RALLY To Drop Charges Against Julian Assange
Demand that members of Congress support the Congressional Resolution
December 10, 2020, 11:00 A.M.
Barbara Lee's Congressional Office
1301 Clay St # 1000N, Oakland, CA 94612
Oakland, CA 94612
Please sign this petition in support of H. Res. 1175
Congress: Drop the charges against Julian Assange!
A bipartisan resolution to drop the charges against Julian Assange has just been introduced in the House of Representatives. Democrats and Republicans are joining together and calling out the charges against Julian for what they are—a threat to free journalism and free speech.
Our movement to protect our First Amendment rights is not partisan. Sign our petition now to urge your representatives to join this effort and condemn the attack on our civil liberties.
We can defend the free press and Julian Assange, but we need your representatives to stand up and do the right thing. Sign our petition and let your representative know how crucial it is that the United States drop its charges against Julian!
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.
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
David Andreatta, November 25, 2020https://www.wxxinews.org/post/governor-denies-restoring-voting-rights-parolee-jalil-muntaqim
Parolees are not allowed to vote in New York upon release from prison without the 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 corrections commissioner to submit to him 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 is eligible for a pardon as long as they are not flagged by law enforcement for any specific concerns. Most parolees receive their pardon, which does not expunge their record, within four to six weeks of their release.
A spokesperson for the Governor’s Office said Muntaqim was denied a voting pardon last week.
In a notable twist, however, the Department of Corrections listed Muntaqim on its website as having received the pardon. The spokesperson called the listing "a clerical error."
The error could be found as recently as Monday on the department’s “Parolee Lookup” page, which provides information on parolees to the public, including their date of birth, parole status, and whether their voting rights have been restored.
On the page assigned to Muntaqim, the word “Yes” was shown next to a line that indicates whether a voting pardon has been issued. The agency modified that to “No” late Monday after CITY inquired about Muntaqim’s voting eligibility status.
Muntaqim, 69, was released from prison on parole on Oct. 7, after serving nearly 50 years on a pair of first-degree murder convictions in the 1971 shooting deaths of two New York City police officers. He was convicted and served under his given name, Anthony Bottom.
About two weeks after his release, the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office charged Muntaqim with tampering with public records and offering a false instrument for filing, both felonies, and a misdemeanor for filing a completed voter registration form with the county Board of Elections.
Muntaqim filled out the form the day after his release, before being notified whether he had received the governor’s pardon. He filled out the form using his given name, which he never formally changed after assuming his new name in prison decades ago.
The Board of Elections subsequently rejected his registration.
A conditional pardon restoring Muntaqim's voting rights would have put a wrinkle into his prosecution, which has gotten the attention of national organizations that advocate for expanded ballot access for formerly incarcerated people.
Muntaqim has been arraigned in Brighton Town Court and is scheduled to appear next on Dec. 14.
Should he be convicted on the felonies, he would likely be returned to prison. One of the felonies carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. The other carries a maximum of four years.
"This case is just another reminder of the extreme outcome for the underlying act that is being called into question and the extreme level of punitiveness that characterizes American criminal jurisprudence," said Nicole Porter, the director of advocacy at the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group for criminal justice reform.
"It is incredibly frustrating that prosecutors are willing to make an example of this man and take away someone's liberty for something like this," Porter said. "I don't know how these prosecutors sleep at night."
The United States has a long history of disenfranchising felons, even after they’ve served their time, although a national movement to restore their voting rights is gaining traction. This month, California and Florida overwhelmingly approved measures to re-enfranchise voting rights to parolees.
"The point of parole is to encourage people to reintegrate themselves into the community in a healthy way," said Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of the Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Program at New York University. "We should all want people who are being released from prison and returned to their communities to play a productive role in their communities. That shouldn't be a controversial proposition."
District Attorney Sandra Doorley said in an interview that Muntaqim's case was presented to her as an instance of potential voter fraud and that the facts were straightforward.
Reached at home, Muntaqim declined to comment. His lawyer, a public defender, also declined to comment.
His mother, Billie Bottom Brown, has called his filing of a voter registration form “a mistake.” She said the form was within a packet of paperwork provided to her son to help him assimilate back into society.
Friends of Muntaqim’s said the paperwork was provided 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, 52, a youth advocate in Wayne County who has known Muntaqim since they met as inmates at Auburn Correctional Facility in 2000 and considers him a mentor.
“One thing he wanted to be more than anything was be a productive member of society,” Schuler said. “They gave him paperwork to do that and he signed.”
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
Court filings reveal consultants’ talk of a records purge during the opioid crisis, and shed new light on sales advice given to the billionaire Sackler family and their drug company, Purdue Pharma.
By Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe, Nov. 27, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/27/business/mckinsey-purdue-oxycontin-opioids.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
When Purdue Pharma agreed last month to plead guilty to criminal charges involving OxyContin, the Justice Department noted the role an unidentified consulting company had played in driving sales of the addictive painkiller even as public outrage grew over widespread overdoses.
Documents released last week in a federal bankruptcy court in New York show that the adviser was McKinsey & Company, the world’s most prestigious consulting firm. The 160 pages include emails and slides revealing new details about McKinsey’s advice to the Sackler family, Purdue’s billionaire owners, and the firm’s now notorious plan to “turbocharge” OxyContin sales at a time when opioid abuse had already killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.
In a 2017 presentation, according to the records, which were filed in court on behalf of multiple state attorneys general, McKinsey laid out several options to shore up sales. One was to give Purdue’s distributors a rebate for every OxyContin overdose attributable to pills they sold.
The presentation estimated how many customers of companies including CVS and Anthem might overdose. It projected that in 2019, for example, 2,484 CVS customers would either have an overdose or develop an opioid use disorder. A rebate of $14,810 per “event” meant that Purdue would pay CVS $36.8 million that year.
CVS and Anthem have recently been among McKinsey’s biggest clients. Press officers for the two companies said they had never received rebates from Purdue for customers who had overdosed on OxyContin.
Though McKinsey has not been charged by the federal government or sued, it began to worry about legal repercussions in 2018, according to the documents. After Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against Purdue, Martin Elling, a leader for McKinsey’s North American pharmaceutical practice, wrote to another senior partner, Arnab Ghatak: “It probably makes sense to have a quick conversation with the risk committee to see if we should be doing anything” other than “eliminating all our documents and emails. Suspect not but as things get tougher there someone might turn to us.”
Mr. Ghatak, who also advised Purdue, replied: “Thanks for the heads up. Will do.”
It is not known whether consultants at the firm went on to destroy any records.
The two men were among the highest-ranking consultants at McKinsey. Five years earlier, the documents show, they emailed colleagues about a meeting in which McKinsey persuaded the Sacklers to aggressively market OxyContin.
The meeting “went very well — the room was filled with only family, including the elder statesman Dr. Raymond,” wrote Mr. Ghatak, referring to Purdue’s co-founder, the physician Raymond Sackler, who would die in 2017.
Mr. Elling concurred. “By the end of the meeting,” he wrote, “the findings were crystal clear to everyone and they gave a ringing endorsement of moving forward fast.”
McKinsey’s plan was accepted, even though Russell Gasdia, then Purdue’s vice president of sales and marketing, questioned the firm’s approach, writing Mr. Ghatak the night before the meeting to say that he had real concerns “on the need to turbocharge sales” of OxyContin.
Another Purdue executive, David Lundie, agreed with the strategy, however. Mr. Lundie said the proposal would catch the Sackler family’s attention, according to the documents. It did.
By 2017, Purdue’s chief executive, Craig Landau, wrote that the crisis was caused by “too many Rxs being written” at “too high a dose” and “for too long.” The drugs, he said, were being prescribed “for conditions that often don’t require them” by physicians who lacked “the requisite training in how to use them appropriately.”
When McKinsey was later called on to “disassemble” the aggressive sales campaign, according to the court filings, Mr. Landau was quoted as saying that it was something “we should have done five years ago.”
A press officer for McKinsey on Wednesday said the firm had been “cooperating fully with the opioid-related investigations” and had announced in 2019 that it “would not advise any clients worldwide on opioid-specific business.”
In a statement last month, the Sacklers said that family members “who served on Purdue’s board of directors acted ethically and lawfully.”
McKinsey’s involvement in the opioid crisis came to light early last year, with the release of documents from Massachusetts, which is among the states suing Purdue. Those records show that McKinsey was helping Purdue find a way “to counter the emotional messages from mothers with teenagers that overdosed” from OxyContin.
On Tuesday, Purdue pleaded guilty to criminal charges, including defrauding federal health agencies and paying illegal kickbacks to doctors. The company also faces roughly $8.3 billion in penalties. As part of the settlement, members of the Sackler family will pay $225 million in civil penalties.
In a statement issued after the announcement of the settlement in October, Purdue said it “deeply regrets and accepts responsibility” for misconduct involving its marketing of OxyContin.
The federal settlement with Purdue comes as states and municipalities seek compensation from opioid makers for helping fuel a health crisis that has killed more than 450,000 Americans since 1999. Purdue is now seeking bankruptcy protection, as are other manufacturers.
“This is the banality of evil, M.B.A. edition,” Anand Giridharadas, a former McKinsey consultant who reviewed the documents, said of the firm’s work with Purdue. “They knew what was going on. And they found a way to look past it, through it, around it, so as to answer the only questions they cared about: how to make the client money and, when the walls closed in, how to protect themselves.”
Mr. Giridharadas is a New York Times contributor who wrote a 2018 book that examined the power of elites, including those at McKinsey, for how they evade responsibility for social harm.
In recent years, McKinsey has attracted criticism and unwanted attention for its dealings around the world, including in authoritarian countries such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Its business in South Africa was decimated after McKinsey worked with companies tied to a corruption scandal that led to the ouster of the country’s president. In the United States, McKinsey worked with Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Trump, proposing ways to cut spending on food and housing for detainees.
The documents released last week detail McKinsey’s work with Purdue going back to 2008, the year after the drugmaker pleaded guilty to misleading regulators. The Food and Drug Administration had previously told Purdue that OxyContin would face sales restrictions and that doctors prescribing it would require specialized training.
The Sackler family saw those rules as a threat and, joining with McKinsey, made a plan to “band together” with other opioid makers to push back, according to one email. McKinsey prepped Purdue executives for a vital meeting before an F.D.A. advisory committee reviewing its proposed reformulation of OxyContin to make it less prone to abuse. The reformulation went on the market in 2010.
McKinsey put together briefing materials that anticipated questions Purdue would receive. One possible question: “Who at Purdue takes personal responsibility for these deaths?”
The proposed answer: “We all feel responsible.”
Dr. Richard Sackler, now the family patriarch, was pleased with the preparations, writing to his daughter in a January 2009 email: “Marianna, I am writing to tell you how impressed I was by the preparation for the F.D.A. meeting. Both the method and process as well as the content was excellent and a major departure from efforts like this in the past.”
Purdue’s F.D.A. meeting appeared to be at least partly successful. “Even to this day, the F.D.A. has never required specialized training for OxyContin prescribers,” wrote the state lawyers who filed the documents last week.
City police officers who were assigned body cameras documented more stops than officers who did not wear the devices during a yearlong pilot program.
"Darius Charney, a senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights and one of the lead plaintiffs’ lawyers in the stop-and-frisk case, said the New York study’s key findings suggest that the problems at the heart of the case — underreporting and racial bias — are much larger than previously known."
By Ashley Southall, Nov. 30, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/30/nyregion/nypd-body-cameras.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=New%20York
Police body cameras can help reduce the kind of bogus stops that have fueled accusations of racial bias and harassment against police officers in New York City, according to a long-awaited report released Monday.
Officers who wore the devices reported almost 40 percent more stops than officers who did not, the report found, suggesting that body cameras could compel officers to provide a more accurate accounting of their pedestrian stops under the department policy known as stop-and-frisk.
Peter Zimroth, the federal monitor who prepared the report and is guiding changes to the stop-and-frisk policy, attributed the increase in documented stops to officers being more inclined to record their actions on official paperwork knowing that they were recorded and could be reviewed. Underreporting has hindered court-ordered reform efforts for years, but the report suggests that the cameras are key to understanding the scope of the problem and fixing it.
While body cameras are not a cure-all for policing problems, Mr. Zimroth said in the report, their ability to illuminate police encounters can be “a powerful tool for increasing transparency and accountability for officers, the public and for police officials.”
Underscoring critics’ claims that the stop-and-frisk policy still disproportionately affects people of color, the report found that encounters were significantly more likely to involve Black or Hispanic people. They were also more likely to be deemed unlawful by supervisors reviewing the resulting video.
Darius Charney, a senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights and one of the lead plaintiffs’ lawyers in the stop-and-frisk case, said the New York study’s key findings suggest that the problems at the heart of the case — underreporting and racial bias — are much larger than previously known.
“Those two things together raise a red flag for me,” he said in an interview. “That would suggest that the stop data is actually hiding the true extent of the disparities and the true extent of the racial bias in stops.”
Mr. Charney said that he was disappointed that the monitor did not provide policy recommendations or dive deeper into the implication that the underreporting issue could be racially skewed.
Mr. Zimroth, who does not grant interviews, was appointed as a monitor by a federal judge who declared the Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional in 2013. The study was designed to assess the risks and benefits of outfitting the city’s entire police force with body cameras, but the city went ahead with a departmentwide rollout before the yearlong pilot program started in April 2017.
Alfred J. Baker, a police spokesman, said the department welcomed the report, but it reflected outdated practices. Some 22,000 of the roughly 35,000 officers in the department wear the cameras, including all officers on patrol and in specialized units.
“The NYPD has long since deployed body-worn cameras for its entire patrol force to realize the benefits of increased transparency and better compliance by officers with the NYPD’s policies and procedures, including those relating to street stops,” he said.
The Police Department joined other law enforcement agencies in rapidly adopting the devices after cellphone video shed light on the police killings of Black men like Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York, and ignited nationwide unrest and calls for greater accountability for officers.
Some law enforcement agencies around the country, however, have stopped using the devices, citing the exorbitant costs of storing the resulting video footage and the lack of proof of their effectiveness.
Police body cameras have generated more than eight million videos since they were adopted in New York City, officials said last year, and officers record about 130,000 videos each week, according to the monitor. The devices are routinely used by the police, prosecutors and the city’s civilian police watchdog agency to investigate crimes and review officer conduct in the line of duty.
The vast majority of the footage is shielded from the public, but police have released footage from incidents like fatal shootings to show why they believe officers’ actions were justified. Legal activists have also used the video to push for changes in department policies and procedures, like removing officers from calls dealing with people in mental or emotional crisis.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates accusations of police misconduct filed by civilians, has said that body-camera footage increases the likelihood that its investigators will be able to complete their investigations and substantiate claims against officers.
Mr. Zimroth said his study fills a research deficit and provides critical guidance to police officials weighing whether to adopt or keep body camera programs.
The report adds to a small body of research that has produced mixed findings on the benefits and limitations of body cameras. One study of 2,200 officers in Washington, D.C., found that body cameras did not have a meaningful effect on officers’ behavior, as measured by civilian complaints and uses of force.
The debate over the policy came to a head in New York in 2013, when Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled the Police Department used the stops to target Black and Hispanic people without valid legal reason, in violation of the Constitution. The judge appointed Mr. Zimroth to oversee changes designed to bring the policy in line with the Constitution, including a pilot study of whether body cameras provided any remedial benefits.
Since then, stops have plummeted. Officers conducted 13,459 stops last year, down from 191,851 stops in 2013. At the peak of stop-and-frisk in 2011, officers made 685,724 stops.
But Mr. Zimroth has repeatedly raised concerns about officers failing to file official paperwork documenting the stops, which allow officers to detain and question people who they reasonably suspect are involved in criminal activity.
In a recent report, the monitor said that 30 percent of stops conducted in 2019 were not reported by officers. Those who did fill out department paperwork failed to articulate a sufficient legal reason for 21 percent of the 1,237 stops that were audited last year.
During the pilot study, Mr. Zimroth found that the number of stops reported by officers wearing cameras rose 38.8 percent.
The justifications given by officers who reported stops while wearing cameras were more likely to be judged as unlawful compared with those given by officers who did not use the devices. The trend was also true for stops that led to subsequent police actions like frisks, searches and arrests.
The New York study involved more than 1,200 uniformed and plainclothes officers working the 3 p.m. to midnight shift in 40 precincts. The precincts were paired based on their similar levels of enforcement activity, civilian complaints and demographics of officers and neighborhoods. One precinct in each pair was part of the treatment group assigned to wear body cameras, while the other precinct was part of the control group that did not use the devices.
The study found that officers wearing body cameras drew 21 percent fewer complaints than officers who did not wear them, suggesting that both parties — officer and civilian — were mindful of their behavior when the devices were present.
But the devices had no significant effect on arrests, officers’ use of force, reporting of crimes and domestic disputes, or public attitudes toward the police, according to the monitor’s report.
“At the very least,” Mr. Zimroth said, the presence of body cameras helps to satisfy the public’s expectation to see video of controversial encounters and judge for themselves. The devices also signal that mechanisms exist to hold officers responsible for misconduct, and their use can help improve public attitudes about the legitimacy of police actions, he said.
“Given the demonstrated benefits and absence of harmful outcomes, this study supports not only the use of body-worn cameras by the NYPD, but their use by other departments as well,” he concluded.
Despite a readily available vaccine, it’s not being given to migrant children.
By Mario Mendoza, Dec. 2, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/02/opinion/flu-vaccine-migrant-children.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Only government intervention can keep millions of Americans housed.
By Francesca Mari, Ms. Mari is a writer., Dec. 2, 2020
We’ve all been so concerned about the transition on Jan. 20 that many of us have forgotten another critical date for American democracy: Dec. 31. That’s when the federal eviction moratorium — which has held the pandemic-related eviction tsunami at bay — expires. After that date, more than 30 million Americans are at risk of losing their homes. Congress must act to stabilize the country’s rental market, prevent widespread displacement and curtail the growing domination of housing by big corporations.
More than half of renters pay 30 percent or more of their income on rent, according to the 2019 American Housing Survey, and more than half of lowest-income renter households reported some loss of employment income between mid-March and mid-September. Although CARES money has been flowing to states, which have established various rental assistance programs, all of them are oversubscribed.
“I can’t point to a city that says we’ve got this figured out,” Mary Cunningham, vice president for metropolitan housing and communities policy at the Urban Institute, told me. “It’s really the role of the federal government to provide. They’re the ones with the ability to match the need.”
“Cancel rent,” the movement calling for rent strikes, is a useful tactic against the most notorious, fee-gouging corporate landlords. But close to half of the country’s 47.5 million rental units aren’t corporate-owned, as of 2015. These units, typically single-family homes or apartments in smaller multifamily buildings, are owned by individuals with their own mortgages and bills. And the units they rent in their smaller complexes generally cost less. Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, introduced a Rent and Mortgage Cancellation bill. But that bill, which proposed government reimbursement for landlords and lenders who agree to adhere to fair practices, has been all but ignored. Congress isn’t going to pick up the bag and pay the difference, so widespread canceling of rent is a sure path to displacement: either the landlord will evict, or the landlord will be forced to sell.
Cue the vulture investors who have been circling from the start. Private equity entered the pandemic with more “dry powder” than ever before. That’s the industry term for money earmarked for a certain type of investment, like real estate, but not yet invested. It’s money waiting for a great opportunity, one that the Trump administration’s catastrophic management of the pandemic will surely provide. During the last financial crisis, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made millions buying a failed bank that proceeded to foreclose on homeowners using methods that regulators accused of being “unsafe or unsound.” Other private equity funds amassed foreclosed homes and created single-family rental home empires. As the home values recovered, private equity cashed out of the companies, reaping maximum profits. Now those rental companies, like Invitation Homes, which has 80,000 houses concentrated in 17 markets, told investors that it hopes to ramp up acquisitions.
As of September, 9 percent of the nation’s 48 million homeowners with mortgages were behind on their housing payments, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. By late October, close to 6 percent of those with mortgages were in forbearance. Many are house rich and cash poor. Distressed sales are expected, leaving housing stock up for grabs at a time when most Americans cannot afford to take on new mortgages. Black and Latino people, who disproportionately work in service industries most impacted by the pandemic and who were deprived of generational wealth by racist housing policies, are most at risk.
The easiest way to prevent distressed sales and corporate acquisitions is to empower individuals. One efficient solution would be a short-term universal basic income for everyone who falls below a certain threshold. The $1,200 stimulus check was that. And the $600 weekly supplement to unemployment insurance was essentially that, too. Both were extremely effective. The majority of recipients used some of that money toward rent or mortgage payments. Because the supplement wasn’t earmarked for housing, it didn’t create openings for landlords or other entities to exploit, and the housing market wasn’t adversely affected. In July, the share of apartment households who didn’t pay rent increased by only roughly one percentage point compared to last year, from 3.4 to 4.3 percent, according to a survey of 11.5 million units. The problem with the supplement was that it was tied to being unemployed, leading some to turn down low-paying or part-time work that paid less.
Another viable (and more moderate) plan calls for the government to finance 10-year-long low-interest-rate loans to tenants so that they can pay their accrued back rent. The program, proposed by Gary Painter, director of the U.S.C. Price Center for Social Innovation and the Homelessness Policy Research Institute, ideally would be progressively subsidized and negotiated with landlords. That would mean those with lower incomes who rent modest, lower-cost places would pay a smaller percentage of their accrued rental liability than those with higher incomes who rent fancier places. The key would be to make the application as accessible and easy as possible. “Everyone would be giving up something,” Mr. Painter told me. “The tenants would have to pay something. Landlords aren’t going to be happy because they’d only get a percentage of the rent. But in the long run, if you had a plan, everyone could negotiate accordingly.”
Most critically: For those properties that do hit the market, especially hotel and apartment buildings, we need a government-sponsored affordable housing acquisition fund and legislation that gives it first priority to scoop up properties. The cost of not acting is too high. In 2018, there were only 10 million affordable rentals on the private market and almost 18 million households with very low incomes that needed them. Without government intervention, affordable units are prone to be converted into condos, further vexing the rental situation in cities like Los Angeles, which already have low vacancy rates.
Critics and conservatives will cry “moral hazard!” at the prospect of a universal basic income or financing loans to struggling renters. This is the same complaint that was lodged against bailing out homeowners during the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. The government provided a swift and generous bailout to the banks that caused the crisis. But programs to support underwater homeowners, the Home Affordable Modification Program and the Home Affordable Refinance Program, under-delivered: HAMP permanently reduced mortgages for less than half of the recipients the program was intended to help, and HARP initially only helped about a million borrowers. Because there was so much concern that homeowners would cheat the system, loan reduction and modification applications were prohibitively cumbersome. When homes went to foreclosure auction, vulture investors snagged them up at steep discounts. Those who went through foreclosure not only had their lives upended but they have lost trust in the government and, some studies have shown, have been less likely to vote.
The housing crisis we face now is fundamentally different from the one in 2008, not the result of spurious new financial instruments, but a sort of natural disaster (and home prices have only gone up, not down). In that sense, it’s easier, if even more costly, to fix. Renters need an outlay of “federal pandemic insurance,” as Mr. Painter likes to call it. While the eviction moratoriums are still in place, Congress has a choice: prepare a rental recovery program that builds trust or allow mass eviction, displacement, foreclosure, corporate consolidation and increased inequality. It is a choice with repercussions not just for individual citizens, but for the survival of a real democracy.
A United Nations commission voted to remove marijuana for medical use from a list of the most risky narcotics, such as heroin.
By Isabella Kwai, Dec. 2, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/02/world/europe/cannabis-united-nations-drug-policy.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
A United Nations commission voted on Wednesday to remove cannabis for medicinal purposes from a category of the world’s most dangerous drugs, a highly anticipated and long-delayed decision that could clear the way for an expansion of marijuana research and medical use.
The vote by the Commission for Narcotic Drugs, which is based in Vienna and includes 53 member states, considered a series of recommendations from the World Health Organization on reclassifying cannabis and its derivatives. But attention centered on a key recommendation to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs — where it was listed alongside dangerous and highly addictive opioids like heroin.
Experts say that the vote will have no immediate impact on loosening international controls because governments will still have jurisdiction over how to classify cannabis. But many countries look to global conventions for guidance, and United Nations recognition is a symbolic win for advocates of drug policy change who say that international law is out of date.
“This is a huge, historic victory for us, we couldn’t hope for more,” said Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, an independent researcher for drug policy who has closely monitored the vote and the position of member states. He said that cannabis had been used throughout history for medicinal purposes and that the decision on Wednesday reinstated that status.
The change will most likely bolster medical research and legalization efforts around the world.
The vote was a “big step forward,” recognizing the positive impact of cannabis on patients, said Dirk Heitepriem, a vice president at Canopy Growth, a Canadian cannabis company. “We hope this will empower more countries to create frameworks which allow patients in need to get access to treatment.”
Marijuana for medical use has exploded in recent years and products containing cannabis derivatives like cannabidiol or CBD, a nonintoxicating compound, have flooded the wellness industry. Cowen, an investment and financial services company, estimates that the CBD industry in the United States will be worth $16 billion by 2025.
Some research has suggested that CBD can protect the nervous system and provide relief from seizures, pain, anxiety and inflammation. The list of CBD-infused products — including creams, serums, soda water and juice — is also expanding rapidly.
The recommendations for changing the classification of marijuana were first made by the World Health Organization in 2019. But they were politically divisive, which led to unusual delays in the United Nations commission’s vote.
The reclassification passed 27 to 25, with an abstention from Ukraine. The United States and European nations were among those who voted in favor, while the likes of China, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Russia were opposed.
China’s delegate said that, despite the United Nations move, the country would strictly control cannabis “to protect from the harm and abuse.”
Britain’s delegate said that the reclassification was “in line with the scientific evidence of its therapeutic benefits” but that the country still strongly supported international controls for cannabis, adding that marijuana presented “serious public health risks.”
The differing messages underline the complexities behind the decision. “It’s been a diplomatic circus,” said Mr. Riboulet-Zemouli, who added that some countries initially opposed to the change, like France, had since switched their position.
Michael Krawitz, executive director for Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, an advocacy group in the United States, said the change in international law would “help reduce the suffering millions of people” and could help mitigate reliance on opiates, noting that cannabis was an important medication that could provide unique pain relief.
Also on Wednesday, the commission rejected a proposal to include the cannabis derivative THC in the 1961 convention, which would have tightened some controls.
The overhaul of cannabis policy, particularly around legalization for medical use, has moved at a rapid pace over the last few years, said Jessica Steinberg, managing director at the Global C, an international cannabis consulting group. Industry insiders have expressed hope that the vote will open the field for more research into the therapeutic benefits of the drug.
But the impact on the American and European markets was driving the issue, Ms. Steinberg noted. In the United States, where more states legalized the use of medical and recreational marijuana in the recent election, the market for both of those is expected to expand to more than $34 billion by 2025, according to Cowen.
Before the vote this week and other decriminalization efforts, share prices of some cannabis companies jumped.
But aside from the financial boon it could provide for American and European marijuana markets, downgrading the dangers of cannabis may have the biggest impact on countries that have more conservative policies, such as many Caribbean and Asian nations.
“Something like this does not mean that legalization is just going to happen around the world,” Ms. Steinberg said. But “it could be a watershed moment.”
Federal officials have suggested that corrections staff receive high priority for a coronavirus vaccine, but not the millions of vulnerable inmates held in U.S. facilities.
“‘There are truly bad guys in prison, but the vast majority of people in prisons and jails are not what the media makes us think about — they are not mass murderers,’ said Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine. “Many people are about to get released soon. Many are in for petty crimes.’ ‘The ethical obligation is to protect the lives of prisoners, not just see them as sources of disease,’ Mr. Caplan added.”
By Roni Caryn Rabin, Published Nov. 30, 2020, Updated Dec. 2, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/30/health/coronavirus-vaccine-prisons.html?surface=home-discovery-vi-prg&fellback=false&req_id=200761442&algo=identity&imp_id=71331575&action=click&module=Science%20%20Technology&pgtype=Homepage
They live in crowded conditions, sharing bathrooms and eating facilities where social distancing is impossible. They have high rates of asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
Many struggle with mental illness. A disproportionate number are Black and Hispanic, members of minority communities that have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
So should prisoners and other detainees be given priority access to one of the new Covid-19 vaccines?
With distribution expected to start as early as this month, public health officials are scrambling to develop guidelines for the equitable allocation of limited vaccine supplies. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet on Tuesday to make initial determinations about who gets the first shots.
There is broad consensus that health care workers who treat Covid-19 patients should be first in line. Other high-priority groups include residents and employees of long-term care facilities, essential workers whose jobs keep people fed and society running, and medically vulnerable and older adults — roughly in that order.
Prison inmates are not ranked in the top tiers of the federal criteria, even though some of the largest outbreaks have occurred in the nation’s prisons. More than 2,200 inmates were sickened and 28 people died, for example, after an outbreak in the San Quentin State Prison in California over the summer.
Yet the C.D.C. advisory committee has prioritized correctional officers and others who work in jails and prisons for the first phase of immunizations. The federal prison system will set aside its initial allotment for such employees, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The discrepancy raises a chilling prospect: another prison outbreak that kills scores of inmates after the only preventive was reserved for staff. Officials at the Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Now several groups, including the American Medical Association, are calling for coronavirus vaccines to be given to inmates and employees at prisons, jails and detention centers, citing the unique risks to people in confinement — and the potential for outbreaks to spread from correctional centers, straining community hospitals.
“We aren’t saying that prisoners should be treated any better than anybody else, but they shouldn’t be treated any worse than anybody else who is forced to live in a congregate setting,” said Dr. Eric Toner, co-author of a report on vaccine allocation published by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
The report lists prisoners as a priority group, Dr. Toner said, though not “at the very tiptop, but at the next tier down.”
Some states, in their own distribution plans, already are moving in that direction. North Carolina, for example, plans to give first priority to health care providers, but also includes people at high risk for severe disease and high risk for exposure to the virus.
That list includes people in congregate living settings, such as migrant farm camps, jails and prisons, and homeless shelters, along with other “historically marginalized” populations.
Allocating precious medical resources to people who are serving time may be anathema to much of the public, but it is widely accepted that the nation has an ethical and legal obligation to safeguard the health of incarcerated individuals.
There is also a powerful public health argument to be made for prison vaccination: Outbreaks that start in prisons and jails may spread to the surrounding community. “Prisons are incubators of infectious disease,” Dr. Toner said.
“It’s a fundamental tenet of public health to try and stop epidemics at their source,” he added.
One approach, under consideration by the National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice, would be to prioritize vaccination only for prisoners and detainees whose medical conditions or advanced age put them at great risk should they become ill.
“This isn’t a criminal justice recommendation,” said Khalil Cumberbatch, a senior fellow at the Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan group focused on criminal justice policy. “It’s a public health recommendation. The virus is not in a vacuum if it’s in a state prison.”
The United States holds some 2.3 million individuals in prisons, jails and other detention centers, incarcerating more people per capita than any other nation. That includes nearly 500,000 people who have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trials, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. (Some jails have taken steps to reduce overcrowding since the pandemic started.)
The figure also includes some 44,000 youngsters who are held in juvenile facilities and an estimated 42,000 in immigration detention centers.
People held in confinement are uniquely vulnerable to the virus. Incarcerated individuals are four times more likely to become infected than people in the general population, according to a study by the criminal justice commission. Over all, Covid-19 mortality rates among prisoners are higher than in the general population.
So far, at least 200,000 inmates have already been infected with Covid-19, and at least 1,450 inmates and correctional officers have died from the virus, according to a database maintained by The New York Times.
Those numbers most likely underestimate the magnitude of the problem, because reporting requirements are spotty and vary from state to state, said Dr. Tom Inglesby, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and another co-author of the vaccine allocation report.
In Connecticut, doctors tested over 10,000 prisoners in state prisons and jails from March to June and found that 13 percent were infected with the coronavirus, according to research published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Inmates who lived in dormitory housing were at the highest risk. Older inmates and Latino inmates also were more likely than others to be infected.
Even before the pandemic, many older inmates had poor health after decades of “hard living,” said Dr. Charles Lee, president-elect of the American College of Correctional Physicians.
“From my experience, their physiological age is generally 20 years greater than their chronologic age — from drugs, from fights, from being incarcerated and homeless, and not getting health care,” Dr. Lee said.
Up to 40 percent of incarcerated adults are Black, Dr. Lee said, a group with higher rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma.
Many argue that regardless of public health considerations, society has both legal and ethical responsibilities to protect the health of inmates.
“There are truly bad guys in prison, but the vast majority of people in prisons and jails are not what the media makes us think about — they are not mass murderers,” said Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine. “Many people are about to get released soon. Many are in for petty crimes.”
“The ethical obligation is to protect the lives of prisoners, not just see them as sources of disease,” Mr. Caplan added.
The sweet spot for physical activity and longevity seemed to arrive at about 35 minutes a day of brisk walking or other moderate activities.
By Gretchen Reynolds, Dec. 2, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/02/well/move/exercise-sitting-longevity.html?surface=most-popular&fellback=false&req_id=542582684&algo=bandit-all-surfaces-15min&imp_id=913805946&action=click&module=Most%20Popular&pgtype=Homepage
Walking for at least 11 minutes a day could lessen the undesirable health consequences of sitting for hours and hours, according to a helpful new study of the ways in which both inactivity and exercise influence how long we live. The study, which relied on objective data from tens of thousands of people about how they spent their days, found that those who were the most sedentary faced a high risk of dying young, but if people got up and moved, they slashed that threat substantially, even if they did not move much.
For most of us, sitting for prolonged periods of time is common, especially now, as we face the duel challenges of Covid-related restrictions and the shortening, chilly days of winter. Recent surveys of people’s behavior since the start of the pandemic indicate that a majority of us are exercising less and sitting more than we were a year ago.
Not surprisingly, there could be long-term health consequences from this physical quietude. Multiple past epidemiological studies show links between sitting and mortality. In general, in these studies, couchbound people are far more likely to die prematurely than active people are.
But how active an active person should be if he or she hopes to mitigate the downsides of sitting has remained unclear. If you sit for eight hours at work, for instance, then stroll for half an hour in the evening — meaning you comply with the standard exercise recommendation of about 30 minutes of exercise most days — is that enough movement to undo most of the health risks of too much sitting?
Some past research had suggested the answer is no. A 2016 study involving more than a million people found, instead, that men and women needed to exercise moderately for about 60 to 75 minutes a day in order to diminish the undesirable effects of sitting.
That study, though, like most similar, earlier research, asked people to remember how much they had moved or sat, which can be problematic. We tend to be unreliable narrators of our lives, overestimating physical activity and underestimating how much we sit. But if large numbers of people misremember this way, the paradoxical result is that exercise looks less potent than it is, since the studies’ “active” people appear to have needed plenty of exercise to gain health benefits, when the objective amount of exercise they actually completed was less, and this smaller amount produced the gains.
So, for the new study, which was published last week in a special issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine devoted to the World Health Organization’s updated physical activity guidelines and related research, many of the authors of the 2016 review decided to, in effect, repeat that earlier research and analysis, but, this time, use data from people who had worn activity monitors to objectively track how much they moved and sat.
The scientists wound up gathering results from nine recent studies in which almost 50,000 men and women wore accelerometers. These studies’ volunteers were middle-aged or older and lived in Europe or the United States. Combining and collating the nine studies’ data, the scientists found that most of the volunteers sat a lot, averaging close to 10 hours a day, and many barely moved, exercising moderately, usually by walking, for as little as two or three minutes a day.
The researchers then checked death registries for about a decade after people had joined their respective studies and started comparing lifestyles and life spans. Dividing people into thirds, based on how much they moved and sat, the researchers found, to no one’s surprise, that being extremely sedentary was hazardous, with people in the top third for sitting and bottom third for activity having about 260 percent more likelihood of premature death than the men and women who moved the most and sat the least. (The researchers controlled for smoking, body mass and other factors that might have influenced the results.)
Other combinations of time spent sitting and moving were less alarming, though, and even heartening. People in the middle third for activity, who exercised moderately for about 11 minutes a day, were significantly less likely to have died prematurely than people who moved less, even if all of them belonged to the group that also sat the most.
Crunching the numbers further, the researchers concluded that the sweet spot for physical activity and longevity seemed to arrive at about 35 minutes a day of brisk walking or other moderate activities, an amount that led to the greatest statistical improvement in life span, no matter how many hours someone sat.
Of course, this study was observational and does not prove that exercise caused people to live longer, only that physical activity, sitting and mortality were linked.
But the results strongly suggest that if we sit all day, as so many of us do, we should aim, too, to get up and move, says Ulf Ekelund, a professor of epidemiology and physical activity at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo, Norway, who led the new study. “Brisk walking is excellent moderate exercise,” he says, and, in half-hour stints — or even less — might help to lengthen our lives.
The approval for a U.S. start-up’s “cultured chicken” product is a small victory for the nascent laboratory meat industry. Less clear is whether other countries will follow Singapore’s lead.
By Mike Ives, Dec. 2, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/02/business/singapore-lab-meat.html
HONG KONG — First, meat came from farms and forests. Then, it came from factories. More recently, entrepreneurs have been making it from plants.
Some have wondered whether there’s a more advanced approach: Could meat be grown in a laboratory, from existing cells? That effort has faced multiple challenges, from skepticism over something that comes from a lab to questions about what governments might think.
The nascent laboratory meat industry won a small victory Wednesday on that last point, as an American start-up became the first to win government approval — in this case, an announcement by the city state of Singapore — to sell the fruit of its labs to the public in the form of “cultured chicken.”
The company, Eat Just, is based in San Francisco and describes its product as “real, high-quality meat created directly from animal cells for safe human consumption.” Singapore’s Food Agency said on Wednesday that it had approved the product for sale as an ingredient in chicken nuggets.
“This is a historic moment in the food system,” Eat Just’s chief executive, Josh Tetrick, said by telephone on Wednesday. “We’ve been eating meat for thousands of years, and every time we’ve eaten meat we’ve had to kill an animal — until now.”
Singapore’s move is “the world’s first regulatory approval for a cultivated meat product,” said Elaine Siu, the managing director of the Good Food Institute Asia Pacific, a nonprofit organization that promotes cultivated meat and plant-based substitutes for animal products.
“Anyone in this field would know that this is the world’s first because everyone has been waiting — and trying to lobby and fight for it — for the past few years,” added Ms. Siu, whose nonprofit is affiliated with a group with the same name in Washington.
Singapore’s Food Agency said on Wednesday that it approved the nuggets after Eat Just submitted a safety assessment to the agency’s “novel food” working group, whose seven members are outside experts on food science, toxicology, nutrition, epidemiology and other fields. The agency includes “cultured or cell-based meat grown under controlled conditions” under its definition of novel foods, along with some species of algae, fungi and insects.
“We’re not aware of other countries that have given approval for cultured meat products so far,” Ginny Tan, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in an email.
Mr. Tetrick said that an unnamed Singapore restaurant would begin selling the product “soon enough to begin making a reservation,” but he declined to provide any further details. The company has previously said that it would cost $50 to make a single nugget. It now says on its website that the nuggets will be available at “price parity for premium chicken you’d enjoy at a restaurant.”
Eat Just already sells an egg-like product that it makes from mung beans, Mr. Tetrick said. The product is sold in the United States and China, he said, and the company plans to expand to South Korea early next year.
Mr. Tetrick said he hoped that Singapore’s decision to approve his company’s “GOOD Meat” chicken nuggets would spur regulators in the United States and countries in Western Europe to move faster to regulate lab-grown meat.
“It’s not good for what we’re trying to do to make the food system better if Singapore’s the only one that has this approval,” he said.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration’s approval is not required for most new ingredients, including imitation meat developed by vegan food brands. Companies can hire consultants to run tests, and they have no obligation to inform the agency of their findings, a process known as self-affirmation.
Ms. Siu of the Good Food Institute said that to her knowledge, no regulator in the world had said that a cultured-meat product could go straight to market. “I think from a business perspective you would want to have the regulator’s blessing,” she added.
The meat business has long faced criticism from animal-rights activists who argue that eating meat is inhumane. The industry has been attracting more scrutiny in recent years for its impact on climate change.
Livestock accounts for around 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions each year — roughly equivalent to the emissions from all the cars, trucks, airplanes and ships combined. Per gram of protein, cattle have more of an impact than pork, chicken or egg production, largely because they belch up methane, a potent planet-warming gas.
The findings point to the potential of upward mobility for people without a college degree.
By Steve Lohr, Dec. 3, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/03/technology/work-skills-upward-mobility.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
For the past four decades, incomes rose for those with college degrees and fell for those without one. But a body of recent and new research suggests that the trend need not inevitably continue.
As many as 30 million American workers without four-year college degrees have the skills to realistically move into new jobs that pay on average 70 percent more than their current ones. That estimate comes from a collaboration of academic, nonprofit and corporate researchers who mined data on occupations and skills.
The findings point to the potential of upward mobility for millions of Americans, who might be able to climb from low-wage jobs to middle-income occupations or higher.
But the research also shows the challenge that the workers face: They currently experience less income mobility than those holding a college degree, which is routinely regarded as a measure of skills. That widely shared assumption, the researchers say, is deeply flawed.
“We need to rethink who is skilled, and how skills are measured and evaluated,” said Peter Q. Blair, a labor economist at Harvard, who was a member of the research team.
In recent years, labor experts and work force organizations have argued that hiring should increasingly be based on skills rather than degrees, as a matter of fairness and economic efficiency. The research provides quantified evidence that such a shift is achievable.
“The goal is to shine a bright light on a problem and on what can be done on the ground to help this whole group of people who are struggling in the labor market,” said Erica Groshen, an economist at Cornell, a former head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and one of the researchers.
The researchers published a broad look at the jobs, wages and skills of workers who have a high school diploma but not a four-year college degree as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper this year. They found a significant overlap between the skills required in jobs that pay low wages and many occupations with higher pay — a sizable landscape of opportunity.
For skills, the researchers used Labor Department classifications. They defined low-wage jobs as those paying less than the nation’s median annual salary of $38,000. Middle-wage occupations were those paying from $38,000 to $77,000, with the midpoint of $57,500. High-wage jobs paid more than $77,000.
The highest-paid workers without college degrees were in computer, technical and management jobs. The lowest-paid were clustered in personal care and food preparation jobs.
A report published this week, involving most of the same researchers, examined the pathways to higher-paying jobs for these workers, their experience and the obstacles encountered. It employed proprietary data and interviews, as well as the government data used in the first study.
An office administrative assistant is a typical example of a low-paying job that can be a portal to a better one. The skills required, according to employer surveys by the Labor Department, include written and verbal communication, time management, problem solving, attention to detail and a fluency with office technology. In short, a skill set that is valuable in many jobs.
Robert B. Johnson Jr. worked as an administrative assistant at a finance company in Dallas for a year and a half. It was his first experience in an office, picking up professional skills like working in teams and business communications. He was interested in technology, and while there he heard of free computing coursework offered by Merit America, a nonprofit, that could be done on nights and weekends.
Mr. Johnson, 24, finished the computer programming course in six months. Soon after, he was hired by a local software company, where his annual salary is about $55,000, compared with $30,000 before. Today, he has savings in the bank, and he and his girlfriend moved into a new apartment in January. They are looking to buy a house and talk of starting a family.
“It’s the American dream stuff that didn’t seem feasible for me until now,” Mr. Johnson said.
Moves to higher-paying jobs are typically a combination of personal initiative, foundational skills and some additional preparation like an outside course or company-sponsored training, said Papia Debroy, vice president for research at Opportunity@Work, a nonprofit social venture that worked on both studies.
In the pandemic economy, labor experts have called for increased government funding for skills training programs, especially to expand ones that have proved to help lift workers into middle-class careers. It is lower-wage workers, disproportionately Black and Latino, who have been hardest hit by the current slump. And there is concern that the economic recovery, when it comes, may only widen income gaps among workers.
Government must play a role, the researchers said. But they point out that the private sector, which is by far the largest employer, must alter its perceptions, hiring habits and career development programs to increase opportunity for workers without college degrees.
“Companies have to see this talent pool and mainstream it,” said Byron Auguste, chief executive of Opportunity@Work. “Systems change in the labor market has as much to do with employers practices as public policy.”
There are signs of progress in the business community. For example, the Rework America Business Network, an initiative of the Markle Foundation, is a group of major companies that has pledged to adopt skills-based hiring for many jobs, often dropping a college degree requirement. The companies include AT&T, Kaiser Permanente, McKinsey & Company, Microsoft and Walmart.
But they are the exception. For 74 percent of new jobs in America, employers frequently require four-year college degrees, according to a recent study. Screening by college degree excludes roughly two-thirds of American workers. But the impact is most pronounced on minorities, eliminating 76 percent of Blacks and 83 percent of Latinos.
The college-degree filter, Mr. Auguste said, is “self-harm for the economy, and racially and ethically.”
Newly released data gives the most detailed accounting yet of the pandemic aid provided to 5.2 million businesses that sought forgivable loans.
"Lenders collected $18 billion in fees, according to a New York Times analysis of the S.B.A. data. The largest payment went to JPMorgan Chase, which stands to collect just over $1 billion in fees on more than 280,000 loans worth a total of $29 billion. The runner-up is Bank of America, which will earn $947 million in fees on around 343,400 loans worth nearly $26 billion."
By Stacy Cowley and Ella Koeze, Dec. 2, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/02/business/paycheck-protection-program-coronavirus.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Business
The Paycheck Protection Program was the centerpiece of the federal government’s relief efforts to keep millions of small businesses afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. But new data shows what many had suspected all along: The money was shared unevenly, with the biggest sums going to a sliver of the companies in need.
Detailed loan information released by the Small Business Administration late on Tuesday showed that a mere 1 percent of the program’s 5.2 million borrowers — those seeking $1.4 million and above — received more than a quarter of the $523 billion disbursed.
About 600 businesses — including powerful law firms like Boies Schiller Flexner, restaurants like the steakhouse chain started by Ted Turner, as well as the operator of New York’s biggest horse tracks — received the maximum loan amount of $10 million, according to the data. It was the first full accounting of how federal money was spent through the program. Aimed at small companies — generally those with 500 or fewer workers — the program provided forgivable loans to desperate business owners who were faced with widespread shutdowns.
But the program allowed businesses to take enough money to cover only a couple of months’ expenses, and it has come under criticism for its poorly defined rules and a hasty and haphazard rollout that allowed fraudsters to tap into the money, which will take years of litigation to sort out.
The newly released data also includes details of loans made under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan system, a longstanding Small Business Administration program that was vastly expanded to offer relief to businesses affected by the pandemic. Together, the two programs spread more than $700 billion to struggling companies in just a few months.
The loan data was released under an order by Judge James E. Boasberg of the U.S. District Court in Washington, who rejected the S.B.A.’s request to keep the information confidential. Previously released data on the paycheck program contained only ranges for larger loan amounts, and no information about loans under $150,000.
Calling the program “vast in both size and sweep,” Judge Boasberg wrote in a ruling last month that “the weighty public interest in disclosure easily overcomes the far narrower privacy interest of borrowers who collectively received billions of taxpayer dollars in loans.”
With virus case counts rising rapidly and public health experts predicting a dark winter ahead, small businesses remain fearful about their survival. Many have used up their allotted aid, which was intended to cover up to two months of payroll costs and a handful of other expenses. Many owners say they would immediately apply for additional funds if available, but the rules permit only a single loan, and there has been little movement toward breaking a monthslong stalemate in Washington over additional aid.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his economic advisers have urged quick action on additional stimulus measures. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has proposed a stopgap plan to extend lapsed federal unemployment benefits until March — although at a lower rate — and provide $288 billion to help small businesses, restaurants and theaters. Top Democrats in Congress endorsed the proposal as the basis for further negotiations.
The companies that received the maximum $10 million P.P.P. loan include dozens of restaurant chains such as Ted’s Montana Grill, which was started by Mr. Turner; TGI Fridays; P.F. Chang’s; Black Angus Steakhouse; and Legal Sea Foods. They took advantage of an exception the restaurant industry lobbied for to make chains eligible for the aid money. The New York Racing Association, which operates Aqueduct Racetrack, Saratoga Race Course and Belmont Park, the home of the Belmont Stakes, also received the maximum loan.
Prominent law firms like Boies Schiller Flexner, the high-priced firm run by David Boies, and Kasowitz Benson Torres, founded and run by President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, also collected loans for $10 million. (It was previously known that both firms received large loans, but the exact amount had not been disclosed.)
Boeis Schiller did not respond to a message seeking comment; Mr. Kasowitz’s firm referred to a previous statement saying the loan helped it preserve hundreds of jobs.
Most of the program’s borrowers sought far less: Loans of $150,000 and under accounted for around 87 percent of the loans made through the program, which ended in August, when its congressional authorization expired. But those loans made up less than 30 percent of the total handed out, about $146 billion.
The data shows how federal money flowed to tenants of Mr. Trump’s properties, like 40 Wall Street, a commercial skyscraper in Lower Manhattan. Nearly 100 businesses listing an address in that building collected loans totaling more than $34 million.
The largest loan in the building went to Atane Engineers, a contractor that changed its name in 2018 after a corruption scandal that culminated when two former top executives pleaded guilty to paying bribes for city infrastructure contracts. The company, which pays $2.5 million a year for its rent at 40 Wall, received a $7.6 million loan, which it said supported 235 workers. The firm did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The data also reveals how inconsistently the Small Business Administration disbursed money through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, a still-running aid effort that offers companies and nonprofits low-interest loans directly from the government. That program is supposed to make loans of up to $2 million, but the S.B.A., concerned that it would run out of money, imposed various caps, none of which were publicly disclosed to borrowers at the time.
Two organizations received loans in early April for more than $500,000, the cap the agency set on the program later that month. The Jewish Community Center in Stamford, Conn., received $900,000 and the CWC Group, a chiropractic clinic in Bellevue, Wash., received $713,900, according to government data.
The low-interest loan, which has to be repaid, was a lifeline for CWC, said Dr. Sean Kim, the owner of the practice, which does business under the name Blue Spring Chiropractic. Its sales have declined by as much as 70 percent in some months since the pandemic began, he said, and the loan helped him retain 16 employees and contractors.
“This is about survival,” Dr. Kim said. “Without it, we would not be sleeping well.” (The Jewish Community Center did not respond to questions about its loan.)
More than 8,000 organizations got loans for $500,000, a limit that was later lowered to $150,000, where it has remained since May. The disaster loan program has distributed 3.6 million loans, totaling $194 billion, since the coronavirus crisis began — far more than the program had given out in its entire 67-year history.
A Small Business Administration spokesman said the agency’s “historically successful Covid relief loan programs have helped millions of small businesses and tens of millions of American workers when they needed it most.”
Lenders collected $18 billion in fees, according to a New York Times analysis of the S.B.A. data. The largest payment went to JPMorgan Chase, which stands to collect just over $1 billion in fees on more than 280,000 loans worth a total of $29 billion. The runner-up is Bank of America, which will earn $947 million in fees on around 343,400 loans worth nearly $26 billion.
Both banks have pledged to donate any profits they earn from the program, but executives from each have told analysts that their expenses were so high that there may not be much, if any, left to give after the loans are settled.
“We have committed that net proceeds from the fees will be dedicated to supporting small businesses and the communities and nonprofits we serve,” Bill Halldin, a Bank of America spokesman, said on Wednesday. JPMorgan declined to comment.
The Paycheck Protection Program was hastily constructed in late March after Congress passed the $2 trillion CARES Act. The Treasury Department, which called most of the shots on the program, released technical guidance to banks just hours before lending began in April, and the terms shifted many times before the program ended in August. The Treasury Department has issued dozens of changes and clarifications to its rules.
The rules initially required businesses to keep nearly all of their employees if they wished to have their loan forgiven, but Congress later softened the requirements to allow many businesses to have their loans eliminated even if they reduced their employee head count. While economists believe the program contributed to job retention in the pandemic’s early months, its effects faded as the money dried up.
An analysis by Gusto, a payroll provider for small companies, found that the chances that workers would lose their job at a company that took a P.P.P. loan increased by 25 percent during the week that the loan’s restrictions on job reductions ended. Gusto estimated that 232,000 jobs may have been eliminated as the restrictions expired.
“Once that requirement ends, the head count falls off a cliff,” said Luke Pardue, an economist at Gusto. “It was designed to be temporary relief, but what we find is that companies really emerged in no better shape. A lot of that is due to the fact that the economy is in no better shape.”
Discussions in Congress about further economic stimulus measures have included calls for a second round of P.P.P. loans, this time more narrowly targeted to the hardest-hit businesses. Nearly $140 billion remained unspent when the program expired in August.
Lenders and borrowers who already got loans are now working through the next messy stage of the program: getting P.P.P. loans eligible to be forgiven paid off by the government. Most borrowers have until at least mid-2021 to file and many are holding off, hoping that Congress or the incoming Biden administration will simplify what can be a confusing and time-consuming application process.
As of Nov. 22, lenders had submitted 595,000 loan forgiveness applications to the S.B.A., representing about 11 percent of the program’s 5.2 million borrowers. The agency said it had made payments to lenders on 367,000 of those loans.
The November numbers offer clues that what was once temporary unemployment is becoming more permanent.
By Neil Irwin, Dec. 4, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/04/upshot/jobs-report-unemployment.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage
A line for food distribution in Brooklyn on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Food banks have seen a sharp rise in demand this year. Credit...Todd Heisler/The New York Times
The bad news in the November jobs numbers reported Friday isn’t in the rate of job creation, though that was pretty bad.
Employers added only 245,000 positions last month, and even if you adjust for the one-time effects of temporary census jobs being eliminated, it would take 29 more months to return to February employment levels at that rate of job creation. But at least there is good reason to expect those numbers to improve once coronavirus vaccines are widely available.
The thing that is most worrying is what seems to be happening among the people who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. The jobs report offers clues that what was once temporary unemployment is becoming more permanent — in ways that, if unchecked, could do long-term damage to millions of families and to the economic potential of the United States.
Although the unemployment rate fell last month, to 6.7 percent from 6.9 percent, it was for the worst of reasons: Many Americans gave up even looking for work. The number of adults not in the labor force — neither working nor actively seeking work — rose by 560,000, as the labor force participation rate dropped by 0.2 percentage points.
The share of prime working-age Americans working — those between 25 and 54 — was unchanged in November at 76 percent and remains far below its 80.5 percent share in February. The number of people who are not in the labor force but say they want a job is 2.2 million higher than it was in February.
A growing share of the unemployed have been out of work for a long time. The number of Americans unemployed for more than 27 weeks rose by 385,000 in November. Since only September, the number of these long-term unemployed is up by a devastating 1.5 million people — a 64 percent increase.
A central lesson of the grinding recovery that followed the 2008-9 recession is that these prolonged periods of unemployment (actively seeking a job) or nonemployment (not working, and also not looking) have long-term effects.
Even as the economy recovered, people had experienced various forms of damage. Some people’s skills became outdated. But more generally, many people just lost a sense of attachment to the work force. It’s much harder to find a job when you’ve been out of work for years than when you’ve been on a short-term layoff.
And that’s before you get to the more social dimensions of the problem; those out of the work force can become vulnerable to developing addictions and other mental health problems. The nonemployment crisis of the 2010s and the opioid crisis of the 2010s weren’t completely separate.
In that episode, the share of prime-age Americans who were employed did not return to its January 2008 level until August 2019! When economists talk about what a slow, disappointing expansion that was, this is a big part of what they are referring to.
There is a good chance to avoid that fate in the recovery from the pandemic recession. A quick snapback in employment after widespread vaccination is possible in 2021, and it could pull many of those long-term unemployed and nonemployed back into the work force quickly, after only a year or so of detachment from the rhythms of work life.
This is normally the point in analyzing a bad jobs report where one points out silver linings — those little reasons for optimism that are hiding if you know where to look.
This month, they are hard to find.
The data in the new numbers are based on employment levels in the week of Nov. 8-14. Various real-time data sources point to a softening in economic activity since then, as coronavirus infections have risen and weather has turned colder, limiting outdoor dining and retail options. December employment numbers could well be worse.
For a slight hint of optimism, one of the big categories of job loss that dragged down the November numbers will probably reverse. Retailers cut about 35,000 jobs, according to the official numbers, which are adjusted for the typical seasonal patterns. But if you ignore those seasonal adjustments, the sector added 302,000 jobs — stores did do holiday hiring, just less than past experience would have predicted.
The good news, such as it is, is that in January this pattern should reverse itself, creating an apparent employment surge when seasonal adjustments are applied.
In a miserable November for American workers, this is what counts as a cause for optimism: The people who weren’t hired as temporary help at retailers this holiday season won’t lose their jobs in January.
But the real hope for 2021 is that enough of the unemployed and nonemployed Americans can come back to work quickly enough that the long-lasting effects of that last scarring downturn can be prevented.
On Dec. 21, Jupiter and Saturn will appear to be no more than a dime’s width apart in the night sky. The last time that could be seen was in 1226.
By Michael Levenson, Dec. 6, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/06/science/space/jupiter-saturn-align-christmas-star.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
For months, Saturn and Jupiter have appeared to be courting, as the giant celestial bodies have gradually drawn nearer in the night sky.
Over the next two weeks, as their orbits align more closely, the planets will pull closer until they appear to be just a tenth of a degree apart — about the thickness of a dime held at arm’s length, according to NASA.
The encounter, known as a great conjunction, happens about every 20 years. But this one — arriving on Dec. 21, the winter solstice — is special, astronomers said.
It will be the closest alignment of Saturn and Jupiter, the largest planets in our solar system, since 1623. But that conjunction, just 14 years after Galileo built his first telescope, was 13 degrees away from the sun, making it almost impossible to view from Earth, said Amy C. Oliver, a spokeswoman for the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian.
This one will be the closest visible encounter between the two giants since the Middle Ages, in 1226, Ms. Oliver said. The next time the planets will be this close is 2080, she said, making the event a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle for most adults.
Across the United States, the best view of the two planets coming into near-alignment will be just after sunset, in the southwestern portion of the sky.
“It’s a very elegant astronomical event to watch in the night sky,” said Renu Malhotra, a professor of planetary sciences at the University of Arizona. “It’s a very romantic event to see these planets approaching each other.”
Although best appreciated with binoculars or a telescope, the encounter should be visible to the naked eye.
Konstantin Batygin, a professor of planetary science at the California Institute of Technology, said he had been watching Jupiter, his favorite planet, and Saturn draw closer to one another on nightly walks with his pit bull, Bagheera.
“It’s the rare astronomical event where you can appreciate the motion of the planets around the sun without being some kind of astronomer,” Professor Batygin said. “You can still go outside close to Christmas and say, ‘Wow, those two planets sure are close to one another, and they aren’t usually.’ It’s one of these rare times when the majesty of the solar system presents itself to the naked eye.”
But such encounters were not always viewed so lyrically. In ancient times, people considered planetary alignments to be bad omens, portending calamity, Professor Malhotra said.
“There was reason to fear that the gods were conspiring when they got closer in the night sky,” she said. “It might have ominous meaning to people on Earth.”
The conjunction is the result of the orbital paths of Jupiter and Saturn coming into line, as viewed from Earth. Jupiter orbits the sun about every 12 years, and Saturn about every 29 years.
Although they will appear to be close together — resembling a bright ball or a tipped-over snowman in the sky, Ms. Oliver said — the planets will not actually be that close. In fact, they will be more than 400 million miles apart, she said.
“Jupiter and Saturn will appear as two wandering stars that are kind of right on top of one another,” Professor Batygin said. “If you wait long enough, it’s bound to happen, because their orbital paths intersect. But it doesn’t happen that often.”
Some people are calling the conjunction a Christmas star because of its arrival around the holiday.
Ms. Oliver said that on the days before and after Dec. 21, “as soon as it gets dark outside, everybody should go outside and take a look.”
“For most adults, this is your one big opportunity to see this,” she said. “Really young kids might get another chance. For the rest of us, it’s now or never.”
Reeling from the pandemic, transit agencies are grappling with drastic reductions in ridership and pleading for help from Washington.
By Christina Goldbaum and Will Wright, Dec. 6, 2020
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs New York City’s subway and buses and two commuter rail lines, is threatening drastic service cuts. Credit...Jonah Markowitz for The New York Times
In Boston, transit officials warned of ending weekend service on the commuter rail and shutting down the city’s ferries. In Washington, weekend and late-night metro service would be eliminated and 19 of the system’s 91 stations would close. In Atlanta, 70 of the city’s 110 bus routes have already been suspended, a move that could become permanent.
And in New York City, home to the largest mass transportation system in North America, transit officials have unveiled a plan that could slash subway service by 40 percent and cut commuter rail service in half.
Across the United States, public transportation systems are confronting an extraordinary financial crisis set off by the pandemic, which has starved transit agencies of huge amounts of revenue and threatens to cripple service for years.
The profound cuts agencies are contemplating could hobble the recoveries of major cities from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco, where reliable transit is a lifeblood of the local economies.
Trains and buses carry the office workers, shoppers and tourists who will help revive stores, restaurants, cultural attractions, hotels and other key businesses that have been battered by the outbreak.
The financial collapse of transportation agencies would especially hurt minority and low-income riders who tend to be among the biggest users of subways and buses.
For months, transit officials around the country have pleaded for help from the federal government, but with no new lifeline forthcoming and many systems facing December deadlines to balance their budgets, agencies have started to outline doomsday service plans that would take effect next year.
A glimmer of hope emerged in recent days, when a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress proposed $15 billion for public transit agencies as part of a $908 billion framework for a pandemic-relief package.
The plan, which President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has said he supports, would provide nearly half of the $32 billion that transit leaders have lobbied for in recent months and that is intended to provide short-term relief.
But it has yet to be endorsed by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, who has proposed a smaller stimulus plan that contains no financing for public transit. On Friday, Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker and a Democrat, expressed optimism that a compromise deal could be achieved before the end of the year.
Even if they receive some aid, transit agencies in some large cities have experienced such severe financial losses that officials say they will be forced to pare back service to save operating funds while serving riderships that are far below normal levels.
It is unclear whether ridership will ever fully return to pre-pandemic levels even after effective vaccines become widely available. Some commuters may end up working from home permanently; others may abandon public transit if cuts cause service to deteriorate.
“This is existential peril,” said Ben Fried, a spokesman for TransitCenter, an advocacy group.
“The economic rationale for cities is that people are in close proximity and can do a lot of things without spending a lot of time traveling from place to place,” Mr. Fried said. “If the transit network is seriously diminished in a dozen or so cities that are a focal point for a large share of the nation’s economic output, then that’s going to have severe impacts on the national economy.”
Since the pandemic swept across America in the spring, bringing urban life to a standstill and ushering in new work-from-home norms, nearly all of the sources of money that public transit relies on have been pummeled.
Ridership, and fare revenue along with it, vanished practically overnight after lockdown orders were enacted. As the economy slid into recession, the sales and income tax revenue used to finance many transit networks plunged. And cities and states sunk into their own financial crises, threatening government subsidies for public transit systems.
New York City’s transit agency, which is grappling with the biggest losses of any system in the country, forecasts a $6.1 billion deficit next year. Officials in Boston are dealing with a $600 million budget hole, and Chicago’s agency anticipates a $500 million shortfall.
By September, nationwide ridership on mass transit had crept back to nearly 40 percent of its pre-pandemic levels from a low of 19 percent in April, according to the American Public Transportation Association, a lobbying group.
But the numbers have plateaued in recent weeks as the virus surges throughout the country, making this the longest and most severe period of suppressed ridership for any of the nation’s public transit systems.
In New York, ridership is at 30 percent of pre-pandemic levels, while on rail lines in Washington and San Francisco, it is below 15 percent of its usual levels.
“The effect on ridership in each of our agencies — subway, buses, Metro-North, Long Island Railroad — is dramatically worse than even in the Great Depression,” said Patrick J. Foye, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs New York City’s subway and buses and two commuter railroads.
Many big city systems rely on fare revenue more heavily than their counterparts in smaller cities and rural areas and have tended to get a smaller share of federal support relative to their size.
Fares contribute 70 percent of the operating budget in San Francisco, 40 percent in New York and Washington and about 33 percent in Boston.
There is no legislative text yet for the bipartisan proposal that Republican and Democratic Senators are now negotiating, nor are there specifics for how the transit aid would be divided among agencies.
“This is not limited to big, urban cities and states — lots of rural areas depend on buses that also get federal funding — so it has some degree of bipartisan support,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader, said in an interview. “But there are some who have never wanted any federal help for mass transit and that’s who we are up against.”
The stimulus package that is being negotiated is likely to face opposition from some liberal lawmakers who consider it insufficient and some conservatives who are unwilling to add to the national debt.
“The real answer to the economic problems is to get rid of what causes the economic problems and they’re caused by economic dictates from governors that forbid commercial activity,” Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, told reporters on Tuesday. “I’m not for borrowing any more money.”
When transit agencies have faced financial shortfalls in the past, they have typically turned to city and state governments or they have lobbied elected officials for new sources of revenue like dedicated taxes.
But many municipal and state governments are grappling with their own financial problems, forcing transit agencies to look to Washington.
“Unlike some other transit properties, we don’t have our own revenue source, we have two sources of revenue, it’s either the farebox or the subsidies from our local and state government,” said Paul J. Wiedefeld, the general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “They are both under tremendous financial distress right now, so where do we turn?”
Many urban transit systems have exhausted the money they got from an earlier federal stimulus bill and have also imposed service cuts.
In New York, overnight subway service has been suspended since May. In Los Angeles, bus service has been slashed nearly 30 percent and rail service has also been cut. And the Bay Area Rapid Transit light-rail system in San Francisco has ended late night service and pushed wait times for trains from 15 to 30 minutes.
The cuts have helped stabilize operations and allowed them to continue providing at least limited service. But officials warn that the cutbacks could become permanent and that more could be added at the beginning of next year, a devastating prospect for the essential workers and low-wage riders who continue to rely on public transit.
Around 2.8 million American workers in essential industries like health care, grocery stores and pharmacies used public transit to get to work in 2018, according to an analysis of census data by the TransitCenter. That was 36 percent of all transit commuters in the U.S. work force that year, the group said.
“We have been the ones that have kept the economy of this country afloat because we do not have the luxury to work from home,” said Mayra Romero, 43, a restaurant worker in Boston who travels by bus from her home in nearby Chelsea, Mass. “We have been the ones who have been risking our lives and exposing ourselves.”
Margaret Dunn, who lives in Clinton, Md. and works at a hotel in Washington, used to work until midnight before she was laid off in March. Now, as she waits for a call to return to her job, she worries that service cuts could leave her with few travel options once her shift ends.
“We direly need some help.” she said, adding that she may have to rely on Uber or her husband to drive her.
In Washington, transit officials say that if the system receives sufficient federal assistance they will revive service as much as possible to help coax riders back as vaccines are distributed and the cadence of normal life begins to return.
But in other cities, additional federal aid may not guarantee the return of service. In Boston, New York and San Francisco, transit officials have said they plan to recalibrate service to match what they expect to be long-lasting, depressed levels of ridership.
“With the first tranche of money we got, we immediately put it in place to plug the budget gap because there was so much uncertainty, but as a consequence that money will run out this fiscal year,” said Steve Poftak, the general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which serves the Boston area. “We want to do as much as we can in this period of low ridership so we have a reserve in place that we can apply to fiscal year 2022.”
“That’s been our approach,” he added. “Preserve our service now, but also keep an eye toward the future.”
Transit experts worry that with more cuts public transportation agencies could plunge into a “death spiral,” where increasingly unreliable service keeps riders away, pushing systems deeper into financial distress.
With public health officials expecting the distribution of vaccines to begin early next year, agencies could wind up cutting service just as riders return to their commutes.
“Transit is not going to be there for people at the exact moment they are ready for transit again,” said Nick Sifuentes, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, an advocacy group. “We are looking at millions of people getting ready to head back to their workplaces and the thing they relied on to get there won’t be reliable anymore.”
Reporting was contributed by Emily Cochrane and Aishvarya Kavi from Washington, and Pranshu Verma from New Orleans.
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