her life.
“It’s the end of winter, and it’s been a really, really dry winter,” Dr. Iglesias said. “These exceptionally dry conditions in central Argentina, and in many other areas of the country, create conditions that are perfect for fires once you have fuel.”
At the beginning of this year, Australia was just emerging from its worst wildfire season on record. Thousands of homes were lost and millions of acres burned. At least 30 people died. Estimates of the number of animals killed range between a few hundred million and a billion.
Researchers found that human-caused climate change played a significant role in the fires, making the high-risk conditions that led to widespread burning at least 30 percent more likely than in a world without global warming.
Now, as the Southern Hemisphere heads into spring, Australians are bracing themselves for a new season of blazes. Officials say they doubt this year’s fires will be as severe, because there is simply not much left to burn, but homeowners are still hastening to clear shrubs and weeds, and complete prescribed burns.
In the short term, Dr. Pyne said, we can mitigate fire risks by designing more fire-safe communities, creating better evacuation plans and improving fire management on wild lands.
“Prescribed fire is clearly going to be a part of that,” he said. “If you think of fire as a contagion, which in many ways it is, prescribed burning is part of herd immunity.”
When it comes to human causes of climate change, “We need to take action, but that will take a long time,” Dr. Pyne said. “We are going to be living with an enhanced fire world for decades, at least.”
Wrongly convicted Black defendants were slightly more likely than whites to be victims of misconduct, especially in drug and murder investigations.
By Aimee Ortiz, Sept. 16, 2020
These five men were wrongfully convicted as teenagers of raping a jogger in Central Park in 1989. A new report found men and Black exonerees “were modestly more likely to experience misconduct.” Credit...Mario Tama/Getty Images
Official misconduct played a role in the criminal convictions of more than half of innocent people who were later exonerated, according to a new report by a registry that tracks wrongful convictions.
According to the report, by the National Registry of Exonerations, official misconduct contributed to false convictions in 54 percent of exonerations, usually with more than one type of misconduct. Over all, men and Black exonerees “were modestly more likely to experience misconduct,” although there were larger differences by race when it came to drug crimes and murder.
The report comes at a time of reckoning for the American criminal justice system as nationwide civil unrest against racism and police brutality continue.
“Official misconduct damages truth-seeking by our criminal justice system and undermines public confidence,” Samuel Gross, a professor emeritus of law at the University of Michigan and the report’s lead author, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“It steals years — sometimes decades — from the lives of innocent people,” said Professor Gross, senior editor of the registry. “The great majority of wrongful convictions are never discovered, so the scope of the problem is much greater than these numbers show.”
The study, which is based on 2,400 exonerations recorded in the registry from 1989 until early 2019, found that prosecutors and police officers committed misconduct at comparable rates (30 percent and 34 percent). In federal cases, however, prosecutors “committed misconduct more than twice as often as police,” especially in federal white-collar cases in which they “committed misconduct seven times as often as police, ” according to the report.
The report details the different types of misconduct that can occur at different stages of a case. Nearly all of the official misconduct identified falls into five general categories: witness tampering, misconduct in interrogations, fabricating evidence, concealing exculpatory evidence and misconduct at trial.
Over all, the study found that exonerated Black defendants “were slightly more likely than white defendants to be victims of official misconduct,” by a margin of 57 percent to 52 percent. The disparity grew when it came to drug crimes (47 percent to 22 percent) and for murder cases, (78 percent to 64 percent). In exonerations involving death sentences, there was misconduct in 87 percent of the cases involving Black defendants compared with 68 percent for white defendants.
On Tuesday, Joel Feinman, the chief public defender in Pima County, Ariz., which includes Tucson, called the report “one of the least surprising things I read this morning.”
Mr. Feinman, said that prosecutorial misconduct, which was detailed in the report, rarely garnered “the attention it deserves.”
“As few police officers as there are who are arrested and convicted of official misconduct, there are almost no prosecutors” who face such consequences, Mr. Feinman said, adding, “I’ve never heard of any prosecutor being arrested for misconduct, and almost no prosecutors are fired or disbarred for misconduct.”
The new report follows a 2017 study by the registry that found that Black people were more likely to be wrongfully convicted than their white counterparts, and more likely to spend more time in prison before being exonerated.
Kalfani Turè, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Quinnipiac University and a former police officer, said on Tuesday that the new report reinforced “what we know and understand, or we suspect, about race and policing and also prosecutorial misconduct.”
Dr. Turè, who is also the senior fellow of the Urban Ethnography Project at Yale, said the report was a tough condemnation of the criminal justice system, and it supported the Black Lives Matter critique that the system itself, from the point of entry with law enforcement officers to encounters with prosecutors, is rife with corruption, “and it seems to be of the racist sort.”
“In fairness, this report doesn’t make the case that both prosecutors and all police are somehow racist,” he said. “But it certainly demonstrates that there’s a disparity, and there’s a consistent disparity in the sort of wrongful convictions.”
Dr. Turè said he wasn’t shocked by the report, calling it “damning.”
“It’s consistent with what I know professionally,” he said. “But it’s also part of this sort of consistent outcry by members of the Black community and members of the Latinx community that corruption is in fact part of their experience.”
Andrea Headley, an assistant professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown, said the report’s findings were “a clear example of what I would call a ‘pipeline’ problem from police to courts and back again, especially considering accountability after misconduct is found.”
Professor Headley noted in an email interview on Tuesday that this not only reduced trust in the criminal justice system over all, but also reduced reliance on the system for ensuring and enhancing public safety and as a solution for crime.
“Trust is rarely built with grand gestures,” she said. “But more about small moments that lay a foundation, either for the better or worse.”
Jeffrey Bellin, a junior professor at the William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Va., and a former prosecutor, called the trial of an innocent person “the most important test of our criminal justice system.” He said it was not surprising that “when the system fails that test by convicting someone who is innocent, police and prosecutors are often implicated in that failure.”
“At the same time, this is a part of the problem that can most easily be fixed,” Professor Bellin said.
“Part of that fix, as I have written extensively, is cultural,” he added. “Prosecutors need to see themselves as part of a system that does justice, not as unilaterally responsible for convicting those who they perceive to be guilty.”
From state to state, and even judge to judge, a simple-sounding order by the C.D.C. on eviction cases is open to interpretation.
By Matthew Goldstein, Sept. 16, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/16/business/eviction-moratorium-renters-landlords.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
Fending off an eviction could depend on which judge a renter in financial trouble is given, despite a federal government order intended to protect renters at risk of being turned out.
The order, a moratorium imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is meant to avoid mass evictions and contain the spread of the coronavirus. All a qualifying tenant must do is sign a declaration printed from the C.D.C. website and hand it over to his or her landlord.
But it’s not as simple as it sounds: Landlords are still taking tenants to court, and what happens next varies around the country.
Some judges say the order, which was announced on Sept. 1, prevents landlords from even beginning an eviction case, which can take months to play out. Some say a case can proceed, but must freeze at the point where a tenant would be removed — usually under the watchful eye of a sheriff or constable. Other judges have allowed cases to move forward against tenants who insist they should be protected, and at least one judge, in North Carolina, has raised questions about whether the C.D.C.’s order is even constitutional.
The uneven treatment means where tenants stand depends on where they live.
“It’s paramount that we have uniform enforcement,” said Emily Benfer, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law who has been tracking the differing interpretations of the C.D.C. moratorium.
With millions of people unemployed and no progress on an agreement on another relief package, housing advocates and legal aid lawyers are fretting over the confusion. They say they are going to unusual lengths to inform tenants — who usually go to court without a lawyer — of their rights under the moratorium. In Kentucky, there is an online tool for generating declarations. In Atlanta, lawyers created a YouTube video about how to comply with the order. In Indianapolis, housing lawyers are working with the city on a plan to better publicize the need for tenants to sign a declaration of their inability to pay because of the health crisis.
But most pressing, lawyers say, are the wildly varying interpretations of what seems like a simple order.
The C.D.C. says individual renters expecting to make under $99,000 in 2020 are protected until the end of the year if they sign a declaration — under penalty of perjury — that eviction would be likely to leave them homeless or force them to live in close quarters with others. When the order was issued, most legal experts believed that the act of handing the declaration to the landlord would keep the landlord from even filing an eviction case. If the case had already begun, experts believed, the signed declaration would halt the process.
Marilyn Hoffman showed up to a hearing in North Carolina — where court administrators informed state court clerks last week that the protections “must be invoked by a tenant” — and expected to have her eviction case put on hold. But the judge refused to accept her signed declaration.
Ms. Hoffman, who rents a single-family house in Sanford, N.C., said the judge seemed to be under the impression the C.D.C. order applied only to rental apartments that were covered by a previous moratorium under the CARES Act, which had a more limited scope.
“He was very rude. He said, ‘This doesn’t apply to you,’” said Ms. Hoffman, who had lost her job as an aide at a group home for mentally disabled adults and now volunteers at a homeless shelter.
The judge gave Ms. Hoffman, whose monthly rent is $649, 10 days to come up with more than $3,000 in back rent and late fees or face eviction. A group of volunteers tried to appeal the judge’s order on Monday but were told by a court clerk that Ms. Hoffman first needed to pay $500 toward the overdue rent, one of her representatives said.
“If I had the money, I would pay the rent,” she said.
Isaac Sturgill, a Legal Aid lawyer in North Carolina, said judges were doing “a mix of things” for tenants who invoked the C.D.C. moratorium, and eventually they should be more consistent. “Judges and magistrates need an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the law and process it,” he said.
In New Hampshire, the state’s Supreme Court has put the onus on the landlords. An order from the court said they must file affidavits stating that they are in compliance with the C.D.C. order before commencing an eviction proceeding and must notify the court if at any point a tenant signs a declaration saying she can’t pay rent because of the pandemic.
Other states fall somewhere in the middle. In Missouri, some courts are allowing landlords to file eviction cases as long as the landlord states that the tenant has not signed a declaration. In Michigan, court administrators said it was a matter of “judicial interpretation” whether landlords could continue to file eviction actions.
But even with guidance there can be confusion. Geoff Moulton, the Pennsylvania state court administrator, told judges that the plain language of the C.D.C. order means a signed declaration prevents the filing of an eviction and suspends any pending cases. But in a follow-up message to the judges, he said his earlier memo was not intended “to supplant judicial interpretation.”
In Maryland, tenants can’t use declarations to keep an eviction case from starting, but they can use them as a defense once a case begins. The only thing the declaration automatically prevents, according to the Maryland Supreme Court, is a judgment of eviction that puts a renter out on the street.
Maryland is essentially saying tenants have no choice but to go to court if they want to keep their homes, said Matthew Vocci, a Baltimore-area housing lawyer. “That seems to encourage more people to attend in-person court proceedings,” he said. “I’m not a scientist or a physician but I’m uneasy about having more people inside courtrooms.”
Landlord groups have problems with the moratorium, too, because they’re being asked to house nonpaying renters while still paying their own bills, including mortgages, utilities and taxes. Tenant and landlord organizations alike argue that the moratorium would work better if it were paired with money for rent-assistance programs, which would allow everyone to pay their bills.
But with little indication there will be an agreement on another stimulus bill, landlords have already have started fighting the moratorium. Last week, one landlord filed a legal challenge in federal court in Atlanta. That lawsuit contends the C.D.C. order is unconstitutional because it impairs private contract rights and the C.D.C. lacks the authority to “order state courts and relevant state actors not to process summary evictions.”
And even as they argue that the C.D.C. has overstepped, property owners are still filing eviction cases.
Corporate landlords, including private equity firms, filed more than 1,500 eviction actions in large counties in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Texas since the C.D.C. announced it was imposing a moratorium, according to Private Equity Stakeholder Project, an advocacy group.
Jim Baker, the group’s executive director, said tenants have hardly had a chance to figure out how the moratorium works.
Tonya McElroy, a home health care aide in Georgia who hasn’t worked since March, is awaiting a court hearing to find out if she will be able to stay in her apartment. She owes more than $5,000 in rent.
Ms. McElroy, who has a 12-year-old grandson living with her, was protected by the CARES Act moratorium until it expired in late July. Her landlord filed an eviction action against her on Aug. 31, the day before the C.D.C. announced the new order.
Ms. McElroy is trying to get rental assistance — one of the things she must try to do to qualify for the moratorium. And her daughter helped her print a copy of the declaration from a website and leave it in the landlord’s dropbox. But nobody has returned her calls.
Now, “they won’t even talk to me,” said Ms. McElroy, who couldn’t come up with enough money for a burial service for her father this summer. “All they said is if I didn’t have the money, they will file an eviction order.”
State Department officials have raised alarms about the legal risk in aiding airstrikes that kill civilians. The Trump administration recently suppressed findings as it sold more weapons to Gulf nations.
By Michael LaForgia and Edward Wong, Published Sept. 14, 2020, Updated Sept. 16, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/14/us/politics/us-war-crimes-yemen-saudi-arabia.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
WASHINGTON — The civilian death toll from Saudi Arabia’s disastrous air war over Yemen was steadily rising in 2016 when the State Department’s legal office in the Obama administration reached a startling conclusion: Top American officials could be charged with war crimes for approving bomb sales to the Saudis and their partners.
Four years later, more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials say the legal risks have only grown as President Trump has made selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Middle East nations a cornerstone of his foreign policy.
Yet rather than taking steps to address the legal issues, State Department leaders have gone to great lengths to conceal them. Even after a State Department inspector general investigation this year revealed that the department had failed to address the legal risks of selling bombs to the Saudis, agency officials ensured that details of the finding were put in a classified part of the public report released in August, and then so heavily redacted that lawmakers with security clearances could not see them.
The concerns will be the subject of a congressional hearing on Wednesday. House lawmakers are expected to question senior State Department officials, including the agency’s top lawyer and the assistant secretary overseeing weapons sales.
Legal scholars say U.S. officials are right to be concerned. No episode in recent American history compares to Yemen, where the United States has provided material support over five years to the Saudi-led coalition for actions that have caused the continuous killing of civilians. More than 127,000 people have died in the war, including 13,500 civilians in targeted attacks, according to an estimate from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
U.S. officials have had full knowledge of the pattern of indiscriminate killing, which makes them legally vulnerable. Legal scholars say prosecutors abroad — including those from nations like Sweden, Germany and Argentina that assert universal jurisdiction over war crimes anywhere in the world — could bring charges against American officials. Although there has been no move so far by any foreign court to do so, some State Department officials who shepherd arms sales overseas are worried enough to consider retaining their own legal counsel and have discussed the possibility of being arrested while vacationing abroad.
“If I were in the State Department, I would be freaking out about my potential for liability,” said Oona Hathaway, a Yale Law School professor and a Defense Department lawyer in the Obama administration. “I think anyone who’s involved in this program should get themselves a lawyer. It’s very dangerous territory the U.S. is in, continuing to provide support given the number of civilians who have been killed.”
There are precedents. Spanish prosecutors in 2009 pursued charges against six officials in the George W. Bush administration over torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, although a higher court dismissed the case.
Beyond courts in sovereign nations, charges against Americans over Yemen could also be brought in an international tribunal if one were set up to investigate atrocities in that war. United Nations investigators last week issued a detailed report on atrocities in Yemen that asked the Security Council to refer actions by all parties to an international tribunal for potential war crimes prosecution, a sign of momentum behind the idea of legal action.
International judges and prosecutors are at the same time more eagerly embracing the idea of holding Americans accountable for wartime actions in other parts of the world. In March, the International Criminal Court in The Hague ruled that its chief prosecutor could open an investigation into the actions of American forces in the Afghanistan war — the first time the court had authorized a case against the United States. The Trump administration responded this month by imposing sanctions on the chief prosecutor and another court lawyer, a sign of how seriously it takes the potential of war crimes charges.
State Department spokespeople declined to discuss the decision-making process but issued a statement that said the agency had a strategy to lessen civilian casualties before the last major arms sale to the Saudi-led coalition in May 2019. They added that the department had “continued to work tirelessly” on reducing civilian harm in Yemen and elsewhere, citing redesigned policies, expanded analyses and new training for the Saudis and the Emiratis, who are part of the Saudi-led coalition.
The Obama administration had its own struggles with Yemen. When a State Department lawyer determined in 2016 that American officials could be charged with war crimes, the agency’s top lawyer effectively set the opinion aside when he decided not to send the analysis to the secretary of state’s office. By then the administration was already taking a tougher line on civilian deaths in Yemen. That December, a month before leaving office, President Barack Obama blocked a shipment of precision-guided bombs that he had agreed to sell to the Saudis.
But within months, the new Trump administration delivered the bombs Mr. Obama had halted. Then the administration sought to advance still more sales: $8.1 billion in weapons and equipment in 22 batches, including $3.8 billion in precision-guided bombs and bomb parts made by Raytheon Company, to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Lawmakers blocked shipments for nearly two years, until Secretary of State Mike Pompeo instructed his subordinates to circumvent Congress. They did so by declaring an emergency over Iran, which prompted the inspector general review. That investigation not only documented the longstanding legal worries but also created a critical report that could itself increase the legal risks, scholars said.
“The findings could be used as evidence in the future against U.S. officials or the U.S. government,” said Ryan Goodman, a New York University law professor who was a Defense Department lawyer in the Obama administration.
With the civilian death toll rising in Yemen, the American role in the war has become a significant political issue.
Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential candidate who was vice president when the conflict began, says he would end U.S. support for the war. By contrast, Mr. Trump is doubling down on arms sales and boasting of revenue from the Saudis.
“I have a very good relationship with them,” Mr. Trump said during an interview in February. “They buy billions and billions and billions of dollars of product from us. They buy tens of billions of dollars of military equipment.”
The Specter of War Crimes
In March 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition first moved to dislodge Houthi rebels who had captured Sana, the Yemeni capital, Mr. Obama agreed to support the effort. His administration signed off on the sale of $1.3 billion in precision-guided bombs and bomb parts to replenish Saudi stockpiles depleted “due to the high operational tempo” in Yemen.
But it quickly became clear that the Saudis and their partners at the time, including the Emiratis, were either using the bombs negligently or deliberately aiming them at civilians. In the first 18 months of fighting, human rights groups linked American bombs to attacks on homes, apartment buildings, factories, warehouses, a cultural center, an agricultural complex, a primary school and other nonmilitary sites.
As concerns over such strikes were intensifying in Washington, the State Department’s legal office examined whether American officials who approved arms sales to the Saudis and their partners faced legal risks.
Drawing on an international tribunal case against Charles Taylor, the Liberian warlord, that the United States has cited in Qaeda prosecutions, the legal office reached the alarming conclusion that it put in writing in a memo in 2016: American officials, including the secretary of state, could be charged with war crimes for their role in arming the Saudi coalition, according to six current and former government officials with knowledge of the memo.
That year, scholars discussed a law journal paper laying out a war crimes argument for that type of conflict written by Brian Finucane, a State Department lawyer assigned to the agency’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, which oversees arms exports. Speaking in a private capacity at a Yale Law School conference in 2018 on the Yemen war, Mr. Finucane said officials who could be prosecuted were “those who have decision-making authority or veto authority.” He added, “I think you’re looking at potentially very senior individuals.”
But the top State Department lawyer never sent the memo to the secretary of state’s office. Legal scholars say the government’s national security lawyers often engage in an increasingly problematic practice: refraining from enshrining blunt legal opinions that might tie the hands of policymakers. Brian Egan, the department’s legal adviser at the time, did not respond to requests for comment. (Reuters reported on aspects of the concerns in 2016.)
Though the analysis did not advance within the State Department, the Obama administration opened a policy review, and Secretary of State John Kerry tried to broker a cease-fire.
Since 2018, Representative Ted Lieu, Democrat of California, has asked the State Department to release the memo, but it has refused to do so.
Scrambling for a Legal Shield
Over the spring of 2017, Mr. Trump’s aides and some State Department officials worked to unfreeze the bomb delivery that Mr. Obama had halted. Mr. Trump and his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, were preparing for a trip to Saudi Arabia that May and were eager for a big presidential announcement in Riyadh on the restart of U.S. arms sales.
Still, officials in the Political-Military Affairs Bureau wanted assurances that they could do the president’s bidding on arms sales without putting themselves in legal jeopardy. During one White House meeting before the trip, Mike Miller, then a senior State Department official involved in arms sales, put the concerns bluntly, according to two officials. He said he was worried he could be found liable for aiding the killing of civilians.
U.S. officials set to work to address the concerns. They had been given an opening by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who in March at the Pentagon had pressed the visiting Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi deputy crown prince, to “stop bombing the women and children.” The crown prince agreed to take steps to curb the killing. Over weeks, U.S. officials drafted guidelines for the Saudi and American governments to follow as a condition of future arms sales.
The officials envisioned the plan not only saving civilian lives, but also offering protection against claims of American complicity in war crimes.
“We worked pretty rigorously to try to give them a sense that this was now going to be a harder sell,” Tina S. Kaidanow, who headed the Political-Military Affairs Bureau at the time, said of the Saudis.
But as Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner prepared for the Saudi trip, officials pared back the guidelines in their effort to push through the weapons sales.
Emails obtained by The Times show that Stuart E. Jones, then the acting assistant secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and his colleagues discussed how to draft acceptable language about the use of precision-guided munitions for a letter that Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, was to sign before Mr. Trump’s trip.
In April 2017, Timothy A. Lenderking, a deputy assistant secretary in the bureau, wrote to Mr. Jones that he had met with State Department lawyers “and agreed on edits to cut back the language of the letter.” The next day, Mr. Jones wrote that Mr. al-Jubeir had “quickly agreed” to sign a letter. (Mr. Jones, who left the State Department in 2018, referred questions to the department.)
The letter listed about five assurances, including a promise by the Saudis to have their forces take part in a $750 million training program run by the U.S. military.
In Riyadh, Mr. Trump and King Salman announced the arms deal.
‘A Horror Show’
After Mr. Trump abruptly fired his first secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, in March 2018, and as Mr. Pompeo awaited Senate confirmation to lead the State Department, John J. Sullivan, the deputy secretary, served as the agency’s acting head.
The officials worried about the arms sales believed Mr. Sullivan to be attentive to the humanitarian concerns in the Yemen war. In the roughly three weeks he was running the department, they sent an appeal for legal clarity.
Mr. Sullivan responded by approving a memo the officials had drafted that recommended carrying out a robust strategy to reduce civilian casualties and updating the legal analysis before the bomb sales moved forward, according to two U.S. officials. But the agency failed to do those, the inspector general later determined.
Mr. Pompeo took over soon after. That August, a coalition jet dropped an American-made bomb on a Yemeni school bus, killing 54 people, including 44 children, in an attack that Mr. Trump would later call “a horror show.”
The next month, Mr. Pompeo issued a formal certification to Congress that the Saudi-led coalition was working to minimize civilian deaths, despite news reports and internal State Department assessments to the contrary. Senior department officials had warned Mr. Pompeo against the certification, in part because they had grown more anxious over the legal issues, officials said.
The move provoked a backlash in Congress and strengthened lawmakers’ resolve to continue blocking arms sales.
By April 2019, Mr. Pompeo was frustrated by the delay, and senior State Department political appointees were discussing a rarely invoked tactic to force through $8.1 billion in weapons sales without congressional approval: declaring an emergency over Iran.
At the center of those discussions was Marik String, a former Senate aide who had joined the State Department in 2017. By January 2019, he had become the acting head of the Political-Military Affairs Bureau and closely oversaw the emergency planning.
Mr. Pompeo announced the emergency on May 24, 2019, and the stalled weapons deals moved forward, including the sale of some 120,000 bombs and bomb parts to the Saudis and Emiratis.
But no updated civilian casualty mitigation strategy or legal analysis was carried out before the equipment was shipped, according to the inspector general’s report.
Released this August, the report said that although Mr. Pompeo did not violate the law in declaring an emergency, the State Department had failed to take proper measures to reduce civilian casualties and the associated legal risk.
Notably, the public section of the final report did not include a recommendation from an earlier draft: The department should “update its analysis of legal and policy risks” related to selling bombs to the Saudi coalition, according to text obtained by The Times. The language of that recommendation was edited and moved to the classified annex after pressure from department officials.
The day Mr. Pompeo declared the emergency, he also promoted Mr. String to be the State Department’s top lawyer. From that position, Mr. String tried to pressure Steve A. Linick, the inspector general, to drop his investigation, Mr. Linick said in congressional testimony this June. Mr. String’s office also handled the redacting of the report, while R. Clarke Cooper, the current head of Political-Military Affairs, pushed to classify the most significant material — after he had been an interview subject in the investigation. This May, Mr. Pompeo pushed Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Linick.
Since the emergency declaration, which applied to only the sales last year, the Saudis and their partners have sought to buy more American bombs. About $800 million in orders is now pending, held up in the same congressional review process that had frustrated Mr. Pompeo and the White House.
The Emirates announced last summer that it was withdrawing most of its forces from the grinding war in Yemen, but it continues to fight in the Libyan war.
From July to early August this year, at least three airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen killed civilians, including a total of nearly two dozen children, according to the United Nations, aid workers and Houthi rebels. One strike occurred during a celebration after the birth of a newborn baby, a human rights worker said. The boy, just 1 week old, did not survive.
Officials in Rochester, N.Y., spent months trying to suppress video footage of the police encounter that led to Mr. Prude’s death.
By Michael Wilson and Edgar Sandoval, Published Sept. 15, 2020, Updated Sept. 16, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/15/nyregion/rochester-police-daniel-prude.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=New%20York
City records show how officials sought to frame the narrative around Daniel Prude’s death in the hours and days after his encounter with the police.
Ghosted by their employers, members of the profession are facing “a full-blown humanitarian crisis — a Depression-level situation.”
By David Segal, Sept. 18, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/18/business/housekeepers-covid.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
The scariest day of Maria Del Carmen’s life started with a phone call that initially cheered her up.
A native of Mexico, she has spent the last 24 years as a housekeeper in Philadelphia and had a dozen regular clients before the pandemic began. By April, she had three. Food banks became essential to feeding herself and her three children. To earn extra money, she started selling face masks stitched on her sewing machine.
So in mid-August, when a once-regular client — a pair of professors from the University of Pennsylvania and their children — asked her to come and clean, she was delighted. No one was home when she arrived, which seemed like a wise precaution, given social distancing guidelines. What struck her as odd were the three bottles of Lysol on the dining room table. She had a routine at every home, and it had never involved disinfectant.
Ms. Del Carmen started scrubbing, doing laundry and ironing. After a few hours, she stepped outside to throw away some garbage. A neighbor spotted her and all but shrieked: “Maria, what are you doing here?!” The professors and their children, the neighbor said, had all contracted the coronavirus.
“I was terrified,” Ms. Del Carmen recalled. “I started crying. Then I went home, took off all of my clothing, showered, got in bed, and for the next night and the next day, I waited for the coronavirus.”
She never got sick, but she still is livid. At 58 and, by her account, overweight, she considers herself at high risk. That is why she never took off her mask while cleaning that day — diligence she thinks might have saved her life.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want to disinfect their own homes,” she said, “so they call a housekeeper.”
The pandemic has had devastating consequences for a wide variety of occupations, but housekeepers have been among the hardest hit. Seventy-two percent of them reported that they had lost all of their clients by the first week of April, according to a survey by the National Domestic Workers Alliance. The fortunate had employers who continued to pay them. The unlucky called or texted their employers and heard nothing back. They weren’t laid off so much as ghosted, en masse.
Since July, hours have started picking up, though far short of pre-pandemic levels, and often for lower wages.
“We plateaued at about 40 percent employment in our surveys of members,” said Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the alliance. “And because most of these people are undocumented, they have not received any kind of government relief. We’re talking about a full-blown humanitarian crisis, a Depression-level situation for this work force.”
The ordeal of housekeepers is a case study in the wildly unequal ways that the pandemic has inflicted suffering. Their pay dwindled, in many cases, because employers left for vacation homes or because those employers could work from home and didn’t want visitors. Few housekeepers have much in the way of savings, let alone shares of stock, which means they are scrabbling for dollars as the wealthiest of their clients are prospering courtesy of the recent bull market.
In a dozen interviews, housekeepers in a handful of cities across the country described their feelings of fear and desperation over the last six months. A few said the pain had been alleviated by acts of generosity, mostly advances for future work. Far more said they were suspended, or perhaps fired, without so much as a conversation.
Scrubbing a fluffy little dog named Bobby
One of them is Vicenta, a 42-year-old native of Mexico who lives in Los Angeles, and who, like many contacted for this article, did not want her last name used because she is undocumented.
For 10 years, she had earned $2,000 a month cleaning two opulent homes in gated communities in Malibu, Calif. This included several exhausting weeks in 2018, when fires raged close enough to cover both homes in ash. Three times a week, she would visit both houses and scrub ash off floors, windows, walls and, for one family, a fluffy little dog named Bobby.
Vicenta received nothing extra for the added time it took to scour those houses during the fires. She would have settled for a glass of water, she said, but neither family offered one.
“It was incredibly hot, and my mouth and throat were really sore,” she recalled. “I should have seen a doctor, but we don’t have health insurance.”
If Vicenta thought her years of service had banked some good will, she was wrong. Early in May, both families called and left a message with her 16-year-old son, explaining that for the time being, she could not visit and clean. There was some vague talk about eventually asking her to return, but messages she left with the families for clarification went unreturned.
“Mostly, I feel really sad,” Vicenta said. “My children were born here, so they get coupons for food, but my husband lost his job as a prep cook in a restaurant last year and we are three months behind on rent. I don’t know what will happen next.”
Housekeepers have long had a uniquely precarious foothold in the U.S. labor market. Many people still refer to them as “the help,” which makes the job sound like something far less than an occupation. The Economic Policy Institute found that the country’s 2.2 million domestic workers — a group that includes housekeepers, child care workers and home health care aides — earn an average of $12.01 an hour and are three times as likely to live in poverty than other hourly workers. Few have benefits that are common in the American work force, like sick leave, health insurance, formal contracts or protection against unfair dismissal.
‘A treadmill life’
This underclass status can be traced as far back as the 1800s, historians say, and is squarely rooted in racism. Domestic work was then one of the few ways that Black women could earn money, and well into the 20th century, most of those women lived in the South. During the Jim Crow era, they were powerless and exploited. Far from the happy “mammy” found in popular culture like “Gone With the Wind,” these women were mistreated and overworked. In 1912, a publication called The Independent ran an essay by a woman identified only as a “Negro Nurse,” who described 14-hour workdays, seven days a week, for $10 a month.
“I live a treadmill life,” she wrote. “I see my own children only when they happen to see me on the streets.”
In 1935, the federal government all but codified the grim conditions of domestic work with the passage of the Social Security Act. The law was the crowning achievement of the New Deal, providing retirement benefits as well as the country’s first national unemployment compensation program — a safety net that was invaluable during the Depression. But the act excluded two categories of employment: domestic workers and agricultural laborers, jobs that were most essential to Black women and Black men, respectively.
The few Black people invited to weigh in on the bill pointed out the obvious. In February 1935, Charles Hamilton Houston, then special counsel to the N.A.A.C.P., testified before the Senate Finance Committee and said that from the viewpoint of Black people, the bill “looks like a sieve with the holes just big enough for the majority of Negroes to fall through.”
The historian Mary Poole, author of “The Segregated Origins of Social Security,” sifted through notes, diaries and transcripts created during the passage of the act and found that Black people were excluded not because white Southerners in control of Congress at the time insisted on it. The truth was more troubling, and more nuanced. Members of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration — most notably, the Treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau Jr. — persuaded congressional leaders that the law would be far simpler to administer, and therefore far more likely to succeed, if the two occupations were left out of the bill.
In the years that followed, Black domestic workers were consistently at the mercy of white employers. In cities like New York, African-American women lined up at spots along certain streets, carrying a paper bag filled with work clothes, waiting for white housewives to offer them work, often for an hour or two, sometimes for the day. A reporter, Marvel Cooke, and an activist, Ella Baker, wrote a series of articles in 1935 for The Crisis, the journal of the N.A.A.C.P., describing life in what they called New York City’s “slave markets.”
The markets’ popularity diminished in the ’40s after Mayor Fiorello La Guardia opened hiring halls, where contracts were signed laying out terms for day labor arrangements. But in early 1950, Ms. Cooke found the markets in New York City were bustling again. In a series of first-person dispatches, she joined the “paper bag brigades” and went undercover to describe life for the Black women who stood in front of the Woolworths on 170th Street.
“That is the Bronx Slave Market,” she wrote in The Daily Compass in January 1950, “where Negro women wait, in rain or shine, in bitter cold or under broiling sun, to be hired by local housewives looking for bargains in human labor.”
That same year, domestic work was finally added to the Social Security Act, and by the 1970s it had been added to federal legislation intended to protect laborers, including the Fair Labor Standards Act. African-American women had won many of those protections by organizing, though by the 1980s, they had moved into other occupations and were largely replaced by women from South and Central America as well as the Caribbean.
A total lack of leverage
Today, many housekeepers are undocumented and either don’t know about their rights or are afraid to assert them. The sort of grass-roots organizations that tried to eradicate New York City’s “slave markets” are lobbying for state laws to protect domestic work. Nine states have domestic workers’ rights laws on the book. Last summer, Senator Kamala Harris introduced the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which would guarantee a minimum wage and overtime pay, along with protections against racial discrimination. The bill has yet to pass, and if it did, labor advocates and historians say it would merely be a beginning.
“It’s important to get a federal bill, but it leaves unanswered the question of enforcement,” said Premilla Nadasen, the author of “Household Workers Unite” and a professor of history at Barnard College. “The Department of Labor is overextended and it tends not to check up on individual employers. The imbalance of power between employer and employee has been magnified by the pandemic because millions of people are now looking for work. And xenophobic rhetoric has made women more fearful of being deported.”
The pandemic has laid bare not just the vulnerability of housekeepers to economic shocks but their total lack of leverage. Several workers said they had clients who would not let anyone clean who has had Covid-19; others know clients who will hire only Covid survivors, on the theory that after their recovery, they pose no health risk. Housekeepers are often given strict instructions about how they can commute, and are quizzed about whether and how much they interact with others. But they have no idea whether their employers are taking similar precautions. Nor, in many cases, are they accorded the simple decencies that are part of formal employment.
“It would be nice to have at least two days’ notice when someone cancels on you, either to let you know or compensate you for your time,” said Magdalena Zylinska, a housekeeper in Chicago who helped lobby for a domestic workers’ rights bill that passed in Illinois in 2017. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that if I don’t work, I don’t get paid and I still have to buy food, pay bills, utilities.”
Ms. Zylinska emigrated from Poland more than 20 years ago and has yet to get a week of paid vacation. The closest she came was in 1997, when a couple handed her $900 in cash, all at once — for work she’d just finished, work she would soon do, plus a holiday bonus.
“The couple said, ‘Merry Christmas, Maggie,’” she said. “I remember counting that money four times.”
The program aims to counter social media that bombards young people with images of perfect bodies.
By Thomas Erdbrink and Martin Selsoe Sorensen, Sept. 18, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/18/world/europe/denmark-children-nudity-sex-education.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
COPENHAGEN — “OK, children, does anyone have a question?” the TV show’s host, Jannik Schow, asked. Only a few in the audience of 11- to 13-year-olds raised their hands. “Remember, you can’t do anything wrong,” he said. “There are no bad questions.”
You can’t blame the children if their thoughts were elsewhere. On a stage before them in a heated studio in Copenhagen stood five adults in bathrobes. There was a brief moment of silence, as faces turned serious. Having discussed it for days before in school, the children knew what was coming next. Mr. Schow gave a little nod, and the adults cast off their robes.
Facing the children, and the cameras, they stood completely naked, like statues, with their hands and arms folded behind their backs.
And so began a recording of the latest episode of an award-winning Danish children’s program, “Ultra Strips Down,” which is shown on Ultra, the on-demand children’s channel of the national broadcaster, DR. The topic today: skin and hair.
The show’s producers say the program is meant as an educational tool to fight body shaming and encourage body positivity. And so first reluctantly, later enthusiastically, the children from the Orestad School in Copenhagen asked the adults questions like: “At what age did you grow hair on the lower part of your body?” “Do you consider removing your tattoos?” “Are you pleased with your private parts?”
One of the adults, Martin, answered that he had never had “negative thoughts” about his private parts. Another adult, also named Martin, admitted that when he was young he had worried about size. “But the relationship with myself has changed over time,” he said.
With serious looks on their faces, the children nodded.
The program is now in its second season, and while perhaps a shock to non-Danes, it is highly popular in Denmark. Recently, however, a leading member of the right-wing Danish People’s Party, Peter Skaarup, said he found “Ultra Strips Down” to be “depraving our children.”
“It is far too early for children” to start with male and female genitalia, he told B.T., a Danish tabloid. At that age, he said, they “already have many things running around in their heads.”
“They have to learn it at the right time,” he added, saying this information should be presented by parents or schools “so that it is not delivered in this vulgar way, as the children’s channel does.”
For the most part, though, Danes have long been comfortable with nudity, at public beaches, for instance.
Mr. Schow, 29, who helped develop the concept of the show after a producer came up with the idea, said the point was also to counter the daily bombardment of young people with images of perfect — unrealistic — bodies. The adults are not actors, but volunteers.
“Perhaps some people are like, ‘Oh, my God, they are combining nakedness and kids,’” Mr. Schow said. “But this has nothing to do with sex, it’s about seeing the body as natural, the way kids do.”
Many Danes believe children should not be shielded from the realities of life, giving them a lot of unsupervised time to play and explore, even if they might hurt themselves.
“We recognize the significance of a bruise,” said Sofie Münster, a nationally recognized expert in “Nordic Parenting.” “Danish parenting generally favors exposing children rather than shielding them.”
One famous example of how far the Danes take this philosophy was the euthanization and dissection of a giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo in 2014, where children observed from the front row.
Abroad it was seen by many as a nightmarish spectacle, topped off by the feeding of the carcass to the lions, but in Denmark people shrugged their shoulders. The children in the audience that day had asked “very good questions,” one zoo official told CNN.
“While some may prefer to be overcareful, we may prefer to be under-careful,” Ms. Münster said. “It’s about being free and finding yourself.” If a child falls from a tree and breaks an arm, that might not be “ideal,” she added, but it can serve a larger purpose.
A children’s program featuring naked adults might be taking the Danish approach to the extreme, she admitted. But the Danish way of dealing with easing children’s anxieties over body issues is “to expose them” to naked bodies.
“This is how we educate our children,” she said. “We show them reality as it is.”
Asked during the program on skin and hair why she decided to take part, one of the adults, Ule, 76, said she wanted to show the children that perfect bodies are rare and that what they see on social media is often misleading.
“On Facebook or Instagram, many people are fashion models,” she said. “Us here, we have ordinary bodies. I hope you will understand that normal bodies look like this,” she told the audience, pointing at her naked self.
During the recording, when one of the Martins told the children that when he was their age, boys and girls used to share the same locker room and showers, Mr. Schow intervened, asking them if they would find that awkward.
“Yessss,” they all responded. “It feels more safe to shower with others of the same gender,” a boy explained on camera.
Shame of being imperfect comes from social media, Mr. Schow said.
“Ninety percent of the bodies you see on social media are perfect, but that is not how 90 percent of the world looks,” he said. “We have extra fat, or hair, or pimples. We want to show children from an early age that this is fine.”
In its first season, in 2019, “Ultra Strips Down” won an award for the best children’s program of 2019 at the Danish TV Festival. In the 2020 season, the show, which is produced by the Danish branch of Warner Bros. International Television Production, will offer five new episodes on a variety of topics, each to an audience from mostly different schools.
The children’s safety comes first, the show’s producers said. Parents must consent for children to be on the program; the producers do not show the children and the adults in a single shot; and the children are asked frequently if they feel comfortable.
If a child does become uncomfortable, she or he can join their teacher in the studio. “But we have had over 250 children in our audience,” Mr. Schow said, “and this has never happened.”
Rasmus Engelhardt Gundersen, a graphic designer who is the father of one of the children participating, said, “We had no reservations.”
“The notion that people are different and have different bodies is something we’d like children to experience,” he added.
The recorded episodes, now available in censored clips of the program on YouTube, feature adults with different body types — white, Black, fat, thin, short, tall, old and young. There was John, a person with dwarfism, and Muffe, a man who had small horns implanted under the skin of his bald head.
Complete inclusiveness is one of the show’s key objectives, which is why the children were also introduced to Rei, who is transgender, had a vasectomy and testosterone treatment, and who identifies as they/them.
“I’m not a boy, not a girl, I’m a bit of everything,” said Rei, showing a tattoo-covered chest and a shaved head. “I have seven hairs of beard now,” Rei said.
The children wanted to know if Rei had “felt different in school,” what bathroom they use and what swimwear they chose for the beach.
After the show, three children sat cross-legged in the grass outside the TV studio to discuss the experience. At first, they said, they had giggled at the idea of the show. But they had learned something useful, they said.
“It was funny,” said Theodore Knightley, 11. “I liked the advice they gave us.”
Ida Engelhardt Gundersen, 13, said she had been nervous at the start. “I’m not used to seeing volunteers butt naked and asking them questions,” she said. “But we learned about the body and about how other people feel about their bodies.”
Sonya Chakrabarthy Geckler, 11, said that she hadn’t been sure what to expect. But, she said, she “felt more confident about her own body now.”
The Education Department has told Connecticut schools that desegregation grants will be cut off Oct. 1 if they continue to allow transgender students to choose the teams they compete on.
By Luke Broadwater and Erica L. Green, Sept. 18, 2020
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s state championship for indoor track and field in New Haven in February. The conference allows transgender athletes to compete on teams that correspond with their gender identity. Credit...Jessica Hill for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The Education Department is preparing to withhold millions of dollars from Connecticut schools over their refusal to withdraw from an athletic conference that allows transgender students to compete on teams that correspond with their gender identity.
The move to withhold about $18 million intended to help schools desegregate could have national implications for both transgender athletes and students of color.
The department’s Office for Civil Rights has warned officials at three Connecticut school districts that it will not release desegregation grants as planned on Oct. 1, unless the districts cut ties with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference over its transgender policies. Negotiations among the parties continued Thursday evening.
Officials with the conference, which governs high school athletics in the state, say their policies conform to Connecticut law.
The five-year grants totaled about $45 million, and the remaining $18 million was destined for districts in New Haven, Hartford and southeast Connecticut that operate magnet schools under a federally approved voluntary desegregation plan. The money generally allows students from Black and Hispanic communities to attend high-performing schools outside their neighborhoods.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has championed similar school choice programs for decades, and President Trump has highlighted the issue in his re-election campaign.
But that drive is colliding with the administration’s intent to broadly deny legal protections to transgender Americans. The Education Department has already withdrawn Obama administration guidance that encouraged schools to allow transgender students to choose bathrooms that match their gender identity.
But some district officials said withholding money to coerce schools into withdrawing from an athletic conference was the administration’s most forceful move yet to end protections for transgender students.
“It’s effectively extortion,” New Haven’s mayor, Justin Elicker, said. “The federal government is trying to force us to take a side against transgender individuals.”
Angela Morabito, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the administration gave the three school districts several opportunities to quit the sports league before threatening to pull the grant funding.
“It’s not extortion to require school districts to follow federal law,” Ms. Morabito said. “In fact, it’s the opposite. Congress requires the department to withhold funds from schools that aren’t in compliance with the law.”
The issue of transgender athletes on female high school sports teams is the subject of a federal lawsuit in Connecticut. But well before a ruling, the Education Department in May warned the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference that it considers allowing biologically male athletes to participate in girls’ sports a violation of Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits sex discrimination in programs that receive federal funding.
“Connecticut applicants declined — on multiple occasions — to assure the Office for Civil Rights that they are in compliance with Title IX,” Ms. Morabito said.
The department’s move threatens the existence of Connecticut’s magnet program, school officials said. Mr. Elicker predicted that losing $3 million in funding this year and next year would result in deep programmatic cuts.
But the potential withholding of desegregation grants by the administration has broader implications, said Sarah Hinger, a senior staff lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program; 16 states have policies similar to Connecticut’s.
“The intent and the impact here is to send a message to try to influence how other school districts will act, and that is deeply concerning,” Ms. Hinger said. “This is certainly very troubling for both L.G.B.T. students and students of colors. This is one more example of how DeVos has undermined and undercut their rights.”
The districts facing the funding threats say they feel blindsided.
“It’s shocking to me,” said Michael H. Graner, the superintendent of Groton Public Schools, which could lose about $1.5 million in grant money.
The district’s programs that are in jeopardy, Mr. Graner said, have nothing to do with transgender athletes. He said he could be forced to lay off four teachers at middle schools that do not even have sports teams and dismantle other parts of the desegregation program.
“We’re talking about this year’s budget,” Mr. Graner said. “The teachers are already working. The buses are already transporting the children. This would destabilize the magnet system.”
The grants are intended to encourage districts to create magnet schools that offer challenging academic content or distinct teaching approaches. New Haven Public Schools has received the funds for more than 20 years, helping students attend any school in the district and attracting some students from the suburbs, said Michele Bonanno, the district’s magnet school coordinator.
“The intent of the magnet grant is to carry out the intent of Brown v. Board of Education,” Ms. Bonanno said, citing the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case that declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. “You can imagine how heartbroken we’ve been. To pit a minority community against the L.G.B.T. community is disgraceful.”
The Education Department has told districts the grant funding will come through as scheduled if they sign an “assurance” form attesting that they will not participate in the athletic conference.
The forms state that the Office for Civil Rights has determined that “by permitting the participation of biologically male students in girls’ interscholastic track,” the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference has “denied female student-athletes benefits and opportunities.”
The Education Department focused its attention on Connecticut after the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian organization, filed complaints against the athletic conference and the Glastonbury school board on behalf of three high school student-athletes. The students contend that the policy gives transgender students an unfair advantage in athletic competition, which can be critical to college recruiting and scholarship opportunities.
The conference responded that it adopted the policy in 2013 in accordance with federal and state guidelines, stating, “Connecticut law is clear and students who identify as female are to be recognized as female for all purposes — including high school sports.”
Transgender rights advocates had been awaiting word on whether the department would change its position after a Supreme Court decision in June held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bars employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin and sex, extended to gender identity.
In its initial notification to the districts in May, the Office for Civil Rights said that its findings were limited to the individual cases, and not a formal policy.
But in a revised letter to the Connecticut districts issued on Aug. 31, the department said that had changed and that its interpretation of civil rights law “should be relied upon.”
Nonetheless, the New Haven school district voted this month to stay in the athletic conference and explore its legal options.
Michelle C. Laubin, a lawyer representing New Haven and Groton schools, said the Education Department’s stance undercut the Office for Civil Rights’s reason to exist.
“If the school district declines to engage in discrimination for transgender youth, the result is less education funding to support students of color in desegregation efforts in Connecticut,” Ms. Laubin said. “I never thought I’d see a day when the Office for Civil Rights would be advocating either of those policies.”
The gap between rates set for private insurers and employers vs. those by the federal government stirs the debate over a government-run health plan.
By Reed Abelson, Sept. 18, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/18/health/covid-hospitals-medicare-rates.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
Hospitals across the country are charging private insurance companies 2.5 times what they get from Medicare for the same care, according to a new RAND Corporation study of hospital prices released on Friday.
In a half-dozen of 49 states in the survey, including West Virginia and Florida, private insurers paid three or more times what Medicare did for overnight inpatient stays and outpatient care.
“The prices are so high, the prices are so unaffordable — it’s just a runaway train,” said Gloria Sachdev, the chief executive of the Employers’ Forum of Indiana, a coalition that worked with RAND on the study. This year’s report expanded on the research the nonprofit organization conducted in 2019 on hospital prices in 25 states.
The study, which exposes the aggressive pricing by mega-hospital systems that have gained enormous market power through widespread consolidation, is sure to kick-start the debate over the U.S. health care system and the need to overhaul it.
While the pandemic caused losses for many hospitals, many of these big systems are sitting on large profit reserves, while also receiving some of the $175 billion in aid Congress allocated to make up for their costs and lost revenue.
Employers provide health insurance coverage for more than 153 million Americans. The companies and insurers in the study paid nearly $20 billion more than Medicare would have for the same care from 2016 through 2018, according to the RAND researchers.
The findings cast doubt on the ability of private employers and insurers to competitively purchase health care for workers and their families compared to the federal government, said Katherine Hempstead, a senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which helped fund the study. “You have this widening gap,” she said.
Proponents of a so-called public option seize on such price-gouging news to argue that creating a government health plan that could use its clout to demand lower prices would help bring down the cost of care.
“There’s a lot of energy behind the public option, and this is clearly one of the reasons,” said Dan Mendelson, the founder of Avalere Health, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm.
Employers say the proof of how much more they pay underscores the need for change. “The report lays out in stark terms what the employers have been dealing with for years,” said Elizabeth Mitchell, the chief executive of the Pacific Business Group on Health, a San Francisco group that represents employers and companies in the region. “If we want to keep a private market in U.S. health care, it has to function,” she said. “It’s really not functioning.”
A public option, distinct from the more controversial “Medicare for all” proposals that would do away with private insurance, has been embraced by Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee. Democrats and even some Republicans seem open to the idea, according to a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Hospitals warn that they might not be able to function if they were paid Medicare rates. “There is certainly a cost shift, because the government knowingly underpays,” said Tom Nickels, an executive vice president for the American Hospital Association, a trade group. He warned that hospitals would lose billions of dollars in revenue. Some could be shuttered if forced to operate at lower Medicare payments.
“We cannot survive in that kind of the world,” he said, adding that many hospitals are struggling financially because of the pandemic. “To suggest cutting hospitals during a pandemic is outrageous.”
The report, which has data from the District of Columbia and every state but Maryland (because that state sets hospital rates), provides a sweeping view into the wide variation of prices paid by private insurers, which pay multiples of what Medicare does for a hospital stay or an M.R.I. “The magnitudes are quite eye-catching,” said Michael R. Richards, a health economist at Baylor University who reviewed the study.
The most costly hospital system in the nation from 2016 through 2018, according to the researchers, was John Muir Health in Walnut Creek, Calif., near San Francisco. Private insurers pay its hospitals four times what Medicare reimburses for care.
“We believe our private insurance payments are appropriate for the quality of care we provide in the market we serve,” the system said in a statement, noting that its loses money on Medicare patients.
In Indiana, Parkview Health, based in Fort Wayne, also remained one of the most expensive, charging private insurers in 2018 three times what Medicare paid for an overnight hospital stay and more than four times the Medicare rate for outpatient care. Employers pressured Anthem, the state’s largest insurer, to force Parkview to lower prices by threatening to drop it from the plan’s network.
The RAND data “predates Parkview’s new agreements with several major insurance companies and direct-to-employer partnerships,” as well as significant prices reductions for outpatient care, said Parkview’s chief executive, Mike Packnett, in a statement.
The RAND report also documents a wide variation in prices within the same hospital system. Mass General Brigham, formerly Partners Healthcare, was the most expensive system in Massachusetts, but Massachusetts General, one of its premier hospitals, charged private insurers nearly three times what Medicare paid in 2016 through 2018, compared to roughly two times for the system’s Newton-Wellesley Hospital, according to the study.
Variation in payments is the result of differences in the type and complexity of services offered, said a spokesman for the system, as well as its research and teaching responsibilities.
Well-known and well-respected hospitals like Mass General “are the hospitals within the system that are likely to get the highest prices,” said Christopher M. Whaley, one of the RAND authors.
In some markets, the lack of an alternative means employers have no room to negotiate, said Suzanne Delbanco, the executive director of Catalyst for Payment Reform, a nonprofit that works with businesses to develop new ways of paying for medical care. “In a market that is highly consolidated with no choices, it can be logistically infeasible,” she said.
The pandemic could make things worse as big hospitals scoop up struggling physician practices or their smaller competitors. In West Virginia, Mountain Health Network is made up of the 2018 merger of two hospitals, after Cabell Huntington acquired its competitor over the objections of federal officials. Cabell was one of the nation’s most expensive systems from 2016 through 2018, according to the study. Mountain Health now reportedly has its eyes on a local physician group. The network said it could not comment on the findings.
Some hospitals argue they charge more because they deliver better care, and there does seem to be some association. “What we see is quality and the ability to charge high prices are intrinsically related,” said Craig Garthwaite, a health economist at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, who says some hospitals may be taking the extra money to invest in ways of improving quality.
Employers have had mixed success in pushing back against high-priced hospitals. Indiana employers succeeded in pressuring Anthem to take action, according to Ms. Sachdev. The insurer threatened to drop Parkview from its network, before reaching an agreement in July in which the hospital offered significant savings. Two state employees’ plans, in Montana and Oregon, have also been able to negotiate contracts that use Medicare prices as a benchmark for what they will pay, according to the RAND researchers.
But in other areas, the hospitals have been less willing to budge. In Colorado, employers have had productive discussions with some of the specialty hospitals and independent hospitals, said Robert J. Smith, the executive director of the Colorado Business Group on Health. “We’ve made very little progress with health systems,” he said.
Many employers, including some represented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, oppose government action, but others are growing more open to the idea of some sort of government intervention, ranging from rate regulation to a public option. “They are increasingly seeing in some cases the need for regulatory intervention because the market is broken,” Ms. Mitchell said.
But the pandemic and the potential threat it poses for many hospitals could put off any discussion, even if the Democrats were to win the White House and the Senate. “The hospitals are the most effective, most sympathetic lobby there is,” said Dr. Robert Berenson, a policy analyst at the Urban Institute.
Democrats will also have to figure out how to design a plan that people find both affordable and comprehensive, in contrast to some of the mid-tier plans sold under the Affordable Care Act, said Rodney Whitlock, a former Republican Senate staffer who now works for McDermott+Consulting. “How can the Democrats create a public option that is not clearly better than private insurance?” he asked. “If they don’t, they will be tagged as failing.”
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