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Carmen Trotta and Martha Hennessy, two of the Kings Bay Plowshares disarmament activists, self-reported to federal prisons yesterday to begin their sentences.
Carmen was driven by a group of community members and friends from St. Joseph House Catholic Worker in NYC to the prison in Otisville, NY, about a two hour drive. Before leaving he received a blessing from many friends with a laying on hands. The group also stopped for a farewell meal in Middletown near the prison.
Carmen was given a 14 month sentence and has already served 7 weeks. He is expected to be quarantined for two weeks and then put into the prison camp population. The prison has stopped all visiting which may be a sign that the virus rate is growing.
Martha was brought from her home in Vermont to Danbury, CT by her husband, Steven Melanson to begin her ten month sentence. Two of her codefendants, Mark Colville and Liz McAlister along with Liz's daughter Frida Berrigan and Bill Marsten met them in the parking lot. Mark reports, "I was conscious of Martha's courage and faith, her faithfulness to the Gospel and compassion for all of creation which has made it possible for our community of love and justice to extend beyond that prison.
On the way, we passed through the little town of Sandy Hook. Dec. 14th, was the 8th anniversary of that terrible school shooting of all those children and educators. We are conscious of the connection between nuclear weapons and the kinds of violence that plague our communities and neighborhoods everywhere in this country. Martha's going forward very much was a witness to this connection between the ultimate violence of omnicidal nuclear weapons and the violence that plagues our neighborhoods."
Carmen Trotta #22561-021
Federal Correctional Institution
PO Box 1000
Otisville, NY 10963
Martha Hennessy #22560-021
Danbury, CT 06811
You can send letters to them on white paper with blue or black ink but no drawings. We are checking what else they may receive. See the website for updates.
Clare Grady and Patrick O'Neill will report to prison in the New Year. Mark Colville has a delay for sentencing until February 19.
Judge delays execution of only woman on US death row
Michael Balsamo, December 25, 2020
Washington — A federal judge said the Justice Department unlawfully rescheduled the execution of the only woman on federal death row, potentially setting up the Trump administration to schedule the execution after president-elect Joe Biden takes office.
U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss also vacated an order from the director of the Bureau of Prisons that had set Lisa Montgomery’s execution date for Jan. 12. Montgomery had previously been scheduled to be put to death at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, this month, but Moss delayed the execution after her attorneys contracted coronavirus visiting their client and asked him to extend the amount of time to file a clemency petition.
Moss prohibited the Bureau of Prisons from carrying out Lisa Montgomery’s execution before the end of the year and officials rescheduled her execution date for Jan. 12. But Moss ruled on Wednesday that the agency was also prohibited from rescheduling the date while a stay was in place.
“The Court, accordingly, concludes that the Director’s order setting a new execution date while the Court’s stay was in effect was ‘not in accordance with law,’” Moss wrote.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Under the order, the Bureau of Prisons cannot reschedule Montgomery’s execution until at least Jan. 1. Generally, under Justice Department guidelines, a death-row inmate must be notified at least 20 days before the execution. Because of the judge’s order, if the Justice Department chooses to reschedule the date in January, it could mean that the execution would be scheduled after Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
A spokesperson for Biden has told The Associated Press the president-elect “opposes the death penalty now and in the future” and would work as president to end its use in office. But Biden’s representatives have not said whether executions would be paused immediately once Biden takes office.
Montgomery was convicted of killing 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in December 2004. He used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and then a kitchen knife to cut the baby girl from the womb, authorities said.
Prosecutors said Montgomery removed the baby from Stinnett’s body, took the child with her, and attempted to pass the girl off as her own. Montgomery’s legal team has argued that their client suffers from serious mental illnesses.
“Given the severity of Mrs. Montgomery’s mental illness, the sexual and physical torture she endured throughout her life, and the connection between her trauma and the facts of her crime, we appeal to President Trump to grant her mercy, and commute her sentence to life imprisonment,” one of Montgomery’s lawyers, Sandra Babcock, said in a statement.
Two other federal inmates are scheduled to be executed in January but have tested positive for coronavirus and their attorneys are also seeking delays to their executions.
Colin Kaepernick Supports Mumia!
This message is from: the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
21 November 2020
Colin Kaepernick is a professional football quarter-back with a sterling record, but he is now an unemployed free agent. This could not be a more important indication of systemic racism in the US, nor a greater condemnation of the corporate worms that own football in this country.
In the 49ers' third preseason game in 2016 Kaepernick sat during the playing of the US National anthem prior to the game, as a protest against police brutality and systematic oppression of blacks in this country. Throughout the regular season, Kaepernick continued his protest by kneeling during the anthem. During a post-game interview that year, Kaepernick explained his position stating, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Colin Kaepernick Speaks Out...and Gets Opposition
Since then, Kaepernick has continued his outrage against ongoing racist police murders of black people, such as that of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, among many others. This has, of course, not come without opposition. President Trump mobilized his racist base with comments such as this: NFL owners should "fire" players who protest during the national anthem.
Kaepernick has been unemployed in professional football since the end of the 2016 season.
Kaepernick Supports Mumia Abu-Jamal
Now, Colin Kaepernick has come out with a statement in defense of one of the most important political prisoners in recent US history: Mumia Abu-Jamal. We say this not because other political prisoners are not important--they are--but because prisoners such as Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier are specifically singled out as enemies of the state...of the US government specifically.
Mumia, falsely accused of killing a Philadelphia cop in 1981, and Peltier, also falsely accused, in his case of killing federal agents at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975, are both the victims of frame-ups that extend through all levels from the US Justice Department, the FBI, and to national, state and local politicians and officials. These cases are prime examples of a racist and class-divided society that is corrupt every inch of the way from top to bottom.
An Important Time for Prisoners
Colin Kaepernick’s statement on former Black Panther and MOVE supporter Mumia Abu-Jamal is an accurate and riveting summary of the false case made against this determined anti-racist fighter, who continues his insightful commentaries from behind bars in his 39th year of incarceration for a crime he did not commit.
This statement comes at an important time for all prisoners in the US, particularly those in federal and state prisons, because of the Covid-19 virus pandemic. Prisoners have been denied protective measures, or sent to solitary confinement, or arbitrarily moved to other prisons resulting in the spread of infections in those prisons.
The Labor Action Committee To free Mumia Abu-Jamal initiated several protests at San Quentin Prison beginning in May 2020. This work is now being carried forward by the No Justice Under Capitalism Coalition (NJUC) https://www.facebook.com/NoJusticeUnderCapitalism/Colin Kaepernick’s Statement on Mumia:Free Mumia (6:52) Colin Kaepernick
When I was invited to speak on behalf of Mumia, one of the first things that came to mind was how long he's been in prison. How many years of his life had been stolen away from him, his community, and his loved ones. He's been incarcerated for 38 years. Mumia has been in prison longer than I've been alive.
When I first spoke with Mumia on the phone, I did very little talking. I just listened. Hearing him speak was a reminder of why we must continue to fight. Earlier this year, The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner issued a statement, noting that prolonged solitary confinement, the precise type often used in the United States, amounts to psychological torture. Mumia Abu-Jamal has spent roughly 30 out of his 38 years in solitary confinement.
In his book Live From Death Row, Mumia wrote that prison is a second by second assault on the soul, a day-to-day degradation of the self, an oppressive steel and brick umbrella that transforms seconds into hours, and hours into days. He has had to endure this second-by-second assault on his soul for 38 years.
He had no record before he was arrested and framed for the death of a Philadelphia police officer. Since 1981, Mumia has maintained his innocence. His story has not changed. Mumia was shot, brutalized, arrested, and chained to a hospital bed. The first police officer assigned to him wrote in a report that the “Negro male made no comment” as cited in Philly Mag. Yet 64 days into the investigation, another officer testified that Mumia had confessed to the killing. Mumia’s story has not changed, but we're talking about the same Philadelphia Police Department whose behavior “shocks the conscience,” according to a 1979 DOJ report. Behaviors like shooting nonviolent suspects, abusing handcuffed prisoners, and tampering with evidence.
It should therefore come as little surprise that, according to Dr. Johanna Fernandez, over one third of the 35 officers involved in Mumia's case, were subsequently convicted of rank corruption, extortion, and tampering with evidence to obtain convictions in unrelated cases. This is the same Philadelphia Police Department where officers ran racial profiling sweeps, like Operation Cold Turkey in March, 1985, targeting Black and Brown folks; and bombed the MOVE house in May of that year, killing 11 people, including five children and destroying 61 homes.
The same Philadelphia police department, whose officers eight days before the 2020 presidential election, shot Walter Wallace Jr. dead in the streets in front of his crying mother. The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police has unrelentingly campaigned for Mumia’s execution. During their August, 1999, national meeting, a spokesperson for the organization stated that they will not rest until Abu-Jamal burns in hell. The former Philadelphia president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Richard Castello, went as far as to say that if you disagree with their views of Mumia, you can join him in the electric chair and that they will make it an electric couch.
The trial judge on Mumia's case in 1981, Albert Sabo was a former member of the Fraternal Order of Police. Court reporter Terry Maurer Carter even heard Judge Sabo telling a colleague “I'm going to help them fry the nigger.”
Found in December, 2018, in an inaccessible storage room of the DA's office, six boxes of documents for Mumia's case reveal previously undisclosed and highly significant evidence showing that Mumia’s trial was tainted by a failure to disclose material evidence in violation of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. In November, 2019, the Fraternal Order of Police filed a King's Bench Petition asking the court to allow the state attorney general, not the Philadelphia DA's office, to handle the upcoming appeals.
As the FOP president John McNesby said just last year, “Mumia should remain in prison for the rest of his life.” And a King's Bench order provides the legal angle for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to uphold Judge Sabo’s original wish, which was for Mumia ultimately to die in prison.
Today we're living through a moment where it's acceptable to paint “end racism now” in front of the Philadelphia Police Department’s 26th district headquarters, and yet a political prisoner who has since the age of 14 dedicated his life to fighting against racism, continues to be caged and lives his life on a slow death row. We're in the midst of a movement that says Black Lives Matter. And if that's truly the case, then it means that Mumia’s life and legacy must matter. And the causes that he sacrifices life and freedom for must matter as well.
Through all of the torture Mumia has suffered over the past 38 years, his principles have never wavered. These principles have manifested themselves in his writing countless books while incarcerated, in his successful radio show, and the time and energy he has poured into his mentorship of younger incarcerated folks and the continued concern for the people suffering outside of the walls. Even while living in the hells of the prison system, Mumia still fights for our human rights. We must continue to fight for him and his human rights.
Well, Mumia is 66 years old. He is a grandfather. He is an elder with ailments. He is a human being that deserves to be free.
MOVE Family Says: Free Mumia!
MOVE family statement regarding the “apology” by Philadelphia officials for the 1985 bombing of their home.
December 7, 2020—ONA MOVE Everybody!
This is a statement from the MOVE family to let y’all know that the MOVE family ain’t interested in no apology from any officials in Philadelphia for the 1985 bombing of our family, causing the murder of 11 of our MOVE family members (five of our children and six of our adult sisters and brothers.) If city officials are sincere about rectifying the debacle of 1985, they would release our brother, Mumia Abu-Jamal immediately! They can’t give us back our 11 family members they murdered in 1985, but they can give us back our brother, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been in prison 39 years for a crime he didn’t commit, and everybody knows this—including the mouthpiece for the Fraternal Order of Police—Maureen Faulkner. MOVE is saying that if Philadelphia officials think offering an apology is the answer, they should be offering apologies to the families of Walter Wallace, Winston Hood, William Green and the families of the countless other victims of police brutality and murder in the city of so call “Brotherly Love.”
We’re saying an apology without action is meaningless!
Release Mumia Abu-Jamal! Long Live John Africa!—The MOVE Family
This message from the No Justice Under Capitalism Coalition,
Forwarded by the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 10, 2020
For information call: Courtney Morris 510-335-9384 or Richard Tan 650-996-7888
Facebook / Instagram: @NoJustice Under Capitalism
San Quentin Prison Staff Forcing Prisoners to
Accept Liability for Their Own Deaths from COVID-19
SAN QUENTIN, CA – Prisoners at San Quentin State Prison are reporting that, over the past week, San Quentin medical staff have been pressuring prisoners to sign waiver forms accepting legal responsibility for their own deaths from COVID-19.
That, despite more than 10 months of continuous neglect and Eighth Amendment violations by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) which has, so far, killed 28 prisoners at the prison.
Multiple prisoners at San Quentin tell the same story. From December 2 – 4, they were taken to the medical unit and pressured by a nurse to accept an unsafe transfer to another California prison.
If they refused the transfer, the nurse would then pressure the prisoner to sign a waiver form. The form (attached) states, in part: “I agree to hold the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the staff of the medical department and the institution free of any responsibility for injury or complications that may result from my refusal [of the transfer].”
The prisoner is then pressured to initial sentences such as:
“I understand that due to my age, I am at high risk for developing serious complications [from COVID-19] . . .”
“I understand that I have one or more medical conditions that makes me high risk for developing serious complications [from COVID-19] . . .”
“I understand that COVID-19 could lead to serious complications such as lengthy hospitalizations or even death.”
“I understand that living in places where individuals are in close contact and physical distancing is difficult to follow, such as prison dormitory [sic], will increases [sic] my risk of being infected by COVID-19.”
Coercing prisoners to accept legal liability for their own deaths from COVID-19 is truly bizarre, given San Quentin’s documented, 10-month-long history of continuous indifference to prisoners’ lives – since the COVID-19 pandemic began, guards at San Quentin and throughout the California prison system have not worn masks, and moved freely between tiers.
A recent (October 2020) report by the California Office of the Inspector General states that prison staff frequently do not wear masks, and that there has only been one disciplinary action against a staff person, during the entire pandemic, at San Quentin for not wearing a mask.
The waiver form also demands that prisoners accept liability for being medically vulnerable and elderly. In fact, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported (December 6, 2020), CDCR has consistently refused to release at-risk elderly and immunocompromised prisoners, completely ignoring more than 5,200 out of the 6,500 at-risk prisoners in California prisons.
Overcrowding at San Quentin is also not the fault of individual prisoners.
In the gym at San Quentin, CDCR claimed in June 2020 that prisoners were six feet apart when housed in bunk beds. In actuality, prisoners were only six feet apart if they slept head to toe and the distance was measured diagonally.
Following months of public pressure and protest, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco issued a decision, In re Ivan Von Staich (2020) 56 Cal.App.5th 53, holding that CDCR had violated the Eighth Amendment and ordering San Quentin to reduce its population by 50 percent - the minimum amount required for social distancing to take place.
Instead of accepting responsibility for their criminal neglect, Gov. Gavin Newsom and leaders at CDCR are now attempting to shift responsibility for their actions onto the backs of the victims of the state’s own incompetence and malfeasance.
No Justice Under Capitalism (NJUC) is a coalition working on behalf of prisoners throughout California. NJUC has organized protests in front of San Quentin since May 2020, along with other actions at prisons across the state, in front of CDCR’s offices in Sacramento, and in front of Governor Newsom’s and CDCR Secretary Diaz’s homes.
NJUC calls for immediate mass releases of prisoners as the only safe response to the COVID-19 crisis in California prisons, prioritizing elderly and immunocompromised prisoners, as well as prisoners whose sentences are almost over.
SIGN PETITION: Don't reincarcerate Jalil Muntaquim
Support for Jalil Muntaqim petition from the Movement for Black Lives:
Please click the below link to sign & share widely.Support for Jalil MuntaqimSTATEMENT OF COMMUNITY SUPPORT FOR JALIL MUNTAQIM We the undersigned fully support the New York State Parole Board’s decision to release Jalil Muntaqim. The parole process is meant to evaluate a person for release based on who they are today, not to extend one’s sentence into perpetuity. Mr. Muntaqim has been incarcerated since 1971, when he was 19 years old. During his 49 years in prison, Mr. Muntaqim has led education/mentorship programs for prisoners, earned several educational degrees and mentored many younger incarcerated men. He has been commended for preventing prisoner violence and promoting safety. As a result, hundreds of organizations and individuals have stepped forward to support his release including community and faith leaders, family members, and the NY State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus. The Board finally acted honorably in following the guidelines put forth by New York State Executive Law 259-(i). A 2011, bi-partisan amendment to the law passed by Republican and Democratic lawmakers makes it clear that an individual’s readiness for successful re-entry should take priority in the decision to grant release. Upon his release, Mr. Muntaqim was warmly welcomed by a large, diverse set of community leaders and residents of Rochester, New York. He reported to his parole officers and followed instructions to sign up for various social services required by all senior citizens in his position. He was handed a large stack of paperwork including a voter registration form. Muntaqim, eager to follow instructions, appropriately filled out and signed everything required of him. Now, the Rochester District Attorney is attempting to reincarcerate an elder recovering from COVID-19 because he filled out a form as instructed. We are statewide and national organizations, community and faith leaders, elected officials, civil rights organizations, public defenders, and residents of the Rochester area. We pledge our continuing support for Mr. Muntaqim and our assistance in facilitating his reintegration into society. We vehemently oppose any efforts to remove him from our community and/or place him back in prison.Please click the below link to sign & share widely.Charlie HintonNo one ever hurt their eyes by looking on the bright side
Drop the Charges Against Jalil Muntaqim
By David Andreatta - December 7, 2020https://www.rochestercitynewspaper.com/rochester/drop-the-charges-against-jalil-muntaqim/Content?oid=12588206
Sandra Doorley, the Monroe County district attorney, made a bad decision in October, when she charged Bottom with felonies related to him illegally registering to vote. Continuing the prosecution will only make it worse.
Not that Bottom, who lives in Brighton under the name he assumed in prison, Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, didn’t attempt to register to vote. He did. He filled out the paperwork on Oct. 8, a day after he was released from prison on parole.
The problem with his timing was that parolees in New York are allowed to vote only upon receiving a conditional pardon from the governor that restores their voting rights — and Muntaqim hadn’t received that pardon.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued such pardons as a matter of course on a monthly basis since 2018, when he signed an executive order directing the commissioner of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to submit to the governor each month a list of every felon newly eligible for parole, with each name to be “given consideration for a conditional pardon that will restore voting rights.”
Anyone on the list would be eligible for a pardon as long as they weren’t flagged for any specific concern. Most parolees receive their pardon within four to six weeks of their release. The pardon doesn’t expunge their record or restore other rights stripped from them, such as the right to own a gun.
Cuomo denied Muntaqim a pardon when his name came up for consideration in November, spokespeople for the governor and the Department of Corrections said.
By then, Muntaqim had already been arraigned on felony charges of tampering with public records and offering a false instrument for filing, which carry maximum penalties of seven years and four years in prison, respectively. He is scheduled to appear next in Brighton Town Court on Dec. 14.
If convicted, Muntaqim will likely return to prison and die there. He is 69 years old.
Not that Muntaqim’s fate matters much to a lot of people.
The concept of disenfranchising felons dates to colonial days, when certain criminals were stripped of rights in a practice known as civil death. Later Americans applied their own uniquely racist twist to the practice after the Civil War, when many states used it to deprive Black men of the vote they had recently gained.
Today, the impact of these laws still falls disproportionately on poor people of color.
The Supreme Court interprets the Constitution in such a way that upholds these restrictions, which are a confusing patchwork of laws that vary by state.
Forty-eight states prohibit current inmates from voting and 30 keep parolees from the polls, according to the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group for criminal justice reform. Indeed, if Muntaqim resided in 20 other states, he wouldn’t be in this predicament.
“The laws are different from state to state, they’re very confusing, and the penalties for these offenses are extreme and unconscionable,” Nicole Porter, the director of advocacy at the Sentencing Project, said. “I don’t know how these prosecutors sleep at night.”
A national movement to restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated people is gaining steam, though.
Advocates say restoring voting rights to former felons helps them shed the stigma of criminal conviction and empowers them to be responsible citizens with a voice in their community.
But many conservative groups oppose the movement. They point out that supporters often make no mention of restoring other rights, such as the right to own a gun, suggesting that the push is really just about getting the votes of felons.
“You lose many other rights besides your right to vote when you are convicted of a felony,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a lawyer at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that tracks voting prosecutions. “Yet many of those moving for immediate restoration of the ability to vote when a felon steps out of prison don’t seem very concerned about restoring those rights.”
They have a point. The movement to expand access to the vote has become a political hot potato, with Republicans opposing it and Democrats tending to support it, in part because they stand to gain the most from it.
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, it was the head of the Monroe County Republican Party, William Napier, who alerted Doorley to Muntaqim’s registration, which was filed under his birth name. Napier even called a news conference for the occasion.
The case was a gimme for Doorley, who is also a Republican. That Muntaqim attempted to register to vote is so clear it doesn’t require the qualifier “allegedly” here.
Whether he did it with intent to defraud, which is required for the charges to stick, is another matter, however.
It is absurd to think that a man who spent nearly 50 years behind bars would be so hellbent on casting a ballot in a single election as to jeopardize his newfound freedom on Day One. It seems obvious that Muntaqim didn’t know what he was doing when he filled out that form.
Muntaqim and his lawyer, a public defender, wouldn’t comment on his circumstances. But his mother has cast his actions as “a mistake,” saying the voter registration form was in “a packet of papers that was issued to him to help him assimilate himself back into society.”
Friends of Muntaqim said that packet was given to him by the county’s Department of Human Services, which helps newly released prisoners acclimate. Those packets include everything a former inmate might need — information on Medicaid, food stamps, child care, becoming an organ donor, and a voter registration form.
“I don’t think he was trying to game the system” by signing the form, said James Schuler, who has known Muntaqim since they met as inmates at Auburn Correctional Facility in 2000. “One thing he wanted to be more than anything was a productive member of society. They gave him paperwork to do that and he signed.”
Schuler, 52, described Muntaqim as “a leader” and “a peacekeeper” in prison, where he earned college degrees and mentored inmates.
After nearly 50 years of incarceration, Muntaqim corrected his bad decision to the extent he could. The New York Board of Parole recognized that when it deemed him ready to return to society, having taken into consideration his disciplinary record, personal growth, and the severity of his crimes.
Doorley said in an interview that her charges against him have nothing to do with his criminal past. She said they were about answering allegations of voter fraud in the weeks before the election and that Muntaqim’s case seemed straightforward.
“Is it a major thing?” she asked of the charges. “No.”
Not to her, but the stakes for Muntaqim are life-changing at a time when the nation is changing to recognize the implications of disenfranchising people who look like him.
Asked if she would consider dropping the charges, Doorley replied, “I don’t think we’ve ruled anything out. It’s not like we’re rushing to a grand jury. Obviously, we may consider making some plea offer.”
Now it’s Doorley turn to correct her bad decision.
David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
History, Great Britain, and Julian Assange
Below are the comments Clifford D. Conner made at a September 8, 2020 press conference in front of the British consulate in New York City. Conner is an historian and author of Jean Paul Marat: Tribune of the French Revolution and The Tragedy of American Science: From Truman to Trump. The court in Britain is holding hearings on the Trump administration’s request to have Julian Assange, the Australian editor, publisher and founder of WikiLeaks, extradited. Assange would be tried in a Virginia court on 17 counts of espionage and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime. If convicted, he could face up to 175 years in prison.
In 2010 Assange had the audacity to post a video showing a U.S. Apache helicopter indiscriminately murdering a dozen civilians and two Reuters’ journalists in the streets of Baghdad.
Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower, testified in court on September 16 that Assange could not receive a fair trial in the United States. When he pointed out that the Collateral Murder video was clearly a war crime, the prosecution maintained that Assange was not wanted by Washington for it but for publishing documents without redacting names. Ellsberg pointed out that when he leaked the Pentagon Papers, he did not redact a single name.
Assange’s lawyer has since informed the London court that in 2017 former Republican U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher and Charles Johnson, a far-right political activist, relayed Trump’s offer to pardon Assange if he provided the source for the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. This was described to Assange as a “win-win” situation for all involved.
A National Committee to Defend Assange and Civil Liberties, chaired by Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, and Alice Walker has been set up. For further information, go to: www.facebook.com/CommitteeToDefendJulianAssange. The press conference was organized by the New York City Free Assange Committee. The press conference was organized by the New York City Free Assange Committee: NYCFreeAssange.org
—Dianne Feeley for The Editors, Against the Current
Comments by Clifford D. Conner
I am here at the British Consulate today to protest the incarceration and mistreatment of Julian Assange in Belmarsh Prison in Great Britain, to demand that you immediately release him, and above all, to demand that you NOT extradite Julian Assange to the United States.
As a historian who has written extensively on the case of the most persecuted journalist of the 18th century, Jean Paul Marat, I am in a position to make historical comparisons, and in my judgement, Julian Assange is both the most unjustly persecuted journalist of the 21st century and arguably the most important journalist of the 21st century.
Julian Assange is being hounded and harassed and threatened with life in prison by the United States government because he dared to publish the truth about American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan for the whole world to see. This persecution of Julian Assange is an assault on the fundamental principles of journalistic freedom.
The sociopathic Donald Trump and his accomplice, Attorney General William Barr, are demanding that you deliver Assange to them to face false charges of espionage. Every honest observer in the world recognizes Trump and Barr as utterly incapable of acting in good faith. If they succeed in suppressing Julian Assange’s right to publish, it will be a devastating precedent for journalists and publishers of news everywhere—and above all, for the general public, who will lose access to the information necessary to maintaining a democratic society.
If you allow yourselves to become co-conspirators in this crime, History will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
Last November, more than 60 doctors from all over the world wrote an open letter to the British government saying that Julian Assange’s health was so bad that he could die if he weren’t moved from Belmarsh Prison, where he was being held, to a hospital, immediately. Your government chose to ignore that letter and he was not hospitalized, then or later. History will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
Of all crimes against humanity, the most unforgivable is torture. No nation that perpetrates torture has the right to call itself civilized. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, has unequivocally characterized Julian Assange’s treatment in Belmarsh Prison as torture. History will neither forget nor forgive that terrible moral transgression.
Furthermore, the exposure of the widespread use of torture by the United States military and the CIA at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, at Guantánamo Bay, and at so-called “black sites” all over the world, absolutely disqualifies the United States from sitting in moral judgement of anybody. If you deliver Julian Assange into the hands of torturers, history will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
So, I join together today with human rights advocates and advocates of journalistic freedom around the world.
I stand with the Committee to Protect Journalists, which declared: “For the sake of press freedom, Julian Assange must be defended.”
I stand with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which said that the attempt to prosecute Julian Assange is “a worrying step on the slippery slope to punishing any journalist the Trump administration chooses to deride as ‘fake news’.”
And I stand with the ACLU, which said: “Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for WikiLeaks’publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations.”
History will not only record the names of the countries that collaborate in this travesty of justice, but also the names of the individuals—the judges, the prosecutors, the diplomats, and the politicians—who aid and abet the crime. If you, as individuals, choose to ally yourselves with the likes of Donald Trump and William Barr, be prepared for your names to be chained to theirs in infamy, in perpetuity.
History will certainly absolve Julian Assange, and it certainly will not absolve his persecutors.
—Against the Current, November/December 2020
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
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
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
Enough is Enough: Global Nuclear Weapons
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: firstname.lastname@example.org (Prison Superintendent). email@example.com (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: firstname.lastname@example.orgDemand 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
The execution of Lisa Montgomery would be an injustice on top of an injustice.
By Rachel Louise Snyder, tauthor of “No Visible Bruises,” about domestic violence, Dec. 18, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/18/opinion/lisa-montgomery-execution.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
This article contains descriptions of sexual assault.
On Jan. 12, Lisa Montgomery is set to become the first woman executed on federal death row in nearly 70 years. The last executions, both in 1953, were of Bonnie Heady, killed in a gas chamber in Missouri, and Ethel Rosenberg. Ms. Montgomery would be only the fifth woman put to death in a federal civilian execution, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
On Dec. 16, 2004, Ms. Montgomery drove to Skidmore, Mo., where she strangled a pregnant woman named Bobbie Jo Stinnett, then sliced open her belly and took the baby to the home she shared with her husband, Kevin, in Kansas. The baby survived.
These basic facts, however, are nearly all that is not under dispute in the case. Her post-conviction lawyers, Kelley Henry, Amy Harwell and Lisa Nouri, have sent a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights claiming that Ms. Montgomery’s trial “fell far short of minimum standards of fairness” and thus violated international law, and that the United States government itself bears some culpability for her crime given its abject failure, throughout her life, to protect her from severe child abuse and sexual violence.
On Dec. 1, the commission ruled that the execution would result in “irreparable harm” and requested a delay until it has had the chance to reach a decision on Ms. Montgomery’s petition. The commission’s rulings are not legally binding, but past ones have resulted in stayed executions in Ohio and Texas.
In addition to this petition, more than one thousand supporters have put forth their own letters and petitions, including prosecutors, anti-trafficking and domestic violence organizations, and mental health practitioners.
But none of this has any real bearing on whether Ms. Montgomery’s execution will go forward. Her only chance at clemency rests entirely with President Trump — whose administration has ordered an astonishing six people be executed during his final days in office.
The Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide found that 16 other women across the United States have committed comparable crimes to Ms. Montgomery’s since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, yet none of them have been executed. Even cases that captured the national spotlight — like the attacks by the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, for instance — have not resulted in the death penalty.
So why is Lisa Montgomery going to be executed?
A capital case has two distinct parts: the trial, or culpability; and the sentencing, or punishment. The Supreme Court has held that “death is different.” Because the punishment is irreversible, the standards for a death sentence should be higher. In the sentencing phase of a capital trial, mitigation evidence in the form of life history and mental health testimony is presented to the jury; these narratives are meant to humanize the defendant and offer context to determine the appropriate punishment.
Ms. Montgomery’s guilt was never in question. But she was sentenced to death because her trial lawyers, uninformed about gender violence, didn’t seem to understand how to defend her.
Ms. Montgomery has bipolar disorder, temporal lobe epilepsy, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorder, psychosis, traumatic brain injury and most likely fetal alcohol syndrome. She was born into a family rife with mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Ms. Montgomery’s mother, Judy Shaughnessy, claimed to have been sexually assaulted by her father.
Ms. Montgomery’s own father left when she was a toddler. Her family moved every year, sometimes more than that — to Washington, Kansas, Colorado, back to Kansas. She was abused by her mother in extreme and sadistic ways, according to court documents and mitigation investigations with nearly 450 family members, neighbors, lawyers, social workers and teachers, most done only at the behest of the post-conviction attorneys.
She was forced to sit for hours in a highchair if she didn’t finish her food. Ms. Shaughnessy so regularly covered her daughter’s mouth with duct tape to keep her quiet, Lisa learned not to cry. Ms. Shaughnessy told an investigator that Lisa’s first words were, “Don’t spank me. It hurts.”
Lisa’s stepfather, Jack Kleiner, began to sexually assault her when she was around 13. He built a shed-like room with its own entrance on the side of the family’s trailer outside Tulsa, Okla., and kept Ms. Montgomery there. Ms. Montgomery’s post-conviction team learned that Mr. Kleiner, who was a rampant alcoholic, would bring friends over to rape her, often for hours, often three at once. Ms. Shaughnessy also began to prostitute her daughter to offset bills for plumbing and electric work. (She refused to speak to her daughter’s post-conviction counsel, and has since died.)
Before he died in 2009, Mr. Kleiner videotaped a statement denying the abuse, but his employer testified that Mr. Kleiner had admitted to raping Ms. Montgomery. Her half brother Teddy Kleiner confirmed that their mother would make the other kids go outside while she was being raped (his statement wasn’t made until 2013).
The jury in her 2007 trial heard very little of any of this. Ms. Montgomery’s male attorneys failed to offer a comprehensive picture of her decades of torture. Instead, they suggested that Tommy Kleiner was the actual killer, despite having his own probation officer as his alibi.
The jury never saw the M.R.I. scans of Ms. Montgomery’s brain, which showed tissue loss in her parietal lobe and limbic structures, and larger-than-normal ventricles, which indicate brain damage. They never saw the PET scans, which showed an abnormal pattern of cerebral metabolism indicative of brain dysfunction. These areas can be affected by traumatic experiences and are responsible for regulating social and emotional behavior and memory.
And, perhaps most important, her trial lawyers did not adequately explain the insidious ways sexual and domestic violence alters one’s very neurology, behavior and sense of self. One expert witness for the government even described the rapes by Ms. Montgomery’s stepfather as consensual. “My recollection,” he testified, was that “she was a willing participant, at least at some point.”
The jurors deliberated for under five hours before reaching a guilty verdict. Days later, they recommended the sentence be death, and the judge ruled accordingly.
Many children are abused in secret. What’s striking about the violence in Ms. Montgomery’s family is how many people knew about it — or at least had good reason to suspect it.
Diane Mattingly, Ms. Montgomery’s half sister, was sent to foster care after being raped by one of Ms. Shaughnessy’s acquaintances when she was 8. (Lisa was around 4, and the sisters shared a room so small they could hold hands in bed.) Ms. Mattingly testified that she threw up as she left, knowing what would befall her younger sister. Ms. Montgomery’s post-conviction team found no evidence that anyone followed up on the other children.
Others noticed, too. Lisa, an A student in elementary school, was placed in special needs classes in middle school. An administrator thought deep emotional trauma was a likely cause but it appears that the school failed to alert anyone.
When Lisa was a teenager, she told her cousin, David Kidwell, then a deputy sheriff in Kansas, that Mr. Kleiner and his friends raped her. According to court documents, he said he knew she was telling the truth — she was “crying and shaking”— and he still lives with regret about not speaking up.
When Ms. Shaughnessy and Mr. Kleiner divorced in 1985, Lisa, then 17, was forced by her mother to give a statement about the rapes for their divorce proceedings. Ms. Shaughnessy sat so unmoved during her daughter’s testimony that the judge reprimanded her for lacking empathy. A social worker found Lisa’s allegations of abuse credible and turned the file over to the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office, where it appears no one ever followed up.
When she was 18, Ms. Montgomery married her 25-year-old stepbrother, Carl Boman, the son of Ms. Shaughnessy’s fourth husband. A report called a Biopsychosocial History, which documents Ms. Montgomery’s neurodevelopmental and social history, notes that Ms. Montgomery told a mitigation expert that Mr. Boman assaulted her vaginally and anally and with bottles, tied her in stress positions, held a knife to her throat. One of Ms. Montgomery’s half brothers told an investigator that he saw a video of Mr. Boman raping and beating her. “It was like a scene out of a horror movie,” he said, but this, too, never came up at trial. (Mr. Boman, who is in jail awaiting trial on charges of child sexual abuse, could not be reached for comment.)
By 23 she had four young children, and her grip on reality was growing ever more tenuous. At one point, she woke the kids in the middle of the night for what she said was to be an educational trip to the Alamo. She put a diaper on a pet goat, put it in the car, and drove from Kansas to Texas in a haze of mania.
Eventually, she and Mr. Boman divorced, and she married Kevin Montgomery, who has remained supportive of her throughout her legal battle. Ms. Montgomery’s Biopsychosocial History says that Mr. Montgomery insisted on incorporating sexual violence into their relationship, but that he “was not as violent or hurtful as Carl.”
In the time leading up to her crime, Ms. Montgomery repeatedly pretended to be pregnant, and each time claimed to have lost the baby. Her ex-husband, Mr. Boman, knew she was lying — Ms. Montgomery had undergone sterilization after the birth of her fourth child. Mr. Boman filed to take custody of two of their children in December 2004 — very near the time of the homicide, which surely weighed on her.
There would have been good reason to take the children away. Lisa Montgomery was an abusive and neglectful mother. The prosecutor in her case made much of this. He spoke about Ms. Montgomery’s inability to feed and bathe her children and her own lack of hygiene (she had lice for several years).
Her defense team, on the other hand, mostly avoided the subject, presumably for fear it would make her look even worse — a common mistake by lawyers in cases involving domestic violence, a miscalculation that feeds into a persistent stereotype about what a victim should look and act like. As a result, both sides flattened Lisa Montgomery’s personhood; in one version she’s a monster, and the other a myth.
Sandra Babcock, the founder and faculty director of the Cornell death penalty center and an expert in gender discrimination in capital cases, says such trials often become about a woman’s character. “Prosecutors have a set playbook in capital cases involving women,” she said. “They condemn women who are bad mothers, or who don’t fit an idealized version of femininity.”
What the defense team should have done is frame her inability to care for her children — and herself — as a symptom of her years of abuse.
On an Adverse Childhood Experiences test, Ms. Montgomery scored nine out of 10 — a number that coincides with the most extreme forms of torture. On a different test, the Global Assessment of Functioning, given by one of her therapists a year or so before the crime, Ms. Montgomery scored a 48. A normal score is 80 to 100. Such a score points to “severe impairment” in daily activities. (In prison, it took Ms. Montgomery an entire month to learn to make her bed according to the guidelines.)
A social worker who spoke with Ms. Montgomery after she was arrested found she sometimes recounted her experiences in the present tense, as if she was reliving them, unable to distinguish between the present and the past. Her defense team suggested that she suffered from a rare condition called pseudocyesis — when a woman believes she is pregnant and will even develop physical symptoms. But pseudocyesis, if she had it, was a symptom of a bigger problem. (It didn’t help that the defense’s expert witness, who wasn’t a licensed mental health practitioner in this country, later said he had no special expertise in pseudocyesis.)
There was chaos and churn in her defense team, and she ended up with three male attorneys, John O’Connor, Frederick Duchardt and David Owen. From 2004 to 2007, when the trial finally took place, several female attorneys either withdrew from the case or were dismissed. A lawyer who once worked with Mr. Owen, Laine Cardarella, told Ms. Montgomery’s post-conviction team that Mr. Owen was overbearing and misogynistic. (“You’re not one of those militant female lawyer types, are you?” Mr. Owen asked her once, she says.)
A particular blow to Lisa Montgomery was the loss of Judy Clarke, a renowned lawyer who helped Ted Kaczynski, Zacarias Moussaoui (conspirator in the Sept. 11 attacks) and Jared Loughner (the Arizona gunman who nearly killed Representative Gabrielle Giffords) avoid death sentences. Ms. Clarke, who has twice argued before the Supreme Court, was described in a 2015 profile in The New Yorker as quite possibly “the best death-penalty lawyer in America.”
Ms. Clark was dropped from the team in April 2006. The judge in the case, Gary Fenner, said he dismissed her because “her involvement was obstructive in getting a defense for Miss Montgomery put together.” Ms. Montgomery’s post-conviction team believes that Mr. Owen, who attended a series of unrecorded meetings with the judge leading up to Ms. Clarke’s dismissal and later described Ms. Clarke as bossy and “emasculating,” was the one who convinced Judge Fenner to dismiss her. (Mr. Owen, Mr. Duchardt and Judge Fenner declined to comment for this article.)
Ms. Montgomery, whose understanding of her own circumstances appears to wax and wane, was shattered at the loss of Ms. Clarke, who seemed to be the first attorney Ms. Montgomery had ever trusted. She was so upset, she wrote a letter to Judge Fenner, who told her Ms. Clarke was let go because she was “no longer necessary and/or helpful.” Once Ms. Clarke left, any semblance of teamwork seemed to disappear.
A year and a half later, Ms. Montgomery was convicted, and four days after that, her sentencing hearing was held.
It’s standard practice at such hearings to present mitigating evidence collected by a trained investigator called a “mitigation specialist.” Ms. Montgomery’s lawyers went through four different mitigation specialists, all of them women. Mr. Duchardt called the profession of mitigation specialists “laughable.” None of the specialists were asked to testify at Ms. Montgomery’s trial, though they have all since spoken under oath during post-conviction proceedings.
As Ms. Henry, one of the post-conviction lawyers, put it, “We’ve had a lot of training when it comes to implicit bias as it relates to race, but I don’t think we’ve had enough on gender bias.” She said she didn’t “mean to suggest the men in this case thought they were engaging in misogynistic behavior, or that their ideas of gender norms” affected the case, “but they did.”
Ms. Montgomery’s execution, far from righting a wrong, would in itself be an injustice atop an injustice.
The prosecutor, Matt Whitworth, an assistant U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo., used the famous Alan Dershowitz phrase “abuse excuse” in his closing argument. But what Mr. Whitworth and so many others refuse to understand is how abuse is cumulative. Traumatic brain injuries are cumulative. Punch after punch, kick after kick, rape after rape. Injured brains do not heal like injured bodies.
Of course, boys and men are also victims of abuse and sexual assault. But courts can’t treat experiences like Ms. Montgomery’s as genderless. Her rapes, her teenage marriage, the multiple pregnancies with an abusive partner — Ms. Montgomery endured a lifetime of abuse because she was a woman. She was trafficked and raped because she was a girl. And the severe cognitive impairment she suffers today is a direct result of those crimes.
“Were it not for her being a woman,” Ms. Babcock told me, “she would not be on death row, because she wouldn’t be subjected to the kind of torture that she was.” Her case, she said, “is all about gender.”
Systems failed her again and again. Child protective services failed her, the education system failed her and law enforcement failed her; later, when she was an adult, mental health services failed her and domestic violence advocacy failed, and eventually, all these failings resulted in an unimaginable crime.
No one is arguing that Lisa Montgomery should be freed from prison. But her abuse should take death off the table.
That the Department of Justice is ordering executions in the middle of a pandemic is itself cause for alarm. Since the Supreme Court has prohibited the execution of people who are mentally incompetent, Ms. Montgomery is entitled to be assessed by a mental health professional close to the date of her execution — something that might not be possible during the coronavirus outbreak. No one can visit her at her prison in Texas except her immediate family and her lawyers, two of whom are based in Nashville and are recovering from Covid-19. The third lawyer is based in Kansas City and cannot travel to Texas because of the risks posed by the virus.
As Ms. Montgomery’s legal team wrote to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “In its haste to execute her notwithstanding the pandemic, the government has violated her rights to petition the authorities and to due process.”
Retribution is one method of accountability for criminal acts. But Ms. Montgomery’s life, however much she has left of it, is already irreparably shattered. For many of us, that might seem punishment enough.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said employees could be barred from the workplace if they refused the vaccine.
By Vimal Patel, Dec. 18, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/18/us/eeoc-employers-coronavirus-mandate.html
Employers can require workers to get a Covid-19 vaccine and bar them from the workplace if they refuse, the federal government said in guidelines issued this week.
Public health experts see employers as playing an important role in vaccinating enough people to reach herd immunity and get a handle on a pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Americans. Widespread coronavirus vaccinations would keep people from dying, restart the economy and usher a return to some form of normalcy, experts say.
Employers had been waiting for guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination, because requiring employees be tested for the coronavirus touches on thorny medical and privacy issues covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.
The guidance, issued on Wednesday, confirmed what employment lawyers had expected.
Businesses and employers are uniquely positioned to require large numbers of Americans who otherwise would not receive a vaccination to do so because their employment depends on it.
The disabilities act limits employers’ ability to require medical examinations like blood tests, breath analyses and blood-pressure screening. These are procedures or tests, often given in a medical setting, that seek information about an employee’s physical or mental conditions.
The administration of a Covid-19 vaccine to a worker by an employer doesn’t fit that definition, the commission said.
“If a vaccine is administered to an employee by an employer for protection against contracting Covid-19, the employer is not seeking information about an individual’s impairments or current health status,” it stated, “and, therefore, it is not a medical examination.”
On its website, the commission said that requiring an employee to show proof of having gotten a Covid-19 vaccination would not amount to a disability-related inquiry.
“There are many reasons that may explain why an employee has not been vaccinated, which may or may not be disability-related,” the commission said.
Even so, employers may need to be careful about how they handle the process.
Prescreening vaccination questions could violate an A.D.A. provision on disability-related inquiries. Employers administering vaccines, the guidance said, must show that prescreening questions are “job related and consistent with business necessity.”
The guidance comes amid skepticism about the vaccinations among large swaths of the public. A recent poll of about 2,000 New York City firefighters found that nearly 55 percent said they would not get a vaccine if offered one by their department, according to CNN.
Only 42 percent of Black Americans say they intend to be vaccinated, according to a Pew Research poll. And 58 percent of Americans over all indicated they would get a Covid-19 vaccine, according to a Gallup Panel survey from November.
Distrust in vaccinations is also being fanned by political commentators and groups.
On his Fox News show, Tucker Carlson this week highlighted the stories of a small number of Americans who have had adverse reactions to Pfizer’s vaccine. And experts who study extremism have warned that groups that have protested election results and Covid-19 lockdowns across the United States are now turning their attention to the anti-vaccine movement.
The rollout of a vaccine and urgent logistical questions about its distribution signal that the end of the pandemic is in sight, but the virus is also deadlier than it has ever been, with the United States reporting more than 3,000 deaths in a day for the first time this month.
As federal and state governments prepare for large-scale vaccination efforts, the Trump administration’s messaging on the pandemic remains muddled.
Vice President Mike Pence just days ago hosted a holiday party at his residence, where guests posed for pictures without masks, according to attendees. But on Friday morning, Mr. Pence received his first vaccine shot on live television. He was joined by his wife, Karen Pence, and Jerome Adams, the surgeon general.
The administration said the live event was intended to “promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and build confidence among the American people.”
By Jake Johnson, December 22, 2020https://truthout.org/articles/congress-passes-covid-relief-with-billions-in-handouts-for-the-wealthy/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=bca19b7e-4f49-4efa-bcb6-3f1f6bef0ce0
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wears a protective mask as he walks to the Senate floor on October 21, 2020, in Washington, D.C. STEFANI REYNOLDS / GETTY IMAGES
In late-night votes just hours after nearly 5,600 pages of legislative text were released, the U.S. Congress on Monday approved trillions of dollars worth of government funding and coronavirus relief that will temporarily avert a catastrophic expiration of key benefits, send $600 direct payments to many Americans, and provide billions of dollars in handouts to the rich.
The entire Senate Democratic caucus and every Republican but six voted for the roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief legislation, which was paired with a $1.4 trillion spending package that will fund the federal government through next September. Just two House Democrats — Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) — voted against the coronavirus relief portion of the sprawling package (pdf), which President Donald Trump is expected to sign.
“I voted against the latest Covid-19 relief legislation because it is woefully inadequate in addressing the needs of people,” Tlaib said in a statement late Monday. “I have watched as many of my colleagues rush to provide billions to corporations and wealthy individuals, while admonishing the needs of the majority of families.”
“Republicans continue to do all they can do to poison our society further with corporate greed, while abandoning the very people they are supposed to be working for,” Tlaib added. “This is evident by the inclusion of the ‘three martini lunch’ tax giveaway.”
The tax deduction for business meals was one of several giveaways to wealthy Americans stuffed in the mammoth legislative package, which was made available to read Monday afternoon after reported computer issues delayed its release. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was one of several lawmakers who publicly expressed outrage at the lack of time lawmakers were given to read the bill before voting on it.
“Members of Congress have not read this bill. It’s over 5,000 pages, arrived at 2 pm today, and we are told to expect a vote on it in two hours,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez, who voted against a rule paving the way for speedy passage but ultimately voted yes on the coronavirus aid portion of the package. “This isn’t governance. It’s hostage-taking.”
While the contents of the measure are still being combed, progressives noted and denounced the inclusion of billions of dollars in gifts to wealthy Americans — benefits made more obscene by the bill’s inadequate relief for people who are hungry, sick, unemployed, and facing eviction.
“Pathetic,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), pointing to the bill’s $120 billion handout to rich business owners and other provisions that will disproportionately benefit the wealthiest people in the country during the most unequal recession in modern U.S. history.
The Vermont senator voted for the relief legislation, noting that “the average family of four will receive a direct payment of $2,400.”
“While including these direct payments ultimately improved this bill, given the enormous economic desperation that so many working families across this country are now experiencing, there is no question but that this legislation did not go anywhere near far enough,” Sanders said in a statement.
The $900 billion coronavirus relief package is a far cry from what economists say is necessary to bring the faltering U.S. economy out of recession and provide meaningful relief to the increasingly desperate public amid rising poverty and a major hunger crisis. Some economists are calling for a roughly $4 trillion package, warning that anything less would result in “permanent damage” to families and the economy.
On top of the paltry direct payments — for which millions of vulnerable people will not be eligible — the newly passed bill provides a non-retroactive $300-per-week federal boost to unemployment insurance and an 11-week extension of UI benefits, an extension accompanied by more burdensome documentation requirements for applicants who are already struggling to navigate rickety state systems.
“States will be asked to implement a significant number of new rules for these programs for a law that will only last 11 weeks,” noted Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. “In reality, many workers won’t receive the benefits until well into this short period — and at that point, the states will be forced to cut it off once again. Worst of all, Congress will be setting itself up for another 10 million-plus worker benefit cut off that will start in mid-March, before the new administration and Congress can be reasonably expected to pass another round of relief.”
“Congress has given itself little choice but to immediately get to work on the next economic stimulus package as soon as President Biden and the 117th Congress take office,” Stettner added. “That package must build on the CARES Act and include key reforms to make sure benefits are available as long as the economy remains constrained by this disastrous pandemic.”
Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, also raised concerns about the too-short duration of relief and pointed to the bill’s inadequate sick and family leave provisions. “While the agreement continues the tax credits for employers established under the Families First Act for providing coronavirus-related sick days and family leave,” Greenstein said in a statement, “it doesn’t extend workers’ right to take that time off, leaving that to employers’ discretion.”
“A likely result,” Greenstein warned, “is that a substantial number of workers will be unable to stay home when they are quarantined or ill or will be unable to balance work and family care-giving needs when schools are closed or a family member has Covid-19.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who voted for the final relief package, said late Monday that she is glad the legislation will provide direct payments that were not originally on the table as well as billions of dollars in funding for schools.
“But that doesn’t mean this package is anything close to enough,” said Omar. “Six hundred dollars is not close to sufficient to cover eight months of lost wages, food, or rent expenses… Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues have stonewalled state and local aid, along with survival checks that meet the scale of the crisis. This is a collective failure in helping Americans in their time of need.”
The voluminous coronavirus relief and spending bill that blasted through Congress on Monday includes provisions — good, bad and just plain strange — that few lawmakers got to read.
By Luke Broadwater, Jesse Drucker and Rebecca R. Ruiz, Published Dec. 22, 2020, Updated Dec. 23, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/22/us/politics/whats-in-the-covid-relief-bill.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage
WASHINGTON — Tucked away in the 5,593-page spending bill that Congress rushed through on Monday night is a provision that some tax experts call a $200 billion giveaway to the rich.
It involves the tens of thousands of businesses that received loans from the federal government this spring with the promise that the loans would be forgiven, tax free, if they agreed to keep employees on the payroll through the coronavirus pandemic.
But for some businesses and their high-paid accountants, that was not enough. They went to Congress with another request: Not only should the forgiven loans not be taxed as income, but the expenditures used with those loans should be tax deductible.
“High-income business owners have had tax benefits and unprecedented government grants showered down upon then. And the scale is massive,” said Adam Looney, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former Treasury Department tax official in the Obama administration, who estimated that $120 billion of the $200 billion would flow to the top 1 percent of Americans.
The new provision allows for a classic double dip into the Payroll Protection Program, as businesses get free money from the government, then get to deduct that largess from their taxes.
And it is one of hundreds included in a huge spending package and a coronavirus stimulus bill that is supposed to help businesses and families struggling during the pandemic but, critics say, swerved far afield. President Trump on Tuesday night blasted it as a disgrace and demanded revisions.
“Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests, while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it,” he said in a video posted on Twitter that stopped just short of a veto threat.
The measure includes serious policy changes beyond the much-needed $900 billion in coronavirus relief, like a simplification of federal financial aid forms, measures to address climate change and a provision to stop “surprise billing” from hospitals when patients unwittingly receive care from physicians out of their insurance networks.
But there is also much grumbling over other provisions that lawmakers had not fully reviewed, and a process that left most of them and the public in the dark until after the bill was passed. The anger was bipartisan.
“Members of Congress have not read this bill. It’s over 5000 pages, arrived at 2pm today, and we are told to expect a vote on it in 2 hours,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, tweeted on Monday. “This isn’t governance. It’s hostage-taking.”
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, agreed — the two do not agree on much.
“It’s ABSURD to have a $2.5 trillion spending bill negotiated in secret and then—hours later—demand an up-or-down vote on a bill nobody has had time to read,” he tweeted on Monday.
The items jammed into the bill are varied and at times bewildering. The bill would make it a felony to offer illegal streaming services. One provision requires the C.I.A. to report back to Congress on the activities of Eastern European oligarchs tied to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. The federal government would be required to set up a program aimed at eradicating the murder hornet and to crack down on online sales of e-cigarettes to minors.
It authorizes 93 acres of federal lands to be used for the construction of the Teddy Roosevelt Presidential Library in North Dakota and creates an independent commission to oversee horse racing, a priority of Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader.
Mr. McConnell inserted that item to get around the objections of a Democratic senator who wanted it amended, but he received agreement from other congressional leaders.
Alexander M. Waldrop, the chief executive of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said on Tuesday that Mr. McConnell had “said many times he feared for the future of horse racing and the impact on the industry, which of course is critical to Kentucky.”
That the racing legislation — versions of which the industry had debated for years — passed as part of the Covid-19 relief bill was of no particular mind, Mr. Waldrop said.
“It just developed this way over the last several weeks,” he said. “The only approach left to us was a federally sanctioned, independent, self-regulatory organization. It was our only viable option left, and this legislation accomplishes that.”
But the tax provisions — including extending a $2.5 billion break for racecar tracks and allowing a $6.3 billion write-off for business meals, derided as the “three-martini lunch” expense — have prompted the most hand-wringing.
The bill also lowers some taxes on alcoholic beverages.
No break is bigger, however, than the deductions that will soon be permitted under the Paycheck Protection Program. Businesses had been lobbying the Treasury Department and the I.R.S. since the spring to deduct spending from the program’s loans, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was firmly opposed, saying deducting expenditures from funds not considered taxable income violated “Tax 101.”
The Paycheck Protection Program was the most visible part of the federal government’s coronavirus relief efforts in the spring to keep small businesses afloat. So far, the government has distributed more than $500 billion in loans, which could be forgiven and turned into permanent grants as long as the businesses use most of the money to pay workers and keep people employed.
In passing the law in the spring, Congress explicitly said that the Paycheck Protection Program funds should not be included as taxable income — unlike, say, unemployment benefits.
Despite that largess, businesses wanted more. In May, the heads of the tax-writing committees — Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and Representative Richard E. Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts — wrote Mr. Mnuchin urging him to reconsider his opposition.
“Small businesses need help maintaining their cash flow, not more strains on it,” they wrote.
But a Brookings Institution analysis said the change would help far more wealthy than mom-and-pop business owners.
“So there’s no cost on the way in and no cost on the way out — those two don’t add up,” said Richard L. Reinhold, the former chairman of the tax department at Willkie Farr & Gallagher and a professor at Cornell Law School. Congress could have simply expanded the program, but instead it did it almost by stealth, through a tax deduction.
“That’s the part that is troublesome,” he said.
Although there had been discussion of limiting the deduction to Paycheck Protection Program recipients below a certain income threshold, the final provision was made available to anyone, regardless of income.
The Small Business Administration this month released data showing that just 1 percent of the program’s 5.2 million borrowers had received more than a quarter of the $523 billion disbursed.
That 1 percent included high-priced law firms like Boies Schiller Flexner and the operator of New York’s biggest horse tracks, which received the maximum loan amount of $10 million.
“The year 2020 is going to be one of the most unequal years in modern history,” Mr. Looney said. “Part of the inequity is the effect of Covid, which hammered service sectors the most and allowed rich, educated people to work on Zoom. But the government totally compounded these inequities with their response.”
Yet in the end, only six senators, all Republicans, voted against the coronavirus relief package and spending bill, mostly citing fiscal concerns about runaway spending, while 85 House members — a mix of Democrats and Republicans — voted against its military provisions. The bill increased military spending by about $5 billion.
Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, opposed the military spending but voted for other aspects of the bill. He and his liberal colleagues had lobbied for direct payments for most Americans as part of a relief package, and he said he shared colleagues’ concerns about a lack of time to review the final piece of legislation.
“We need a better system to have members review online text as it is being drafted and have input,” Mr. Khanna said. “That said, leadership did keep us informed on almost daily calls about the essential aspects of the bills and the issues at stake.”
Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia and one of the leaders of the bipartisan group that pushed for a $900 billion stimulus, said leadership intentionally waited until the last minute to unveil final proposals.
“Leadership likes the process the way it is,” he said. “Wait until the deadline, and then there’s no input at all. They say, take this or not. I’m sick and tired of how this game has been played.”
That said, there was plenty for lawmakers to cheer for. They sent out news releases promoting preferred provisions like the ban on most surprise medical bills, the restoration of college financial aid for incarcerated people and the restrictions on the use of powerful planet-warming chemicals that are commonly used in air-conditioners and refrigerators. The bill also creates new museums honoring women and Latinos.
“What you see at the end of every Congress is a clearing of the decks,” said Josh Huder, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University. “It’s all the stuff we wanted to pass but couldn’t. Everybody would love for legislation to be passed individually, but that is really a function of a bygone era that is not coming back.”
“There’s a lot of good stuff,” he said, “but something definitely gets snuck in.”
Cassie da Costa - December 24, 2020
Mike Africa Jr. met his parents in prison. In fact, he was born in a cell. For most of his life, he did all he could to get his mother, Debbie Africa, and father, Mike Africa Sr., released. A new documentary, 40 Years a Prisoner, available on HBO now, follows his journey fighting his parents’ incarceration—and rigorously examines the sordid history of law enforcement practices like the ones that landed them there in the first place.
Like Africa Jr., director Tommy Oliver grew up in Philadelphia, hearing rumblings about MOVE—the back-to-the-land Black anarchist group Africa Jr.’s parents were core members of. (While the name is capitalized, it’s not an acronym.) It wasn’t until Oliver began doing his own research on MOVE that a much bigger story began to reveal itself. “I watched everything I could. And then I went to the Temple [University] Urban Archives, and I went through dozens of boxes of content,” Oliver told Vanity Fair. “There was still so much that I knew wasn’t there. So I had a friend make an intro to MOVE”—first to a woman named Ramona, then to Africa Jr. He informed Oliver about the MOVE Nine, the incarcerated members of the group, which was founded in 1972 by John Africa. (All members take on the last name Africa.) Two had died in prison, while the other seven were still alive at the time, including his parents.
From the moment of its inception, MOVE had been a target of controversy, curiosity, confusion, and aggression. The film recounts a 1976 encounter between the group and Philadelphia police. Law enforcement attacked MOVE members just outside of their commune residence, claiming there was a disturbance. A female member of the group, Janine Africa, was holding her baby when she was shoved to the ground by an officer; the baby died. The tragedy would foreshadow the ultimate standoff between MOVE and Philadelphia police on August 8, 1978, and the resulting incarceration of the MOVE Nine.
A detailed, panoptic investigation into the lead-up to that fateful day, 40 Years a Prisoner lays bare the distortions of Philadelphia law enforcement as led by Mayor Frank Rizzo. Oliver weaves together extensive archival footage and new interviews with police, journalists, and MOVE members. The result is not only a historical excavation of anti-Blackness in one of America’s Blackest cities, but an unforgettable look into how propaganda becomes the foundation of American life.
“The truth is independent of what one believes. It just is,” Oliver told me in an interview. How, then, did he go about depicting that truth for inevitably biased audiences? The answer lies in Police Commissioner Joseph O’Neill. “When we see Commissioner O’Neill at City Hall during the press conference on August 8,” Oliver said, “[O’Neill] is flanked on either side by the D.A., Ed Rendell, and Mayor Rizzo.” In the footage, O’Neill claims that MOVE member Delbert Africa came out of MOVE headquarters armed “with a clip in one hand and a knife in the other.”
“And he’s talking to the media. He’s talking to the news. He’s talking to everybody,” Oliver explained. “And that is the information that’s going to be disseminated, that’s going to be shared and played and replayed.” After showing that clip, Oliver shows another from that day: “Delbert, hands open, no shirt on, nothing in either hand. And you see the very clear difference between what is being told versus what actually happened.”
The media often takes the police’s word for unvarnished truth. But serious research reveals what many at the time already knew: MOVE, while politically militant, was not an armed organization. (They had rifles, but during an earlier raid, police themselves found that they were nonfunctional.) A police officer died on August 8, though there is no evidence, besides police testimony, of what led to his death. “There is no video, no photos. And guess what happens? You take exactly what’s given,” Oliver said. “On top of that, [regarding] evidence, the house is literally razed by the city hours after. And so that’s how I deal with it. The idea of sort of showing very clearly, literally in black and white—because that footage is in black and white—the difference between what actually happened versus what [the police] say.”
Now, after some 40 years, Africa Jr.’s parents are finally out of prison. Still, the fight is not over. Africa Jr. hopes to have their 50-plus-year parole terms commuted, and to see MOVE supporter Mumia Abu-Jamal released. As for the film about the events that have shaped his entire life, from the time he was in the womb? “My hope is that people will look at the film and do a little digging into some of these issues themselves,” Africa Jr. told me. “Today in the Philadelphia Daily News, the front page of the paper says, ‘Guilty until proven innocent.’ And that is because another man was exonerated from prison based on evidence, and witnesses that were intimidated.”
In addition to “The Queen’s Gambit,” adapted into the current Netflix hit, Walter Tevis wrote the novels “The Hustler,” “The Color of Money” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”
By Nancy Wartik, Published Dec. 23, 2020, Updated Dec. 24, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/23/books/walter-tevis-novelist-queens-gambit-netflix.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage
The wildly popular Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit” has done for chess what Julia Child once did for French cooking. Chess set sales have skyrocketed; enrollment in online chess classes has surged. The series has been the subject of hundreds of articles and interviews. The novel that inspired the show, first published in 1983, has been on The New York Times’s trade paperback best-seller list for five weeks.
Yet little attention has been paid to Walter Tevis, the author whose creation has stirred all the commotion.
Tevis once pegged himself as “a good American writer of the second rank.” But Allan Scott, the screenwriter who first optioned “The Queen’s Gambit” in the 1980s, disagrees. Mr. Scott co-created and executive-produced the current Netflix show.
“I think very highly of Tevis,” he said in an email. “I think he was one of the best American writers of the 20th century. ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ lays out a terrific story very simply. Child, mother killed, orphanage, touch of genius, addiction. It’s Dickensian.” (It took decades to bring the book to the screen, Mr. Scott said, because studios thought the subject of chess was a commercial dead-end.)
Born in 1928, Tevis wrote six novels, a surprising number of which made high-profile leaps to the screen: “The Hustler,” about a young pool shark played by Paul Newman; “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” starring David Bowie as a lonesome alien; and “The Color of Money,” a follow-up to “The Hustler,” which won Mr. Newman his first Oscar. Tevis’s 1980 science fiction book, “Mockingbird,” a commentary on humanity’s dwindling interest in reading, has long had a modest cult following.
Tevis was a family man who played board games and fished with his kids; a popular professor of writing and literature at Ohio University in Athens; a cat-lover and movie aficionado; and a talented amateur chess and pool player. He was pale and gangly; some of his students called him “Ichabod Crane.” He was also a three-pack-a-day smoker, a serious gambler and an alcoholic who made several suicide attempts. His fiction often plumbs his psyche, metaphorically.
“He’s the hero of all his own books,” said his son, Will Tevis, 66, before correcting himself: “He’s the antihero.”
Tevis considered his terrain to be the world of underdogs.
“I write about losers and loners,” he told this newspaper in 1983. “If there’s a common theme in my work, that’s it. I invented the phrase ‘born loser’ in ‘The Hustler.’ In one way or another I’m obsessed with the struggle between winning and losing.”
Tevis was born in San Francisco, into what he called a “feelingless, uptight” home. His parents moved to Kentucky when he was 10. Because young Walter had a heart condition, his parents left him behind in a convalescent home, where he spent months drugged on phenobarbital like Beth Harmon, the main character in “The Queen’s Gambit.” In an essay published in 1990, Tevis’s first wife, Jamie, wrote: “He never got over the scars of the early experience with narcotics.”
Tevis believed that early experience fueled his later alcoholism.
When he left California to rejoin his family, Tevis found his new environment bewildering. In a 1981 interview, he said that “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” about an alien who lands in Kentucky and can’t adjust to life on this planet, was “disguised autobiography.”
“[It] has to do with my having moved from what I thought was the city of light, San Francisco, when I was 11, to Lexington, Ky., where I went to a tough Appalachian school in the fifth grade and was beaten up regularly,” Tevis said. (Tevis gave the movie version of the book a C-plus, calling it confusing, but when he met David Bowie found him to be “a wonderful man.”)
The day he turned 17, Tevis joined the Navy. On a ship home from Okinawa, he met Hilary Knight, who went on to illustrate the Eloise books. The two connected instantly, Mr. Knight, now 94, recalled, because both were “total misfits.”
“We were two people in a dream world, though his was much more logical than mine,” Mr. Knight said. “The other crew paid little or no attention to us. They didn’t want to know these weirdos. Walter was too smart, and the ship was full of dumbbells. We had a great time laughing about everything.”
“The Hustler,” drawn from Tevis’s rough-and-tumble pool hall experiences before and after the war, came out in 1959, followed by “The Man Who Fell to Earth” in 1963. Then, Tevis published almost nothing until 1980. He and his wife, whom he met when they taught at the same high school, raised two children while Tevis was at Ohio University. He played chess and shot pool, often with his colleague Daniel Keyes, who wrote “Flowers for Algernon.” Tevis drank heavily and his marriage suffered. Even so, his children remember Tevis as a devoted parent.
His daughter, Julia McGory, 63, said that his kids had experienced some of “the sadness and complexities of our father,” but “never doubted how much he loved us and enjoyed being with us.”
In the mid-1970s, Tevis sobered up, partly with help from Alcoholics Anonymous. Deeply frustrated by his writer’s block, he got a divorce and decided to try his creative luck in Manhattan. He began a relationship with, and eventually married, Eleanora Walker, who worked for his agent. He reconnected with Mr. Knight: “We became great friends again,” Mr. Knight said.
Tevis also regained his writerly mojo, finishing four more novels and a collection of short stories. He helped convince Paul Newman to star in the movie version of “The Color of Money.” He also wrote “The Queen’s Gambit” during those years. The writer Tobias Wolff called it an “overlooked masterpiece.”
“Tevis has a gift for vivid characterization and propulsive narratives,” Mr. Wolff said in an email. “His style is direct and efficient, never calling attention to itself; yet it grows in power through the course of a novel by its very naturalness.”
Describing young Beth learning a chess move in “The Queen’s Gambit,” Tevis wrote: “She decided not to take the offered pawn, to leave the tension on the board. She liked it like that. She liked the power of the pieces, exerted along files and diagonals. In the middle of the game, when the pieces were everywhere, the forces crisscrossing the board thrilled her. She brought out her king’s knight, feeling its power spread.”
More lyrically, as Beth sits bored in class, Tevis wrote that her “mind danced in awe to the geometric rococo of chess, rapt, enraptured, drawing in the grand permutations as they opened to her soul, and her soul opened to them.”
In the book, Beth is a harder-edged, less obviously triumphant character than in the Netflix series. Tevis once explained why he made the choice to portray a female chess champion. “Sometimes I was really more wrapped up in the idea of intelligence in women, for which I have an enormous respect and a kind of awe, more wrapped up in that even than the game of chess itself,” he said.
In a 1981 interview, Tevis said he’d realized in middle age that “life is worth living.” He hoped to write one book per year for the rest of his life. Just three years later, he died of lung cancer, at 56.
Tevis’s publishing career may not be over. His estate holds two unpublished children’s books, said Susan Schulman, the agent who represents it. “Gangster Cat” is the story of a New York City cat and his gang. “Turnip Island” is the story of a family who live on an island of nothing but mud.
“They are completely delightful,” Ms. Schulman said.
If he were still alive, Will Tevis said, his father would be “basking in glory right now. He had desires for the spotlight. He wanted to be known and noticed.”
New research delivers surprising findings about Indigenous people in the region before contact with Europeans.
By David Reich and Orlando Patterson, December 23. 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/23/opinion/dna-caribbean-genocide.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
In 1492, Christopher Columbus touched land for the first time in the Americas, reaching the Bahamas, Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic and Haiti) and eastern Cuba. After he returned to Spain he reported that he had encountered islands rich in gold. A few years later his brother Bartholomew, who also traveled to the Americas, reported that Hispaniola had a large population whose labor and land could be put to the advantage of the Spanish crown. He estimated the population at 1.1 million people.
Was this figure accurate? It soon was a matter of dispute. Bartolomé de las Casas, a Spanish monk and colonist who became the first chronicler of the human disaster that unfolded in the Americas after the arrival of Europeans, estimated a far larger number: three million to four million.
The population size of “pre-contact” Hispaniola would continue to be a contested issue until the present day, not least because of its profound emotional and moral resonance in light of the destruction of that world. Modern scholars have generally estimated the population at 250,000 to a million people.
Some of the arguments for large population numbers in the pre-contact Americas have been motivated by an attempt to counter a myth, perpetuated by apologists for colonialism like the philosopher John Locke, that the Americas were a vast “vacuum domicilium,” or empty dwelling, populated by a handful of Indigenous groups whose displacement could be readily justified. In a similar vein, some of the arguments for large population sizes have been motivated by a desire to underscore how disastrous the arrival of Europeans was for Indigenous people.
By any measure, the arrival of Europeans was catastrophic for Indigenous Americans. This is true whether the numbers of people were in the hundreds of thousands or millions — or for that matter, the tens of thousands. It is questionable to pin our judgments of human atrocities to a specific number. To learn from the past, it is crucial to be willing to accept new and compelling data when they become available.
In the case of the pre-contact population of Hispaniola, such data have arrived. By analyzing the DNA of ancient Indigenous Caribbean people, a study published in Nature on Wednesday by one of us (Professor Reich) makes clear that the population of Hispaniola was no more than a few tens of thousands of people. Almost all prior estimates have been at least tenfold too large.
This research involved sequencing genetic material taken from skeletal remains. Together with another study of ancient Caribbean DNA published recently by a different lab, scientists now have data concerning the entire genomes of more than 260 people of the ancient Caribbean. (This work was done in collaboration with Caribbean scholars, with permission from Caribbean governments and institutions and in consultation with Caribbean people of Indigenous descent.)
In recent years, researchers studying ancient DNA have accumulated more than 5,000 ancient human genomes (up from none a decade ago), making it possible to use this methodology to ask and answer questions about how past people related to one another and to people living today. The Caribbean is now the first place in the Americas where we have this kind of high-resolution data set for understanding the past, previously available only in Western Eurasia.
The finding about the pre-contact population size in Hispaniola was made possible by a new scientific advance: We are now able to detect “DNA cousins” in ancient genomes — taking two people and determining whether they share large segments of DNA inherited from a recent ancestor. This is similar to what personal ancestry companies like 23andMe and Ancestry do with living people.
When the Reich team applied this method to 91 ancient individuals for whom it had sequenced enough of the genome to carry out this analysis, it found 19 pairs of DNA cousins living on different large islands or island groups in the Caribbean: for example, an individual in Hispaniola with a cousin in the Bahamas, and another individual in Hispaniola with a cousin in Puerto Rico. This meant that the entire population had to be very small; you wouldn’t find that random pairs of people had such a high probability of being closely related if the entire population was large. (To put this in perspective, if you did the same analysis on random pairs of people across China today, DNA cousins would be detected many thousands of times less often.)
The rate of close relationships that the Reich team found is what would be expected for about 3,000 people — at most 8,000 people — in their childbearing years in Hispaniola. The true numbers of people could have been threefold to tenfold larger because at any given time only a fraction of a population is in its childbearing years. Still, we can confidently conclude that the pre-contact population size of Hispaniola was no more than a few tens of thousands of people.
This is a classic ancient DNA surprise — the kind of unexpected finding this new technology has shown repeatedly that it can deliver. For example, the sequencing of a finger bone from Siberia thought to be from a modern human turned out to be from an archaic population not previously known to archaeologists, or even hypothesized by them. Such results emphasize how much we still have to learn about the past.
How should the new findings change the way we think about the fate of Indigenous people in the pre-contact Caribbean? In some ways, not at all. Whatever the starting population, what happened to Indigenous Americans after Europeans arrived amounted to genocide: the systematic obliteration not just of individuals but also of their culture and community — what the philosopher Claudia Card called the “social death” at “the center of genocide.”
Even if you focus more narrowly on statistics, the numbers of deaths in both absolute and relative terms are horrific. According to a 1540 census, the number of Indigenous people in Hispaniola had dropped to 250 people. It dropped to zero in later counts.
In other ways, however, ancient DNA research significantly changes how we think about Indigenous people in the pre-contact Caribbean. Another surprising finding, for instance, is that the genetic legacy of pre-contact Caribbean people did not disappear: They contributed an estimated 14 percent of the DNA of living people from Puerto Rico, 6 percent of that in the Dominican Republic and 4 percent of that in Cuba. In addition, by illuminating the highly mobile lifestyle of pre-contact Caribbean people with many DNA cousins across different islands, the research underscores the degree to which they were connected — a relative unity later fractured by centuries of division into colonial spheres by European powers.
Colonization resulted in such immense destruction that the rich cultures of the pre-contact Caribbean can be reconstructed only through a blend of oral traditions and scientific study, including the new insights provided by ancient DNA analysis. It is a blessing to be able to get closer to this heritage. And it is the loss of the people and cultures that produced this heritage that most provokes our outrage.
A New Jersey man was accused of shoplifting and trying to hit an officer with a car. He is the third known Black man to be wrongfully arrested based on face recognition.
By Kashmir Hill, Dec. 29, 2020
Nijeer Parks is the third person known to be arrested for a crime he did not commit based on a bad face recognition match. Credit...Mohamed Sadek for The New York Times
In February 2019, Nijeer Parks was accused of shoplifting candy and trying to hit a police officer with a car at a Hampton Inn in Woodbridge, N.J. He had been identified by police using facial recognition software, even though he was 30 miles away at the time of the incident.
Mr. Parks spent 10 days in jail and paid around $5,000 to defend himself. In November 2019, the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Mr. Parks, 33, is now suing the police, the prosecutor and the city of Woodbridge for false arrest, false imprisonment and violation of his civil rights.
He is the third person known to be falsely arrested based on a bad facial recognition match. In all three cases, the people mistakenly identified by the technology have been Black men.
Facial recognition technology is known to have flaws. In 2019, a national study of over 100 facial recognition algorithms found that they did not work as well on Black and Asian faces. Two other Black men — Robert Williams and Michael Oliver, both of whom live in the Detroit, Mich., area — were also arrested for crimes they did not commit based on bad facial recognition matches. Like Mr. Parks, Mr. Oliver filed a lawsuit against the city over the wrongful arrest.
Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who believes that police should stop using face recognition technology, said the three cases demonstrate “how this technology disproportionately harms the Black community.”
“Multiple people have now come forward about being wrongfully arrested because of this flawed and privacy-invading surveillance technology,” said Mr. Wessler. He worries that there have been other arrests and even mistaken convictions that have not been uncovered.
Law enforcement often defends the use of facial recognition, despite its flaws, by saying that it is used only as a clue in a case and will not lead directly to an arrest. But Mr. Parks’s experience is another example of an arrest based almost solely on a suggested match by the technology.
On a Saturday in January 2019, two police officers showed up at a Hampton Inn in Woodbridge, N.J., after receiving a report about a man stealing snacks from the gift shop.
The alleged shoplifter — a Black man, nearly six feet tall, wearing a black jacket — was visiting a Hertz office in the hotel lobby, trying to get the rental agreement for a gray Dodge Challenger extended. The officers confronted him and he apologized, according to the police report. He said he would pay for the snacks and gave the officers a Tennessee driver’s license.
When the officers checked the license, they discovered it was fraudulent. According to a police report, one of the officers spotted a “big bag of suspected marijuana” in the man’s pocket. They tried to handcuff him. That’s when the man ran, losing a shoe on the way to his rental car, police said.
As he drove off, the man hit a parked police car and a column in front of the hotel, police said. One of the officers said he had to jump out of the way to avoid getting hit. The rental car was later found abandoned in a parking lot a mile away.
A detective in the Woodbridge Police Department sent the photo from the fake driver’s license to state agencies that had access to face recognition technology, according to a police report.
The next day, state investigators said they had a facial recognition match: Nijeer Parks, who lived in Paterson, 30 miles away, and worked at a grocery store. The detective compared Mr. Parks’s New Jersey state I.D. to the fake Tennessee driver’s license and agreed it was the same person. After a Hertz employee confirmed that the Tennessee driver’s license photo was of the shoplifter, the police issued a warrant for Mr. Parks’s arrest.
“I don’t think he looks like me,” Mr. Parks said. “The only thing we have in common is the beard.”
Mr. Parks’s mistaken arrest was first reported by NJ Advance Media, which said that the facial recognition app Clearview AI was used in the case, based on a claim in Mr. Parks’s lawsuit. Mr. Parks’s lawyer, Daniel Sexton, said he had inferred that Clearview AI was used, given media reports about facial recognition in New Jersey, but now believes he was mistaken.
Clearview AI is a facial recognition tool that uses billions of photos scraped from the public web, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. Clearview AI’s founder, Hoan Ton-That, said officers affiliated with the state agencies where information was analyzed in the case, known as fusion centers, involved in the case were not using his company’s app at that time.
According to the police report, the match in this case was to a license photo, which would reside in a government database, to which Clearview AI does not currently have access. The law enforcement involved in making the match — the New York State Intelligence Center, New Jersey’s Regional Operations Intelligence Center, and two state investigators — did not respond to inquiries about which facial recognition system was used.
In January, after a New York Times story about Clearview AI, New Jersey’s attorney general, Gurbir S. Grewal, put a moratorium on Clearview’s use by police and announced an investigation into “this product or products like it.” A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said New Jersey’s Division of Criminal Justice is still evaluating the use of facial recognition products in the state, and that the development of a policy governing their use is ongoing.
‘I was afraid.’
After police arrested Mr. Parks, he was held for 10 days at the Middlesex County Corrections Center. New Jersey’s no-bail system uses an algorithm that evaluates the defendant’s risk rather than money to determine whether a defendant can be released before trial.
A decade ago, Mr. Parks was arrested twice and incarcerated for selling drugs. He was released in 2016. The public safety assessment score he received, which would have taken his past convictions into account, was high enough that he was not released after his first hearing. His mother and fiancée hired a private attorney, who was able to get him out of jail and into a pretrial monitoring program.
His prior history with the criminal justice system is what made this incident so scary, he said, because this would have been his third felony, meaning he was at risk of a long sentence. When the prosecutor offered a plea deal, he almost took it even though he was innocent.
“I sat down with my family and discussed it,” Mr. Parks said. “I was afraid to go to trial. I knew I would get 10 years if I lost.”
Mr. Parks was able to get proof from Western Union that he had been sending money at a pharmacy in Haledon, N.J., more than 30 miles away, when the incident happened. At his last court hearing, he told the judge he was willing to go to trial to defend himself. But a few months later, his case was dismissed.
Robert Hubner, the chief of the Woodbridge Police Department, declined to comment on the case because of the pending lawsuit, but said his department had not been served the complaint. The Middlesex County prosecutor’s office also declined to comment.
Mr. Parks’s lawsuit over the wrongful arrest does not yet ask for damages.
“I was locked up for no reason,” Mr. Parks said. “I’ve seen it happen to other people. I’ve seen it on the news. I just never thought it would happen to me. It was a very scary ordeal.”
Jack Begg contributed research.
By JM Wong, December 23, 2020https://southseattleemerald.com/2020/12/23/future-gazing-what-if-care-was-the-organizing-principle-of-our-society/
With a challenging year soon to be behind us, we asked community members to share their vision of what they hope becomes of our city post-pandemic.
What if care was the organizing principle of our society? Not profit, not white supremacist garbage masked as liberal paternalism in the form of “diversity” that would hire cops of color to continue to target Black and Brown folks on the street just living their lives.
What if care was my people who are here finding home as guests on Turtle Island, shredding up the myths of american empire force-fed to us through aid packages and free trade agreements, with jobs that colonize our psyches and rob us of our life forces?
What if care was us acknowledging our presence on someone else’s ancestral lands? Lands that are marked by Indigenous peoples’ resistance, the Black radical tradition, and also by Chinatown histories of striking railroad, textile factory, and hand laundromat workers?
What if this kind of care — not the citizenship test, not words from twisted tongues that we are forced to regurgitate — was how we are oriented to this country?
What if care was my dear homie F, and all the other homies locked up in cages, being able to go kick it with me and the squad at Lake Washington on a full moon night, setting intentions and sharing prayer? But not before we fish off of that one dock and share why we love the story of orca whale mom Tahlequah who carried her dead calf around for 17 days and what that teaches us about mammalian grief, which is as deep as the ocean waters and as resilient as the light that hits it everyday. We know now that Tahlequah has a new baby calf! What if care was more shared moments of freedom, not captivity? We don’t stop organizing till our families are alive and free.
What if care was my bestie, undocumented in status, being able to return to the homelands, to introduce their mother to the new baby, so it is not just the screens and distorted sounds of choppy Wi-Fi that will etch the visual and audio memory of their child’s ancestral bloodlines? What if this child could play with her grandmother so my bestie can rest sometimes, not replying at all to my insomnia texts because work has kept them up too late? Organize childcare for everyone and especially the single parents who hustle while they deal with the regular challenges of life and sometimes while still doing the work to heal for themselves and the futures they nourish.
What if care is everyone living lives of exploration, of ease, of connection?
What if care is the organizing principle of our society?
Care that is creative and tenacious, relentless and wholesome, abundant and kind. The kind of fierce love that helped us survive the pain, loss, and heartbreak of 2020. A world where this love is the uncompromising foundation of our society, is the hope that anchors me into the future. We got you, and each other, 2021!
JM Wong (they/them) is a queer child of the Chinese diaspora living on Duwamish lands (Seattle) via Malaysia/Singapore and many cities in between. They write about movements, desire, and longings across distances and bordered spaces. Of diaspora, of the logistical supply chain stretching over ocean waters, of connections transcending prison walls, of crossings over to the ancestral realms. What we each journey through matters, and the futures we imagine begin from now. They organize with COVID-19 Mutual Aid, Free Them All WA, and the FIGHT/APICAG family.
The Senate vote on Wednesday was a major victory for Latin America’s growing feminist movement, and its ripple effects are likely to be widespread.
By Daniel Politi and Ernesto Londoño, Dec. 30, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/30/world/americas/argentina-legalizes-abortion.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Supporters of legalizing abortion celebrating outside Congress in Buenos Aires on Wednesday. Credit...Sarah Pabst for The New York Times
BUENOS AIRES — Argentina on Wednesday became the largest nation in Latin America to legalize abortion, a landmark vote in a conservative region and a victory for a grass-roots movement that turned years of rallies into political power.
The high-stakes vote in the Senate gripped the nation into the early morning, and the measure’s approval — by a wider-than-expected tally of 38 to 29, with one abstention — came after 12 hours of often dramatic debate, exposing the tensions between the long-dominant Roman Catholic Church, whose influence is waning, and a growing feminist movement.
“I didn’t change my way of thinking about abortion,” said Lucila Crexell, a senator from the southern Neuquén Province who had kept her vote under wraps and abstained from a vote on the matter in 2018. “I changed my focus on how I think the issue should be approached. It isn’t about feminism or religion. Clandestine abortion is a silent figure that kills, harms and writes very sad stories.”
As it unfolded, the Senate debate was closely followed by masses of both opponents and supporters of abortion rights, who camped out in the plaza around the neo-Classical Palace of Congress, chanting, cheering and praying as they tried to sway a handful of undecided senators to their respective camps.
Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernández, has promised to sign the bill into law, making it legal for women to end pregnancies for any reason up to 14 weeks. After that, there will be exceptions allowed for rape and the woman’s health.
The effects of the legalization vote are likely to ripple across Latin America, galvanizing reproductive-rights advocates elsewhere in the region and leaving them hopeful that other socially conservative nations could follow suit.
Uruguay, Cuba and Guyana are the only other countries in Latin America to allow abortion on request. Argentina, like a number of other countries in the region, had previously permitted abortion in cases of rape or if the pregnancy posed a risk to a woman’s health; other Latin American countries have stricter limits or total prohibitions.
“Legalizing abortion in Argentina is a gigantic victory that protects fundamental rights and will inspire change in Latin America,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, the Americas deputy director for Human Rights Watch. “It’s predictable, however, that this will also mobilize pro-life groups.”
Supporters of the legislation cheered and hugged as soon as the vote total was announced, confirming that what they had been fighting for had become reality.
“It’s one of those things that you anticipate for so long that when it finally happens you can’t believe it and don’t know what to do with yourself,” said María Blanco, 27. “I couldn’t stop crying.”
Argentina’s legalization of abortion was a striking rebuke of Pope Francis, who injected himself into the bitter political debate in his homeland on the eve of the vote, praising a women’s group from impoverished neighborhoods for its activism against abortion. It was also a setback for the country’s fast-growing evangelical Protestant churches, which had joined forces with the Catholic Church in opposing the change.
“I feel a profound sense of anguish that in this country that I love the right to life is not respected,” said Abigail Pereira, 27, who had been out in Buenos Aires protesting against legalization. “But I will keep on fighting.”
The vote was a major legislative victory for Mr. Fernández, Argentina’s center-left president, who has made women’s rights central to his administration’s agenda.
But primarily it was a win for Argentina’s grass-roots abortion-rights advocates, who have recently paved the way for other deep shifts in the country’s cultural and political landscape — including marriage equality, gender parity initiatives and transgender rights — and made Argentina a bellwether of changes that have gained broader traction in the region.
Argentina’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, approved the bill earlier this month, by a vote of 131 to 117. It also passed a similar measure two years ago, only to have it fail in the Senate, 38 to 31; the president at the time, Mauricio Macri, said he was personally against legalization but vowed not to veto the bill if it made it through Congress.
Mr. Fernández campaigned for the presidency on a platform that included abortion rights, gender equality, and gay and transgender rights, and he has followed through on those promises to a degree that has surprised even some of his supporters.
Supporters of the abortion measure, including Senator Norma Durango, said legalizing abortion would simply bring the practice out of the shadows. Researchers say hundreds of thousands of underground abortions are performed in Argentina every year.
Around 40,000 women were hospitalized for complications related to abortions in 2016, according to the latest available data from the Health Ministry, while at least 65 women died between 2016 and 2018 from complications, according to a report by Argentina’s Access to Safe Abortion Network.
“I sit here today representing all the women who have died having clandestine abortions,” said Ms. Durango, who was the first lawmaker to speak during the debate that began Tuesday. “Abortion is a reality, and it has been taking place since time immemorial.”
The effort to loosen Argentina’s abortion laws is decades old, but it got a boost from the feminist movement Ni Una Menos, which formed in 2015 to protest violence against women and has since been the driving force behind the abortion legalization campaign.
The symbol of that effort in Argentina — green handkerchiefs — has caught on in several Latin American countries, including Mexico, where women sporting them have poured into the streets demanding greater support for their rights.
“The green movement that started in Argentina has taken over the entire region,” said Paula Ávila-Guillen, executive director of the Women’s Equality Center. “Any activist from Mexico to Argentina is wearing the green handkerchief as a symbol for legalizing abortion.”
Just hours before the Senate took up the measure on Tuesday afternoon, Pope Francis, who as pontiff has sought to distance himself from political debates in Argentina, issued a message that appeared directed to the handful of senators who had not yet made their position clear.
“The Son of God was born an outcast, in order to tell us that every outcast is a child of God,” he wrote on Twitter. “He came into the world as each child comes into the world, weak and vulnerable, so that we can learn to accept our weaknesses with tender love.”
Catholic and evangelical leaders had called on supporters to observe a day of prayer and fasting on Monday to reflect on “the killing of so many innocent children.” Church leaders have been working throughout the year to galvanize the faithful, and large anti-abortion marches have taken place across the country.
On Tuesday, opponents of legal abortion, who tend to wear baby blue, displayed a large doll that looked like a fetus, which they sprayed with fake blood.
Mr. Fernández, a law professor who has long supported legalizing abortion, made it a campaign promise, and an early legislative priority once he took office at the end of 2019. The decision entailed political risks, as he took the reins of a troubled economy that has been in recession for two years and soon after ordered one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in the world.
But Mr. Fernández and his vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, came to see abortion as one of the few items on their agenda they could advance amid a torrent of challenges. Ms. Kirchner, who led Argentina as president from 2007 to 2015, opposed legalizing abortion during most of her political career.
Her position shifted in the lead-up to the vote in 2018, when tens of thousands of women demonstrated across Argentina in support of making access to abortion on request legal. Ms. Kirchner, who was then a senator, has said her daughter played a key role in changing her mind.
“Through our years of activism, we’ve managed to get people to change their positions,” said Celeste Mac Dougall, an abortion rights advocate. “Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is the most obvious example that opinions can change.”
Melina Alegre, a 34-year-old retail worker, said it seemed particularly significant that the law that the women’s rights movement had been pushing for so long was approved right before the new year.
“2020 was a horrible year,” she said, “and here we are, ending it with a historic victory.”
Daniel Politi reported from Buenos Aires, and Ernesto Londoño from Rio de Janeiro.
By Susie Day, December 30, 2020https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/12/30/covid-19-prison-and-another-pandemic-clare-grady-made-me-remember/
Clare Grady is going to prison. On February 10, this nice Irish Catholic lady of 62, who lives with her family in Ithaca, New York will enter Alderson Prison, West Virginia, to begin a one-year-and-one-day sentence. That’s because, on April 4, 2018, Clare and six cohorts, also white and Catholic, broke into the world’s largest nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia and defaced government property to call attention to the increasing danger of nuclear war.
Because the group – Plowshares 7 – believes that nuclear weapons aren’t created in isolation from a system that also creates climate change, murders people like George Floyd, and brutally detains immigrants, the group read out a statement, repenting of the sin of white supremacy. They condemned “racism, militarism, and extreme materialism,” the triple evils of the U.S. profit imperative once called out by Martin Luther King.
Unsurprisingly, Clare and her comrades were arrested, charged with federal crimes, and convicted on all counts. By now, all but one have been sentenced to terms similar in length to Clare’s, which, compared to those served by most people convicted of felonies, seem almost tiny.
As a journalist, I recently interviewed Clare about her case. Since then, Clare and I have been emailing, Zooming, talking about people we know in common, her kids, the puppets she’s making for some peace project. She is becoming my friend. So what you’re reading isn’t anything like a balanced, unbiased hunk of journalism. I am an unprofessional.
See, over the past decades, I’ve come to know many people imprisoned for unlawful acts, protesting some or all of Dr. King’s “evil triplets.” I know that people in prison suffer physically, psychologically. Sometimes they die.
And now, the COVID-19 pandemic has invaded the crowded, unsanitary cages where people – “political” or not – are afforded little or no protection. Reportedly, COVID-19 infections are 5.5 times – and counting – higher in U.S. prisons than out. Seeing Clare Grady and her friends incarcerated would have been hard without COVID. It’s way harder now. They’re in their sixties, seventies; many battling underlying health concerns.
To try and help them, I’ve thought about reporting on the scourge of COVID-19 behind bars: the high infection rates inside; the vulnerability of elders; how hardly anyone gets out. But knowing Clare has helped me remember, from deep in the 20th century folds of my brain, something even worse than this pandemic. I remember what nuclear weapons can do.
In 1945, as everybody knows, the U.S. dropped atom bombs on two Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands of people, poisoning the ecosystem, and beginning a global arms race that brought us weapons of increasing devastation, capable of obliterating planetary life many times over. Like billions, I grew up in a world where “mutually assured destruction” was the only way to “peace.”
Fortunately, there was pushback. Some people wrote books like E.P. Thompson’s Protest and Survive. Others actually protested. People around the world decried not just nuclear war but also nuclear power, after accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Plowshares, begun in 1980, was only one group among hundreds working to abolish nuclear power and weapons. People like Clare and her gang were there on June 12, 1982, when around a million antinuke protestors took over Midtown and Central Park in New York City.
For a minute, back in the last century, protesting nuclear war was cool. Women in particular played a huge part; in the 1980’s, women’s peace camps sprang up in places like Greenham Common in the UK and Seneca Falls, NY. I was part of a Midwestern lesbian community where, along with supporting battered women’s shelters and marching against police brutality, just about everybody worked somehow against nuclear weapons and power. We got pretty good at describing what a nuclear winter would be for those unlucky enough to survive an initial blast: blackened sky for years; burning asphalt; deaths from radiation… We ingested that nightmare.
But it turns out you can’t live more than a few years contemplating nuclear apocalypse and ragging on the military industrial complex if you want a “normal” life. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas needed help; then the HIV/AIDS crisis hit. So, forgetting that the arms industry never sleeps, most of us migrated to other causes. Like America, we made peace with our end-of-the-world nightmare through fun, post-apocalyptic and dystopian scenarios, from Godzilla to The Hunger Games.
Years ago, it was relatively simple to identify governments as the source of nuclear buildup. Then corporations began devouring every facet of production, handling, storage. As the nuclear industry threaded its way through the products and services of our lives, it became harder to see, dismantle, and to protest. Gradually, much of the antinuke movement shuttered.
Plowshares didn’t. Clare’s April 2018 protest was maybe the 80th Plowshares action. Yet, how could it possibly change today’s world, which holds around 14,000 nuclear bombs, most of which are vastly more destructive than those that hit Japan, and can be launched (by design or accident) instantly?
There’s also the fact that Trump has pissed on nuclear pacts like the Open Skies Treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the Iran Nuclear Deal. A few days after Joe Biden takes office, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia will expire. Will Biden move to extend it? Maybe. But let’s remember that he voted for the 2003 Iraq invasion, and seems, according to In These Times, to be stocking his administration with a “host of pro-war individuals.”
What Joe Biden will never admit is that the world doesn’t have to work this way. In fact, it was Clare, not Joe, who told me that there’s a new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons [TPNW] going into effect January 22. International law will soon make nuclear weapons illegal.
Of course, Joe doesn’t care; NATO and the U.S. oppose the treaty. Clare will go to prison and the mainstream press won’t peep. All TPNW offers is small hope for a big miracle. But still, it’s hope.
So COVID. It would be wonderful if Clare and her comrades never had to go to prison and possibly contract the virus. It would be wonderful if none of the 2.3 million, mostly Black or Brown, people in U.S. prisons didn’t have to be there in the first place, and live with the constant fear of dying inside.
Basically: if you’ve been fighting those bad triplets, please don’t stop. But the whole point of that seemingly pointless Plowshares action is to wake us up to the fact that all life forms – regardless of politics – are desperately, deeply, drastically interdependent. “Intersectional,” in movement terms. And if some “right-wingers” deny COVID, most of us – left, right, center – perpetually deny the likelihood of nuclear disaster.
So let Clare Grady do her work. And if my friend goes to prison, if she gets sick there, then sicker … my heart will break. It may not recover. But here’s the thing.
It won’t break for nothing.