Bay Area United Against War Newsletter, January 25, 2020




Close Newsom's Eviction Loophole!


Sign the Petition:



First the good news - the State intends to extend the pandemic eviction protections that we have had since September. For those of us unable to cover the rent during COVID, we will have more time to get back on our feet.


But we all know that whenever that rent comes due, we’ve got a big problem. We’re not going to get back pay; how are we going to pay back rent?!


Today, Governor Newsom announced a plan that attempts to tackle this problem with $1.5 billion in federal rental assistance funds. Many tenants will get relief. Unfortunately, this proposal leaves tenants at risk of eviction and crushing housing debt, for one simple reason - it depends upon the voluntary participation of landlords.  


Join us in telling our state legislators - we need a plan that ALL eligible renters can benefit from, not just those lucky enough to have a willing landlord!


Eighty percent of tenants at risk of eviction right now are people of color [1]. A program that allows unscrupulous or racist landlords to opt out is a giant loophole that means more families, disproportionately Black and Brown, will be pushed out of their homes and into homelessness.


Click here to urge your legislators to get this right - act now to prevent evictions, but take more time to get the rent relief program right!




There are many good and fair landlords.  Unfortunately, there are also many landlords who show a total disregard for their tenants, and sometimes want to push them out.  They may want to slap on some paint and double the rent, leave their property vacant, or just evict a tenant they happen not to like. Consumer and fair housing protections exist for a reason - abuse and discrimination are rampant.


Relief for renters cannot be optional.


Urge your legislators to close the loophole on rent relief and pass immediate eviction protections! 


We are close to passing the eviction protections and rent relief that we desperately need - but we cannot pass a bill with loopholes that perpetuate racist displacement and puts our lives in the hands of landlords’ discretion. The stakes are too high.


This is a profound matter of racial justice. Take action now!


In solidarity,


Sasha Graham




ACCE Action





Pass COVID Protection and Debt Relief


Stop the Eviction Cliff! 

Forgive Rent and Mortgage Debt!

Sign the Petition:




Millions of Californians have been prevented from working and will not have the income to pay back rent or mortgage debts owed from this pandemic. For renters, on Feb 1st, landlords will be able to start evicting and a month later, they will be able to sue for unpaid rent. Urge your legislator and Gov Newsom to stop all evictions and forgive COVID debts!


The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock our state, with over 500 people dying from this terrible disease every day. The pandemic is not only ravaging the health of poor, black and brown communities the hardest - it is also disrupting our ability to make ends meet and stay in our homes. Shockingly, homelessness is set to double in California by 2023 due the economic crisis unleashed by COVID-19. [1]


Housing is healthcare: Without shelter, our very lives are on the line. Until enough of us have been vaccinated, our best weapon against this virus will remain our ability to stay at home.


Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?


This click-to-call tool makes it simple and easy.




Renters and small landlords know that much more needs to be done to prevent this pandemic from becoming a catastrophic eviction crisis. So far, our elected officials at the state and local level have put together a patchwork of protections that have stopped a bad crisis from getting much worse. But many of these protections expire soon, putting millions of people in danger. We face a tidal wave of evictions unless we act before the end of January.


We can take action to keep families in their homes while guaranteeing relief for small landlords by supporting an extension of eviction protections (AB 15) and providing rent debt relief paired with assistance for struggling landlords (AB 16). Assembly Member David Chiu of San Francisco is leading the charge with these bills as vehicles to get the job done.  Again, the needed elements are:  


Improve and extend existing protections so that tenants who can’t pay the rent due to COVID-19 do not face eviction


Provide rent forgiveness to lay the groundwork for a just recovery


Help struggling small and non-profit landlords with financial support


Ten months since the country was plunged into its first lockdown, tenants still can’t pay their rent and debt is piling up. This is hurting tenants and small landlords alike. We need a holistic approach that protects Californians in the short-run while forgiving unsustainable debts over the long term. That’s why we’re joining the Housing Now! coalition and Tenants Together on a statewide phone zap to tell our elected leaders to act now.


Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?


Time is running out. California’s statewide protections will start expiring by the end of this month. Millions face eviction. We have to pass AB 15 before the end of January. And we will not solve the long-term repercussions on the economic health of our communities without passing AB 16.




Let’s do our part in turning the corner on this pandemic. Our fight now will help protect millions of people in California. And when we fight, we win!


In solidarity,


Sasha Graham

[1] https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-01-12/new-report-foresees-tens-of-thousands-losing-homes-by-2023

ACCE Action





Elderly and Disabled Subjected to Horrific Conditions During COVID Outbreak at California Prison in Vacaville

For Immediate Release

For more information, contact:

Olivia Campbell




Vacaville-An outbreak of Covid-19 is raging out of control at the California Medical Facility, a prison in Vacaville that holds many elderly and high-risk people. On December 11, the number of positive cases at CMF was 2. On December 12, the prison went into lockdown. Within five days, the number of cases had risen to 58. As of January 17,, the number of positive cases was 260 (almost 13% of the population). At the height of the outbreak, the total was 463. In all, 520 people (almost 26% of the population) have been infected, and seven have died. 


D-dorm at CMF is currently being used as the triage / covid positive dorm. The dorm was formerly used to house the dogs that were part of the Paws for Life program. The dogs were removed shortly after the start of the pandemic, and the dorm was not cleaned prior to being used for quarantine. Staff are not stepping up to help clean, and the few incarcerated who are well enough to clean are not being given adequate cleaning supplies. Laundry is not being picked up. The strain of covid that is moving through CMF is causing severe diarrhea. Several people have soiled themselves and do not have access to clean clothes. Each person is only being given one roll of toilet paper per week. 


Around the end of December, a man fainted and defecated on himself. When medical staff refused to respond to calls for help, other incarcerated people in the dorm, who were themselves ill, cleaned him up and carried him to his bed before he was finally taken to an outside hospital. In a similar incident, a man fainted and was refused medical attention for hours before finally being carried out on a stretcher. Staff are hesitant to call ambulances because of Plata v. Newsom, the ongoing litigation against the corrections department for its substandard healthcare. 


As in other prisons ravaged by Covid, the layout of CMF, along with reckless actions by staff, are exacerbating the situation. Some correctional officers are not wearing masks or refusing to wear them properly. Many refuse to wear gloves. Some are moving around from positive to negative units. People who are sick are not being given access to over-the-counter medications, and only a select few are being given antibody treatments. Poor ventilation within the prison is also a facilitator of the spread.


The ramifications of the outbreak extend beyond the physical illness caused by the virus. The incarcerated have been moved from one area to another in hopes of containing the virus. This has presented additional problems of loss of property. Access to phones has been restricted drastically so families are not in contact with their loved ones. The hearing impaired are further restricted, as they are barred from the specially-equipped phones they would normally use. The disabled population at CMF, who are supposed to have assistance with various daily living tasks from other incarcerated people have seen this help severely hampered by the outbreak. People with disabilities are required to be accommodated under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and no alternative accommodations for the disabled at CMF have been offered. Many of the population at CMF are over 60, with medical conditions such as diabetes, HIV and high blood pressure--all of which put them at higher risk of serious complications. Some have covid risk scores, as defined by California Correctional Health Care Services as high as 16. 


The sudden and relentless spike in cases, as well as the prison's failure to take any substantive steps to mitigate the spread of the virus, have caused shock, fear, and outrage among loved ones of those inside. 


"This outbreak has been climbing steadily for an entire month with cases increasing almost every day," said Olivia Campbell, an advocate for the rights of the incarcerated. "Efforts to get it under control have been insufficient and incompetent at best. But I think it's much more sinister. When you have correctional officers purposely infecting people, and so-called medical professionals neglecting elderly, sick, disabled people, leaving them to their fates in appalling conditions, in a congregate setting, in a facility that is supposed to have adequate medical services, I really don't even have words for how cruel and despicable that is."



Reporters Without Borders

We must impose democratic obligations on the 

leading digital players


After overlooking the fake news and hate speech that Trump posted throughout his four years as US president, Twitter unilaterally decided on 8 January to permanently close his @realDonaldTrump account and then, a few days later, 70,000 other accounts linked to the pro-Trump QAnon movement. Facebook, Instagram and Twitch also suspended the presidential accounts for an unspecified period, while Amazon then suspended the pro-Trump social media Parler.


All of these decisions were taken by private-sector companies without any democratic or judicial control!


The laws of the public arena used to be established by parliaments and enforced by judges, but private-sector corporations are now in charge. Their norms are not defined within a democratic framework with checks and balances, they are not transparent and you cannot appeal to any court before they are carried out. The organization of the online public arena should not be left to market forces or individual interests. 


It was to propose democratic safeguards for the digital arena that RSF launched:


The Forum on Information and Democracy in November 2019 with 11 organizations, research centers and think-tanks based in all continents. In November 2020, it published 250 recommendations on platform transparency, content moderation, the promotion of the reliability of information, and messaging apps when their massive use goes beyond the bounds of private correspondence.


The Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI), which is producing a set of machine-readable standards so that search engine algorithms can give preference to media that adhere to journalistic methods and ethics. These standards, which can also be used by advertisers, are the result of a self-regulatory initiative in which entities from all over the world collaborated under the aegis of the European Committee for Standardization (CEN).



Urgent Demand For Mumia's Release
Mumia Abu-Jamal #AM 8335
There is a serious outbreak of COVID 19 in Mahanoy Correctional Facility, where Mumia and 2,400 other men live.  As of now 20 guards have tested positive 4 COVID 19, and the prison is frantically testing those housed in the prison.  Obviously, this a a huge cause for concern.  Despite the prison being on lockdown, meaning no one leaves there cell except for showers and emergencies.  Food is brought to the cells. 


Needless, to say, Mumia quite worried as he should be.  He is 66, years old, has liver damage and prison personnel are the ones bringing in the virus. 


Please call Governor Tom Wolf to demand Mumia and other aging elders with underlying vulnerable health concerns be considered for compassionate release.  Clearly, there is no such thing as social distancing in prison.  The only way to stop this virus from spreading and killing those in its' path is to send our elders home
who pose no threat to our community. 


Governor Tom Wolf -1(717) 787-2500  Fax 1 (717) 772-8284
Office of the Governor
508 Main Capitol Building
HarrisburgPA  17120    
After calling the governor, send an online communication about our concerns.   https://www.governor.pa.gov/contact/#PhoneNumber
Let us know what there response was, Thank you.  Mobilization4Mumia@gmail.com



A Plea for the Compassionate Release of 

Leonard Peltier

Video at:


Screen shot from video.




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. 

Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.

Emergency Hotlines

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: 

National Hotline

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. 

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: 

Center for Constitutional Rights

Civil Liberties Defense Center

Grand Jury Resistance Project

Katya Komisaruk

Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources

Tilted Scales Collective






1) New York Police Arrest Dozens as M.L.K. Day Marchers Gather Near City Hall

The confrontation came days after the state’s attorney general sued the New York Police Department for its handling of protests following the death of George Floyd.

By Azi Paybarah and Alex Traub, Published Jan. 18, 2021, Updated Jan. 19, 2021


Police officers near City Hall in Lower Manhattan on Monday night. Officers made dozens of arrests as they tried to disperse the crowd.

Police officers near City Hall in Lower Manhattan on Monday night. Officers made dozens of arrests as they tried to disperse the crowd. Credit...Jose A. Alvarado Jr. for The New York Times

Dozens of people were arrested on Monday night in Lower Manhattan as hundreds participated in a march on Martin Luther King’s Birthday organized by Black activist groups, according to the police and witnesses.


Videos posted online by witnesses and participants show New York Police Department officers with helmets, batons and zip ties trying to clear protesters who had gathered on the streets and sidewalks near City Hall. Some of the marchers went to the area after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.


A spokesman for the department said dozens of arrests were made between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. in the vicinity of Chambers and Centre Streets. According to some videos posted online, the police began arresting people after urging the crowd to disperse.


The episode came in the late hours of Martin Luther King’s Birthday, and just days after the New York State attorney general, Letitia James, sued the New York Police Department over its handling of protests this summer after the death of George Floyd.  


Ms. James is seeking to have a court-appointed monitor installed to oversee the department’s policing tactics at protests. If successful, this monitor would join another monitor appointed in 2013 to oversee how the city implements changes to its stop-and-frisk policy.


One witness to Monday night’s events, Jordan Plaza of the Bronx, said a relatively small number of protesters had spilled off the sidewalks and into the street when the police announced that they were obstructing the road and would soon be arrested.


“They weren’t approaching the police in a violent manner,” Ms. Plaza, 20, said. “Police randomly surged.”


Ms. Plaza said she had stumbled upon the protest earlier in the night on the way to see friends and joined on a whim. She said she was startled by what she saw and contrasted the treatment of protesters in New York City with the treatment of those loyal to President Trump who rioted inside the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago.


“It baffles me because the Capitol building, they were able to get in,” Ms. Plaza said. “Here, they were protesting outside a courthouse.” (The New York County Surrogate’s Court is on Centre Street, as is the Tweed Courthouse, which houses the New York City Department of Education.)


Hani Bello, a 27-year-old from Brooklyn, belongs to FreeBlackRadicals, one of several groups that she said responded to that evening’s “call to action” to protest.


After a gathering outside Barclays Center at 5 p.m. that featured speakers who frequently invoked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ms. Bello said she and others walked onto the Brooklyn Bridge, which bikers with the protest closed off to vehicular traffic. At one point, the group broke into ballroom dancing and vogueing. Ms. Bello said it warmed her up and that she took off her gloves and scarf.


“It is a form of resilience, being on that bridge, taking it over,” Ms. Bello said. “To feel resilient is part of Black liberation.”


After the marchers crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, the police blocked the road leading from the bridge to City Hall Park, she said. “The park is for the public,” it was open for use, she said. “People have the right to voice their opinions on taxpayer-funded land.”


On Monday night, images of officers yanking individuals out of a crowd of protesters began circulating widely on social media, and echoed scenes from last summer, when Black Lives Matter demonstrators flooded the streets in New York and other cities. A number of those videos helped fuel the lawsuit by Ms. James, the state’s attorney general.


The lawsuit she filed in federal court in Manhattan is the first time that the state attorney general has sued a police department, according to Ms. James’s office.


“There was ample ability and opportunity for the city and N.Y.P.D. leadership to make important changes to the way that officers interact with peaceful protesters, but time and time again, they did not,” Ms. James said.



2) Hours After Biden Inauguration, Federal Agents Use Tear Gas in Portland

Protesters who spent months in the streets over racial injustice and inequality said they don’t expect immediate change from President Biden, who they declared “will not save us.”

By Mike Baker and Hallie Golden, Jan. 21, 2021


Law enforcement deployed tear gas Wednesday at a protest outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Portland, Ore.

Law enforcement deployed tear gas Wednesday at a protest outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Portland, Ore. Credit...Alisha Jucevic for The New York Times

Demonstrators in Portland continued to challenge the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Demonstrators in Portland continued to challenge the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Credit...Alisha Jucevic for The New York Times

PORTLAND, Ore. — Protesters in the Pacific Northwest smashed windows at a Democratic Party headquarters, marched through the streets and burned an American flag on Wednesday in a strident challenge by antifascist and racial-justice protesters to the new administration of President Biden, whose promised reforms, they declared, “won’t save us.”


In Portland, Ore., lines of federal agents in camouflage — now working under the Biden administration — blanketed streets with tear gas and unleashed volleys of welt-inducing pepper balls as they confronted a crowd that gathered outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement building near downtown. Some in the crowd later burned a Biden-for-President flag in the street.


Another tense protest in Seattle saw dozens of people push their way through the streets, with some breaking windows, spray-painting anarchist insignia and chanting not only about ICE, but the many other issues that roiled America’s streets last year under the administration of former President Donald J. Trump.


“No Cops, Prisons, Borders, Presidents,” said one banner, while another proclaimed that the conflict over racial justice, policing, immigration and corporate influence in the country was “not over” merely because a new president had been inaugurated in Washington, D.C.


“A Democratic administration is not a victory for oppressed people,” said a flier handed out during the demonstrations, during which protesters also smashed windows at a shop often described as the original Starbucks in downtown Seattle. The communiqués used expletives to condemn Mr. Biden and “his stupid” crime bill, passed in 1994 and blamed for mass incarcerations in the years since.


Hours after the inauguration of Mr. Biden, federal agents in Portland used tear gas and other crowd-control munitions to disperse demonstrators who had gathered to protest the harsh arrest and detention practices wielded by federal immigration authorities under the Trump administration.


Mr. Biden has signaled that immigration is going to be a key issue of his presidency, using some of his first executive orders on Wednesday to end construction of the border wall and bolster the program that provides deportation protections for undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children.


The conflict in Portland capped a day of demonstrations in the liberal city, where different groups of protesters either decried Mr. Biden or called for activism to pressure the new president to take forceful action on immigration, climate change, health care, racial justice and income inequality.


Earlier in the day, a group of about 200 people — a mix of racial justice, antifascist and anarchist activists — marched to the local Democratic Party headquarters, where some of them smashed windows and tipped over garbage containers, lighting the contents of one on fire. “We don’t want Biden — we want revenge,” said one sign, referring to killings committed by police officers.


In a city that has seen months of demonstrations over racial injustice, economic inequality, federal law enforcement and corporate power — and some of the harshest law enforcement responses to such protests — protesters have vowed to continue their actions no matter who is president. “We are ungovernable,” one sign in the crowd said.


In Seattle, about 150 people marched through the streets. Some spray-painted buildings with an anarchist symbol and broke windows, including at a federal courthouse. They chanted both anti-Trump and anti-Biden slogans.


One member of the group handed out fliers to people on the street that said, “Biden won! And so did corporate elites!” The fliers explained that a “Democratic administration is not a victory for oppressed people” and that “Biden will not save us.”


“I came out here because no matter what happens, Biden and Kamala aren’t enough,” said one of the protesters, Alejandro Quezada Brom, 28, referring to Vice President Kamala Harris. He said the new president needs to know that “the pressure’s not off” for progress on immigration and policing reforms.


Seattle police officers followed the group and began to surround it as night fell. At least two protesters appeared to be arrested.


At yet another demonstration in Portland, people gathered to hear speakers who celebrated Mr. Trump’s departure but also called for continued pressure on the new government.


“The fight has just begun,” said Ray Austin, 25. He said that the damage done by Mr. Trump could not be undone by the likes of Mr. Biden and that the nation needed a groundswell of people demanding more.


Speakers at the event called for a Green New Deal to fight climate change, a “Medicare for All”-style health insurance system, overhauls of police departments to address racial disparities and other fundamental changes. But that event was more subdued than others around the city.


In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last May, protesters in Portland mobilized on the streets nightly, much of their ire targeted at the mayor and the police force that repeatedly used tear gas to subdue them. The crowds swelled during the summer after Mr. Trump issued an executive order to protect federal property and agents wearing camouflage brought a crackdown to the city.


Those conflicts have since subsided, but protesters in Portland have continued to mobilize.


Mike Baker reported from Portland, and Hallie Golden from Seattle.



3) The Electoral College Must Go

By Kevin Cooper

—Sheerpost, January 19, 2021


George Washington gives his first inugural speech in the old city hall, New York, after being made president by the state electors in April 1789. Painted by T.H. Matteson; engraved on steel by H.S. Sadd.

Death Row, San Quentin State Prison—Ain’t it a bitch! It was stunning to see such a sorry spectacle at the Capitol. We can’t be too surprised, though, to see how differently violent white rioters are treated by law enforcement (one cop even wore a MAGA hat!) than peaceful Black protesters have been, historically and even recently. The drama does at least provide an opportunity to force examination of another remnant of racist history that should expire: The Electoral College. 

I know that times have changed. The late Congressman John Lewis stated as much while he was still alive and fighting to make sure that blights on this country like voter suppression, police brutality and overall racism did not regress to what they were when he was growing up in the South.

And, yes, I do understand that some things have gotten better over time. For example, there is now a moratorium on the death penalty in the state of California, marijuana is legal in many states and gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry. There are now more women, people of color, gays, lesbians and transgender people serving in public office. The U.S. House of Representatives is more diverse than it has ever been in the history of this country, and the traditionally Republican states of Georgia and Arizona just helped elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next president and vice president, and Georgia will soon be represented by two Democrats in the Senate—one of whom will be the first African-American to represent Georgia in that role and only the 11th Black senator in 244 years of U.S. politics. 

However, when it comes to certain aspects of politics, change doesn’t seem to be happening as much or as fast, if at all. This is especially true when it comes to the historical slave-era anachronism called the Electoral College. Voter disenfranchisement and suppression, racism, false claims of illegal ballots and illegal votes being cast and cheating in various forms are plainly evident in the political area in this divided country. Why? Because all these have to do with political power, which political party runs and controls every aspect of life in this country, from politically appointed judges, to the very purse strings that financially support everything from education and infrastructure to relief from this once-a-century pandemic.

The only reason certain changes have happened is because of the grassroots efforts of everyday people. They made this country change through their hard work, their organizing, their marches and protests and not taking “no” for an answer. Many did that and were beaten, and in some cases murdered, by either the powers that be or their supporters for doing what the late John Lewis did: getting into “good trouble.”

Now it’s time for this new generation of people, as well as people from previous generations, to join together to make the still needed changes in this country that include passing the Equal Rights Amendment and ending the Electoral College. Here in 2021, with this country’s ever-growing diverse population, there is no longer a need for the Electoral College, created in the 18th century and amended in the 19th. While certain people want it to stay in effect so they can win the presidency without winning the majority vote of the people, this country doesn’t need it and would be better off without it. 

While it will not be easy to eliminate, this country must start to think about it seriously if they want to avoid the continued decline in credibility of our democracy. How damaging is it to that faith when a presidential candidate leads by millions of total votes, as Hillary Clinton did against Donald Trump in 2016, and yet does not receive the majority of Electoral College votes? We should move to direct popular vote system of presidential election.

This distortion of the alleged intent of the system can happen because every state’s Electoral College vote total is based not on the number of people who vote, but rather on the overall population of the state (represented approximately by the number of House of Representatives seats they have) plus two (the number of senators). Since there are a number of very low-population states, what could be a marginal boost (the bonus two) ends up being huge statistically for states like Wyoming, where a vote is worth three times that of a California voter. Further disrupting the equality for voters is that if your state has high voter turnout compared to its population, the weight of each vote is further shrunken—Colorado (5.7 million) and South Carolina (5.1 million) have roughly the same population yet a Coloradan’s vote had nearly 30 percent less weight than the South Carolinian voter in 2016.

And most importantly, this system also makes the votes of those in “swing states” much more valuable than those that live in heavily “blue” or “red” states, which is a major form of disenfranchisement—particularly for African Americans in the South:

“Despite Black voting patterns to the contrary, five of the six states whose populations are 25 percent or more Black have been reliably red in recent presidential elections. Three of those states have not voted for a Democrat in more than four decades. Under the Electoral College, Black votes are submerged. It’s the precise reason for the success of the southern strategy. It’s precisely how, as Buckley might say, the South has prevailed.”

—Wilfred Codrington writing in The Atlantic in 2019 

Each election, about four-fifths of the states are noncompetitive; for example, here in California, where Democrats are now dominant, the Republican votes for president are essentially “thrown away” while the Democrat votes are taken for granted, with the general election presidential candidates only coming to the most populous state to raise money from the wealthy rather than convince voters they are the best choice. 

This affects the shaping of the political platforms of each party and which candidates make it through the primaries to represent the party. While the swing states change over time—welcome Arizona and Georgia—three-quarters of Americans live in states almost completely ignored by presidential candidates. 

Keeping the Electoral College is like staying in yesteryear, relying on an outdated artifact maintained through inertia and the help of certain people and organizations that want to take us backward and not forward in this country. Sure, it has been the law for a long time, but laws can be changed, even the Constitution—just as has been done with formerly accepted aspects of life that were to the detriment of certain citizens of this country, most notably chattel slavery, denying women the right to vote, and child labor, to give a few examples. Any law can be changed, even the Electoral College, even if it will not be easy to do. But ending chattel slavery wasn’t easy, nor getting women the right to vote, or gaining any other rights worth having that were denied to the oppressed.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was aimed at ending insidious voter suppression of Black people in the South. But a disastrous ruling by the Supreme Court in 2013 aided much of the voter suppression we see today, when a 5-4 Republican-Democrat majority in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, gutted the historic Voting Rights Act by relieving the Southern states of federal oversight of their election laws.

For people who do not know the history of voting in this country, when it comes to non-white people, especially Black people, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came into being after then Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law. He did so because of the historic proven voter discrimination, voter suppression, voter murder(s), literacy tests, jellybean counting, poll taxes, scare tactics, grandfather clauses and all other forms of Black voter intimidation in ex-slave holding states in the South by certain white people, even though Black people were first given the right to vote in 1870 when the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified.

Just last month, voter advocates in Georgia filed a lawsuit charging that 198,000 voters—young, people of color and low-income—were removed from the voting rolls in 2019, again falsely claiming they had all moved.

The five conservative justices who derailed the 1965 Voting Rights Act said it had been passed to address racial discrimination that, 48 years later, was no longer much of a problem! In other words, “times have changed.” They determined that the country “has changed,” that “[r]egardless of how to look at the record, no one can fairly say that it shows anything approaching the ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination that faced Congress in 1965.” 

In what universe? Ask the 340,134 voters in Georgia in 2018, many of them Black, who had been purged from the voting rolls for having allegedly moved, when they were still living at the same address as where they were registered, making them unable to vote in the 2018 election. Who purged them? Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a white Republican running for governor in that same election against Stacey Abrams, a popular Black leader in the state legislature. He won by 54,700 votes. Was that not “rampant discrimination?” Just last month, voter advocates in Georgia filed a lawsuit charging that 198,000 voters—young, people of color and low-income—were removed from the voting rolls in 2019, again falsely claiming they had all moved. 

If certain people and organizations can’t find one way to keep Black people from voting, then they find another way to do it. Closing down polling places in Black neighborhoods, imposing voter ID laws, and gerrymandering—redrawing district lines to favor candidates of a particular party—are being used to this day to stop Black people from voting or reducing the power of their vote because certain white people fear that if enough Black people cast their vote, white people will lose privilege and power. This country cannot have it both ways, that on one hand that is no longer much of a problem, and on the other hand allow the racism that elevates white people can still be used! 

The Supreme Court excused gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act by saying times have changed for the better, but their ruling now allows those same Southern and ex-slave states that historically disenfranchised Black people to continue to do so. Times have changed, but history is repeating itself. For example, in 2000 in the state of Florida, during the Bush-Gore presidential campaign, Black people who had voted had untold numbers of their votes destroyed, and many other Black voters were barred from voting for various reasons. This also helped hand the presidency to Bush—that and hanging chads. 

It is worth noting that Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion in 2013 eviscerating the Voting Rights Act, had worked on Bush’s legal team in Florida in 2000, as did Trump-appointed Supreme Court justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. That’s when the high court intervened and stopped the ballot recount in that state when Bush was ahead by only 537 votes. Although Gore got 550,000 more popular votes nationally, the 25 Electoral College votes from Florida handed the election, and presidency, to Bush. Where does democracy fit into this picture? It doesn’t. 

All of this voter suppression in these divided states of America is an ongoing stain on our history. This historical racism dates back to the creation of the Electoral College, and it hasn’t stopped. It is just like a chameleon, the small lizard whose skin changes colors, this is how racist and political opponents operate and change their tactics of voter suppression, even using felony convictions or arrest records or court fines to disenfranchise people. 

If it’s true what the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 concerning the 1965 Voting Rights Act, that racial discrimination is no longer much of a problem, that “times have changed,” then the same has to be true about the Electoral College, which came into being in the 18th century. It was born when the Founding Fathers were writing the Constitution and were torn between having the president chosen by popular vote or members of Congress. One reason they hesitated about the popular votes was that they believed citizens of the states would not be able to learn enough about the candidates to vote intelligently. 

They finally compromised on a system of electors chosen by the states after a divisive debate over how to count the population to see how many electors each state would have. The Northern “free” states had larger populations than Southern slave states, in part because slaves were considered property, not human beings, and therefore could not be counted in the population. The slave states were crying out that the North would win every presidential election due to the imbalance of the voter population, so in order to appease the South, those states were allowed to count each slave as three-fifths of a person to take away the population advantage of the north.

The southerners did not want to count a slave as a whole human being because if they did, it would go against their historical lies that slaves weren’t fully human beings, and that they as slave owners were not in fact enslaving human beings. If they said in any way, shape or form that enslaved Africans and Black Americans were in fact whole human beings, this would undercut their long-held argument and belief that they weren’t, so they settled for the bizarre partial-person compromise.

The Electoral College today has 538 electors, totaling the number of senators and representatives from each state. Then, as now, it is only to choose the president. Nobody in Congress is chosen by the Electoral College. No other electoral contest in the United States is determined by any “electors” other than the citizens who vote in regular elections, and the candidate who gets the most votes wins. That is democracy. 

Democrats have won the popular vote five out of the last eight presidential elections and twice were denied the office due to fewer electoral votes despite more popular votes. Maybe that is why more Republicans want to keep the Electoral College than anyone else. Fully 58 percent of Americans in March 2020 wanted to amend the Constitution to get rid of the Electoral College; 81 percent of Democrats/leaning Democrat want the voters to choose the president; only 32 percent of Republicans/leaning Republican want that. 

This makes no sense, especially since times have changed, and African Americans are no longer considered three-fifths of a human being…well at least by most people we aren’t.

Here in 2020 and beyond, there is no way to honestly think about the Electoral College logically as preserving or advancing democracy. It only makes sense to think of it historically as a remnant of a bygone era when Black people were determined to be three-fifths of a human being, and the excuse that Americans cannot learn enough about the candidates has been buried by the massive saturation of print, broadcast, internet and social media that exists.

Democracy is about one person one vote. That is what the popular vote is. The Electoral College is not about one person one vote. It is in fact the only way that the loser of the popular vote who was not chosen by the majority of the American voters, can win the presidential election. One person, one vote is democracy plain and simple. The Electoral College must go. It’s a relic, a thing of the past, it does not belong in a real democracy. If the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed, then the Electoral College is most definitely no longer needed.

If it’s true that in the presidential election of 1800-01 that Thomas Jefferson metaphorically rode into the White House on the backs of slaves with the Electoral College vote, then here in 2020 and in the future, whoever rides into the White House must metaphorically do so on the shoulders of the majority of the American voters, the free people who make the popular vote. 

There is no more going back, no more of the same old same old. It’s a new day, a new time, the future is ahead of us, and we can no longer afford as a free country to retain practices from the past that were not made to help all of us but created to help a certain few in order to oppress others. The Constitution is a living document, just as we are living people. We must stop using and misusing old laws from yesteryear in today’s and tomorrow’s world.

I know that hypocrisy runs rampant in this country, so it’s going to take all of us who honestly believe in one person one vote and real democracy to make all the people in power in this country start to make this country what those so-called Founding Fathers said it could be when they put pen to paper and wrote it down.



4) Biden Wants to Raise Taxes, Yet Many Trump Tax Cuts Are Here to Stay

While Democrats have vowed to repeal the former president’s signature 2017 law, his successor is more likely to tinker with it, given constraints.

By Jim Tankersley, Jan. 22, 2021

President Biden could end up doing more to cement the Trump administration’s tax cuts than to roll them back.
President Biden could end up doing more to cement the Trump administration’s tax cuts than to roll them back. Credit...Kenny Holston for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Donald J. Trump has left the White House. But many of his signature tax cuts aren’t going anywhere.


Democrats have spent years promising to repeal the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which Republicans passed without a single Democratic vote and was estimated to cost nearly $2 trillion over a decade. President Biden said during a presidential debate in September that he was “going to eliminate the Trump tax cuts.”


Mr. Biden is now in the White House, and his party controls both chambers of Congress. Yet he and his aides are committing to only a partial rollback of the law, with their focus on provisions that help corporations and the very rich. It’s a position that Mr. Biden held throughout the campaign, and that he clarified in the September debate by promising to only partly repeal a corporate rate cut.


In some cases, including tax cuts that help lower- and middle-class Americans, they are looking to make Mr. Trump’s temporary tax cuts permanent.


Mr. Biden still wants to raise taxes on some businesses and wealthy individuals, and he remains intent on raising trillions of dollars in new tax revenue to offset the federal spending programs that he plans to propose, including for infrastructure, clean energy production and education. Much of the new revenue, however, could come from efforts to tax investment and labor income for people earning more than $400,000, in ways that are not related to the 2017 law.


Mr. Biden did not include any tax increases in the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan he proposed last week, which was meant to curb the pandemic and help people and companies endure the economic pain it has caused.


His nominee for Treasury secretary, Janet L. Yellen, told a Senate committee this week that the president would hold off on reversing any parts of the tax law until later in the recovery, which most likely means as part of a large infrastructure package that he is set to unveil next month. Republican lawmakers repeatedly questioned Ms. Yellen about Mr. Biden’s tax plans, warning that repeal of the 2017 cuts would hurt American workers and businesses and push companies to ship jobs overseas.


Ms. Yellen said Mr. Biden had made clear that he “would want to repeal parts of the 2017 tax cuts that benefited the highest-income Americans and large companies.” But she added that “he’s been very clear that he does not support a complete repeal.”


Mr. Biden could end up cementing as much of Mr. Trump’s tax cuts as he rolls back. To meet a budget constraint that was necessary to pass the 2017 law with no Democratic votes, Republicans set tax cuts for individuals to expire at the end of 2025. On Thursday, in follow-up answers to written questions from Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican, Ms. Yellen said she would work with Congress to make tax cuts permanent for families earning less than $400,000 a year.


Such a move would most likely reduce the tax revenue that Mr. Biden could otherwise claim to raise from his proposed changes to the Trump tax by at least half and as much as two-thirds, according to calculations by The New York Times. The calculations used analyses from the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, the Tax Policy Center, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Wharton Budget Model.


All told, over a decade, Mr. Biden’s proposed changes to the law could net just $500 billion in additional revenue. In contrast, he has proposed roughly $2 trillion in tax increases unrelated to the law, by the Budget Model’s calculations.


The 2017 law cut taxes for individuals and lowered the corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent. It created a new deduction for owners of certain businesses, like limited liability companies, whose owners pay taxes on their profits through the individual tax code. It also overhauled how the United States taxes the income that companies earn overseas, which Republicans said would encourage them to invest and create jobs in America.


Most American workers received at least a small tax cut under the law. Its benefits flowed heavily to high earners: The Joint Committee on Taxation’s initial estimates suggested that more than one-fifth of the tax savings from the law in 2021 would go to people earning $500,000 a year or more. That share is set to rise sharply by 2026 if the individual tax cuts expire as scheduled.


Democrats denounced the law as a giveaway to the rich, and it has struggled to attain widespread popularity. An online poll for The Times by the research firm SurveyMonkey found last month that Americans remained evenly split on whether they support or oppose the law. Only one in five respondents was certain of having received a tax cut from it.


During the presidential campaign, Mr. Biden proposed trillions of dollars in tax increases on corporations and the rich, but his plans stopped short of a full repeal of Mr. Trump’s tax law. He said he would raise income taxes to pre-Trump levels only at the top bracket, an increase to 39.6 percent from 37 percent. He called for raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent, where Mr. Trump set it — still short of the top rate of 35 percent that preceded the law.


Even Mr. Biden’s international tax plan, which is meant to encourage domestic investment and job creation while raising revenue from large corporations, would work within the boundaries of what Mr. Trump and Republicans did in 2017. Instead of scrapping the overhaul, Mr. Biden would double the rate of the tax — while eliminating a new exemption that Democrats say encourages corporate investment abroad.


The upshot is that Mr. Trump’s 2017 cuts will govern tax policy for years to come, said George Callas, a managing director at Steptoe, a law firm in Washington, who helped write the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as an aide to Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin. Mr. Callas said the Biden plan “does in a way concede that the new architecture of the international tax system that the T.C.J.A. created is being accepted as the architecture going forward.”


Democrats say the changes that Mr. Biden is proposing for the law would rebalance its incentives for investment and hiring toward the United States, while ensuring that corporations and the rich paid their “fair share” of taxes.


Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the Finance Committee, which will be the starting point in the Senate for any tax changes Mr. Biden wants to make, said in an interview that his top tax priorities in many ways matched Mr. Biden’s.


They include limiting a deduction for high earners who run companies that are not organized as corporations and overhauling the exemption for qualified business asset investment overseas — the provision that Democrats say encourages offshoring, though Republicans like Mr. Callas disagree. Mr. Wyden also wants to raise taxes on heirs of large fortunes and on investment income for high earners, through a variety of avenues.


“There is a broad swath of Senate Democrats who are in agreement that the 2017 bill was a giveaway” to the rich and multinational corporations, Mr. Wyden said. “Certainly there is support for rolling back the corporate rate provision, the individual rate being pushed up again.”


Republicans have already begun to mount a defense of those portions of the law, both inside and outside Congress, warning that the changes that Mr. Biden proposes would drive more companies to move overseas.


“Raising the U.S. rate or making the international regime more burdensome would have an adverse effect on U.S. global competitiveness,” said Rohit Kumar, co-leader of PwC’s National Tax Office and a former deputy chief of staff to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who was the Republican leader during the tax cut debate.


“Doing both would be a double whammy that would ultimately harm U.S. workers and anyone who has a pension or 401(k) invested in U.S. companies,” Mr. Kumar said.


Congressional Republicans have also pushed through, as part of economic stimulus efforts over the last year, several changes to the law they wrote and passed. For example, they relaxed restrictions that the law placed on companies’ ability to deduct operating losses from previous years’ taxes, in order to reduce their tax bills.


Those provisions alone amount to a $160 billion change in the law — which is more money than Mr. Biden could expect to raise in a decade by reversing Mr. Trump’s cut in the top income tax rate for the rich.



5) Strike at Largest U.S. Wholesale Produce Market Threatens Supply Chain

Six workers at Hunts Point Market died from Covid, and hundreds fell ill. They say they deserve higher wages after risking their health to supply New York City with food.

By Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, Jan. 22, 2021

The market moves about 300,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables every day, supplying grocery stores and restaurants across the city and around the region.
The market moves about 300,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables every day, supplying grocery stores and restaurants across the city and around the region. Credit...James Estrin/The New York Times

It is the country’s largest wholesale produce market — described as “Costco on steroids” —and the nerve center for New York City’s food supply, providing more than half the fruits and vegetables that end up in takeout boxes and on restaurant plates and supermarket shelves.


But a strike over a $1-per-hour pay raise demand at the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx, the first in over three decades, has dented its operations, leaving some produce to rot and threatening to snarl a normally seamless supply chain.


The last strike, in 1986, led to shortages of everything from artichokes to grapes.


This time, workers, members of a powerful Teamsters local, entered the sixth day of their strike on Friday after negotiations over a three-year contract broke down over pay. The union has asked for an increase of $1.60 per hour in each year of a three-year contract, with $1 of the raise to go toward wages. The market’s management, a cooperative made up of 29 vendors, countered with an offer of 92 cents an hour each year, with 32 cents of the increase going to pay.


The dispute raises questions about how employees are treated at a time when the pandemic has set off a stark divide between people who have had to keep showing up to work and others who have been able to work from home.


The workers, who earn between $15 and $22 an hour, say they deserve a better raise because they are risking their health to supply the city with food during the outbreak.


Six workers have died and about 300 have gotten sick after contracting the coronavirus, said Charles Machadio, the vice president of the union, Teamsters Local 202, and a veteran worker at the market. Still, the market has remained open around the clock, seven days a week.


“We’re all living in an uncertain world. I might be dead tomorrow, you might too,” he said. Mr. Machadio said that the market’s merchants should recognize that workers “have been coming to work, keeping your businesses going, risking their lives.”


A dollar raise, he said, would be a way of saying “thank you guys for coming to work, you really are heroes.”


None of the merchants contacted would speak about the labor disagreement, but they provided a joint statement.


It said the cooperative had spent $3 million on personal protective equipment for workers and shifted work flows and work stations to make the market safer, without having to lay off anyone.


“Despite all of these challenges, we are very proud to have kept our union workers — the vast majority of whom live right here in the Bronx — working and on payroll with full health benefits as the Bronx has seen an unemployment rate of 40 percent,” the statement said.


Though hundreds of workers have walked off the job, the strike so far does not seem to have had a significant impact on the food supply, according to some grocery stores supplied by the market.


Union members have set up picket lines outside the sprawling market every day, and on Tuesday the police arrested six of them for obstructing traffic.


Several prominent politicians, all Democrats, have waded into the dispute. Representative Ritchie Torres and Andrew Yang, who is running for mayor, rallied in front of the market terminal on Monday. And on Wednesday, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez distributed hand warmers and coffee to strikers.


“There’s a lot of things upside down right now in our economy,” she said. “One of those things that are upside down is the fact that a person who is helping get the food to your table cannot feed their own kid.”


The strike comes as labor groups have pushed the city to grant greater protections to workers, particularly those in the food industry. Last month, the City Council approved two union-backed bills that ban major fast-food companies from firing employees without a valid reason and allow them to appeal terminations through arbitration.


But at Hunts Point, the cooperative has pushed back, saying that the pandemic, which has closed many restaurants permanently, had dealt a blow to their business, costing it tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.


Merchants at the cooperative purchase goods from farms and importers and then distribute products across the city and the broader region. The market moves 300,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables every day — about 60 percent of all the city’s produce by some estimates — and says it makes about $2.3 billion in revenues every year.


Despite the strike, the market remains open, and the cooperative has hired temporary strike-breaking workers to load and unload trucks, prompting angry outbursts from strikers whenever a truck arrives at the market’s entrance.


Noah Lea, who manages a branch of the CTown supermarket chain on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, said he gets all his green vegetables from Hunts Point, hauling in 400 pounds five times a week.


“I’m not worried right now,” he said, adding that the chain hedges against possible disruptions by relying on various markets, including the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, a competitor to Hunts Point.


Other grocery chains, including Gristedes, have also looked to other markets beside Hunts Point since the last strike to avoid potential shortages and to get lower prices. Large chains, like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, do not depend on the market for their produce.


The striking workers at Hunts Point said that despite the safety measures adopted by the cooperative, the market is still filled with employees working at times in close quarters. The market is “so crowded, like Penn Station,” said one worker, Francisco Soto.


About 3,000 employees, 1,400 of them union members, work at the vast 113-acre produce market, Mr. Machadio said, which, along with separate meat and fish markets, makes up the Hunts Point Distribution Center.


“We’ve been exposing ourselves to get sick and get our families sick, but we haven’t slowed down one bit,” said Diego Rutishauser, 49, who has worked various jobs at the produce market for 27 years.


Mr. Rutishauser wakes up at 2 a.m. everyday and takes two buses and a train from his home in Jamaica, Queens, to make it to work at 5 a.m.


“We’re not asking the impossible,” he said.


Charles Platkin, the director of the New York City Food Policy Center, said the longer the strike continued the greater the likelihood that supplying produce would become more difficult.


But he said the workers deserved some acknowledgment for keeping the market functioning during a major public health crisis.


“Because it accounts for so much of our food supply, it’s important to recognize the power of that market and how important those frontline workers are,’’ Mr. Platkin said, “and how important it is for your city to pay attention to the labor force there.”



6) Is an Innocent Man Still Languishing on Death Row?

We’ve seen the DNA evidence in the Kevin Cooper case. It points elsewhere.

By Nicholas Kristof, Opinion Columnist, Jan. 23, 2021

Kevin Cooper (Illustration by Lizzie Gill; photograph by Associated Press)

When a neighbor arrived at the Ryen home on June 5, 1983, to pick up his son from a sleepover, he couldn’t process what he saw through the window. He thought all the red must be paint.


Doug and Peggy Ryen had both been stabbed to death. So had their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and the neighbor’s 11-year-old, Chris Hughes. The Ryens’ son, 8-year-old Josh, had been left for dead with his throat slashed but survived.


It was an unimaginable tragedy, and it has been followed by another unimaginable tragedy, one that has lasted almost 38 years: A man who is very likely innocent appears to have been framed for that crime and remains on death row today.


The horrifying murder of a beautiful white family in Chino Hills, Calif., created enormous public pressure on the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office to solve the crime. Although Josh had indicated that the attack was committed by several white men, the sheriff announced just four days after the bodies were found that the sole suspect was Kevin Cooper, a young Black man with a long criminal record who had recently walked away from a minimum-security prison and then hid in an empty house near the Ryens’.


I have written about Cooper before, most notably an extensive investigative essay in May 2018 that led two governors, Jerry Brown (reluctantly) and Gavin Newsom (readily), to order comprehensive DNA testing in the case. The testing has finally been completed, and I’ve obtained the lab results. So here’s where we stand, and why Newsom should create a high-level panel to review the Cooper case and make a recommendation about possible clemency. It’s up to Newsom, who has imposed a moratorium on executions, to resolve what appears to be a horrendous injustice.


Sadly, a tan T-shirt believed to have been worn by one of the killers didn’t produce enough DNA to provide a profile. The DNA degraded over the decades while California authorities blocked the testing that Cooper had pleaded for, letting officials run out the clock. Likewise, hairs found clutched in the victims’ hands weren’t Cooper’s (no hairs from an African-American were found at the crime scene) but didn’t lead to a match with a suspect, either.


The most significant result was from an orange towel apparently taken by one of the murderers from the Ryens’ home, perhaps to wipe off sweat, and then discarded. It yielded a full DNA profile, and it’s not Cooper’s or any of the victims’ — but it hasn’t been matched to anyone else. Match that DNA, and we may quickly solve these murders.


There was other progress while the DNA testing was underway. The pro bono legal team working for Cooper, led by Norman C. Hile from the Orrick law firm, has written to Newsom describing a witness willing to testify in court that a different longtime suspect in the case recounted, not long after the murders, how he had killed the Ryens and Chris Hughes.


Two other witnesses, also willing to testify in court, say in written statements that this same person bragged to them more recently about having murdered an entire family, saying, “We butchered all of them.”


This other suspect is a white man whom I’ll identify just by his first name, Lee, for he must be presumed innocent. Lee is a convicted murderer who had completed his sentence and been out of prison for less than a year when the Ryens were killed.


Lee came to the attention of the authorities during the investigation after his girlfriend, Diana Roper, fingered him as the killer: She reported that he had returned home late on the night of the killings wearing bloody coveralls, in a car that resembled the Ryens’ station wagon.


Roper turned Lee’s bloody coveralls over to the sheriff’s office — which eventually threw them away without testing them. By then, the sheriff’s office had arrested Cooper, and deputies didn’t want a complication.


The DNA on the orange towel is not Lee’s, and he has denied to me that he was involved in the Ryen murders. It’s important not to try to free one innocent man by rushing to judgment about another. Still, the DNA testing and these witnesses add to the evidence that Cooper is an innocent man on death row.


“The case gets stronger and stronger for innocence,” said Tom Parker, a former deputy head of the F.B.I.’s office in Los Angeles, who has worked without charge to investigate the Cooper case. He added that as a 30-year law enforcement veteran, he is sickened by what he sees as a pattern of racism and “institutional corruption” that led to the railroading of Cooper. “It cuts a hole in your gut, it does,” he said.



There is growing recognition in criminal justice circles that Kevin Cooper may be innocent. “The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department framed him,” William A. Fletcher, a distinguished federal appeals court judge, declared in a lecture. Four other federal circuit court judges joined in a remarkable 100-page dissent Fletcher wrote warning that California was preparing to execute an innocent man.


The deans of four law schools and a former president of the American Bar Association have expressed concerns about the case. An excellent book, “Scapegoat,” has been written about it, and a documentary is in the works. Kim Kardashian visited Cooper in 2019 and has embraced his cause.


Yet Cooper remains in prison. That’s partly because the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office continues to resist an investigation into whether he is innocent, just as it previously resisted comprehensive DNA testing.


The D.A.’s office notes, for example, that Cooper’s blood was found on that tan T-shirt apparently worn by the murderer. That’s true: Testing years ago confirmed that it is Cooper’s blood — but also suggests that sheriff’s deputies spilled the blood on the shirt to frame him.


Deputies took a sample of Cooper’s blood after his arrest, using a chemical called EDTA to preserve it in the test tube. Cooper’s blood on that shirt had elevated EDTA in it; in other words, it seemed to have come not from his body directly, but from a test tube.


In addition, before the latest round of DNA testing, a vial of Cooper’s blood was found to be nearly empty, with just residue in the bottom.


“Based on my 25 years of experience with DNA testing, I can’t imagine any testing that would consume that much blood, even with multiple rounds of testing,” said Bicka Barlow, a DNA expert and lawyer who is consulting for Cooper’s side.


Relatives of the victims are convinced that Cooper is guilty, and San Bernardino authorities argue that there is plenty of forensic evidence against him — a bloodstain, shoe prints, cigarette butts, and so on. If you trust the sheriff’s office, it’s compelling. But significant questions have been raised about every element of this “evidence,” with indications that it was systematically planted to frame Cooper.


Could the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office really have planted evidence, including placing Cooper’s blood on the tan T-shirt? We do know that the sheriff’s office had a history of going rogue. Floyd Tidwell, the sheriff, was himself later convicted of four felony counts for stealing 523 guns from the evidence room. Tidwell denied any wrongdoing in the Cooper case; he died last February. Also, one of the sheriff’s lab technicians on the case, William Baird, acknowledged to me that he had stolen heroin from the evidence room, but denied having framed Cooper.


The injustices may go well beyond Cooper. William Richards, prosecuted by the San Bernardino County authorities in the murder of his wife and sent to prison for life, was exonerated in 2016 after junk science on bite marks was discredited and after it was revealed that a longtime forensics expert in the sheriff’s office appeared to have planted evidence. This was the same expert who had “found” evidence against Cooper. At least eight other people now serving long prison sentences may also have been framed by the same person, according to Parker, the former F.B.I. official.


The biggest problem with the case against Kevin Cooper, though, is simply that it doesn’t make sense.


The prosecution theory that Cooper single-handedly invaded the Ryen home seems to me preposterous. The medical examiner concluded that at least three weapons — a hatchet, an ice pick and one or two knives — were used to stab the victims approximately 140 times, and the attacker(s) appear to have discarded tan and blue shirts worn in the attack.


So as he mounted this attack, Cooper was juggling three or four weapons? Pausing in midassault to change shirts? And how could a 155-pound man like Cooper enter the house, with the Ryens’ dogs presumably sounding an alarm, and then overpower both Doug Ryen, a former military policeman, and Peggy Ryen, strong and athletic — each of whom had a loaded gun by the side of the bed?


And even if all this somehow were possible, why would Cooper, when fleeing in the Ryens’ car, have left bloodstains on three seats and thrown the hatchet used in the attack out the passenger side window?



Yet California for almost 38 years has prepared to ignore all this and execute a Black man who is probably innocent. Democratic and Republican politicians alike have mostly averted their eyes, presumably in part for fear of offending voters who might be upset at the exoneration of a Black man convicted of a brutal crime against a white family.


So, after a year in which America has looked anew at racism in the criminal justice system, let’s be frank about race.


“If I was a white man, or if I was a wealthy Black man, I would not be in prison right now,” Cooper told me in a phone call from San Quentin. Of course he’s right.


Yet fundamentally Cooper blames himself, for fleeing the minimum-security prison. “If I had not put myself in that position for those body snatchers to get their hands on me, I would not be here today,” he said. “I have to take responsibility for my actions.”


This is not a case just of police and prosecutorial misconduct. The entire system failed, decade after decade.


Conservative law enforcement officials in San Bernardino County blocked comprehensive DNA testing for years, but so did Democratic politicians like Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris when they were attorneys general of California. The latest California attorney general, Xavier Becerra, a Democrat whom President Biden has named to his cabinet, also did not authorize testing.


Harris has told me she regrets her failure to allow testing. Cooper was asked by a Sean Hannity representative for an interview before the election, apparently in hopes that he would denounce her. Cooper refused.


“I got integrity,” he said. “I know those people don’t give a damn about me, don’t care about my situation.”


One challenge in cases like this is that the criminal justice system establishes considerable barriers to finding someone guilty in the first place, but then after conviction places significant impediments to free that person even when new information comes to light.


“The legal system is deeply, deeply committed to closure, finality, procedural exhaustion, and there are some good reasons for that,” Chesa Boudin, the San Francisco district attorney, told me. “But when it comes to executing a man or woman who may be innocent, there’s no excuse for closing the door because of procedural issues.”


Boudin has set up a six-member panel — with a retired judge, a forensics specialist and other experts — to review old cases in San Francisco about which doubts have arisen, and it’s a model for what the governor should create to review Cooper’s conviction in Southern California.


“We have to be equally committed to doing justice retrospectively as to do it prospectively,” Boudin told me. “Anybody who is fair-minded has to know that the situation is not perfect, that mistakes are made.”


While running for D.A., Boudin applied to visit Cooper in San Quentin but says he was denied permission by the California Department of Corrections.



Let me be honest: I don’t know for certain that Cooper is innocent. We all need a dose of humility about our capacity to discern the truth.


What is indisputable is not Cooper’s guilt or innocence, but doubt. When federal judges, law school deans and others believe that a man has been framed, and when another person is said to have privately confessed to the murders, how can we keep a man on death row because, well, it’s possible he’s guilty?


Now it’s time for Governor Newsom to order an investigation to review the Cooper case and examine whether an innocent man has been framed. We can’t undo the tragedy that unfolded 38 years ago in the Ryen home, but we can end another.



7) Biden Must Reckon With Obama-Era Immigration Mistakes

Deportations carried out back then left immigrant communities fractured and financially devastated.

By Jean Guerrero, Jan. 23, 2021

Lucía Quiej’s husband was deported during the Obama presidency. Her family remains separated.
Lucía Quiej’s husband was deported during the Obama presidency. Her family remains separated. Credit...Alan Diaz/Associated Press

On March 9, 2016, at the Democratic debate in Miami, Lucía Quiej, an undocumented mother from Guatemala, got up to speak to the presidential candidates. Her husband, Andrés Jiménez, whom she described as a hard worker, had been deported in 2013 after he was caught driving without a license, and she was raising her five children by herself. Her voice broke with emotion when she asked, “What can you do to stop deportations and reunify families?”


“I will do everything I can to pass laws that would bring families back together,” Hillary Clinton pledged.


“I will do everything that I can to unite your family,” Bernie Sanders said.


Mr. Jimenéz was among the three million people deported under the Obama administration — many of whom had jobs, homes and children in the United States. They were banished to Mexico and beyond. More than four years later, Ms. Quiej’s family remains separated. She still struggles to pay rent; a nearby church provides the family with donated clothing, food and a place to pray for help.


Her 17-year-old daughter, Angelica, has heard of Joe Biden’s pledge to create a task force to reunite children separated from their parents at the border by the Trump administration. “Why can’t they help us as well?” she wonders.


When people demand the reunification of immigrant families today, they usually mean the thousands of asylum seekers separated from family members in the last four years. “The specter of [the Trump administration’s] family separation at the borders was so haunting that the term has been kind of narrowed,” said Naureen Shah, senior advocacy and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “But just because these things happened in the past, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a really awful present effect.”


If Mr. Biden is serious about “securing our values as a nation of immigrants,” he can’t just reverse President Donald Trump’s decisions, or label deportations under President Barack Obama a “big mistake.”


He must repair the harm that was done when he was vice president, which left communities fractured and financially devastated, as the public health researcher William D. Lopez observed in his book, “Separated.” He should extend some of the same relief sought for victims of Mr. Trump’s policy of family separation — such as mental health services and reunification — to those torn apart by Mr. Obama’s policies.


It’s true that the motivation and goals of the Obama administration’s policy differed from the Trump administration’s. Mr. Trump’s policies were designed to traumatize children and parents. They were rooted in his extremist adviser Stephen Miller’s animus for family migration.


It matters that the Obama administration’s actions were not sadistic. But it doesn’t mean they weren’t harmful. The American Psychological Association, which said Mr. Trump’s separations harmed children, previously noted that those carried out under Mr. Obama could cause “serious mental health deterioration and trauma in children.”


Mr. Obama may not have separated families asking for refuge at the border as a matter of policy as Mr. Trump did, but he did separate those with roots in the United States. He said he was after “felons, not families.” But deportees have families, and most had committed only immigration offenses. Since being deported, a number of them have struggled with depression and substance abuse in Mexico, dreaming of their loved ones in the United States.


Mr. Biden’s immigration plan, which cites the need to “restore sensible enforcement priorities,” sounds familiar: a pledge to prioritize serious criminals, protect families and end raids in sensitive environments. Mr. Obama had the same goals, saying he was after “gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.”


President Biden’s goals, which can in theory be accomplished through executive action, ignore the lessons of the Obama administration, in which the criminalization of some immigrants shattered families, and the cultures of Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement led to rampant abuses.


Ms. Shah said Mr. Biden needs to be honest about the overreliance on memos and the lack of accountability for ICE and the Border Patrol. They enjoyed impunity for killings and other abuses under Mr. Obama as well as under Mr. Trump, she noted.


“We actually have to limit the discretion of the officers and the agents who act on xenophobia and bigotry — and who do horrific things to human beings under the pretext of immigration enforcement,” Ms. Shah said. “It’s not a matter of just appointing the right people. You’ve got an entrenched agency culture of abuse and impunity. It’s going to take a lot of oversight and accountability.”


Mr. Biden will need congressional and independent oversight. And he’s going to have to change the narrative around immigration, fundamentally disentangling it from criminality. Otherwise, he’ll fail to rally support for some of his most ambitious goals, such as promising to end “prolonged detention,” and to provide a pathway for citizenship for the nearly 11 million people in the United States without legal status.


For the latter, he needs Congress — and a game plan for fighting the conservative disinformation campaign that Mr. Miller and his nativist allies are likely to launch. They can’t afford to forget the lessons of the so-called Gang of Eight bill, which died in the House in 2014 amid an onslaught of falsehoods casting immigrants as welfare-guzzling criminals.


Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, plans to introduce a resolution for comprehensive immigration reform that demonstrates how to change the narrative from the top, rejecting the quid pro quo framing of previous immigration reform efforts in which immigrant protections come in exchange for increased border militarization.


The resolution seeks to dismantle the U.S. deportation machine and decriminalize immigration offenses, creating instead “scalable civil consequences,” such as fines and community service. It aims to end incentives for local police to work with federal immigration officers. (About 70 percent of ICE arrests occur after contact with local police officers or state prisons). “Our intent is really to disentangle the criminal justice and immigration systems,” Ms. Jayapal said in an interview.


Mr. Biden has said he doesn’t believe that the police should turn immigrants over to ICE to be deported. But his plan doesn’t mention banning ICE detainers or discouraging police cooperation with ICE. He should throw his support behind Ms. Jayapal’s resolution, co-sponsored by her Democratic colleagues Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Yvette Clarke of New York, Jesús García of Illinois, Judy Chu of California and Veronica Escobar of Texas.


It provides a path to reunification for any separated families, regardless of who separated them — because it is driven by respect for human rights rather than by political considerations. “We wanted to be broad and inclusive when we talk about family separations now that people understand how detrimental the consequences are, whether you’re separated at the border or in the interior,” Ms. Jayapal said.


Ms. Quiej fantasizes about reuniting with her husband at the airport, watching the joy on her children’s faces as they run up to him and hug him. If the priorities in Ms. Jayapal’s resolution are adopted, deportation would no longer be the consequence for minor offenses like Mr. Jiménez’s.


Ms. Guerrero is the author of “Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda.”



8) What Happens When You Click ‘Agree’?

The same legalese that can ban Donald Trump from Twitter can bar users from joining class-action lawsuits. It’s time to fix the fine print.

By The Editorial Board, Jan. 23, 2021


Illustration by The New York Times; photograph via Getty Images

Apple prohibits using its iTunes service for the manufacture of nuclear or biological weapons. Amazon will permit its cloud computing service to be deployed to help combat a zombie apocalypse that could “result in the fall of organized civilization.”


Those clauses are in jest, buried deep in the tech giants’ online terms of service, but they highlight how most people have no idea what is signed away when they click “agree” to binding terms of service contracts — again and again on phones, laptops, tablets, watches, e-readers and televisions. Agreeing often means allowing personal data to be resold or waiving the right to sue or join a class-action lawsuit.


Violations of such terms and conditions agreements recently gave Amazon the power to block the right-leaning social media site Parler and for Twitter to ban Donald Trump and to sweep tens of thousands of QAnon pages into the digital ether. Time will tell the degree to which tech companies will police their own sites in the coming months and years. But if they do, terms and conditions will be a pretext they use to do so.


The potential for abuse on the one hand and restricting speech on the other hand has spurred calls for major reforms to the tech sector from politicians of both parties. Courts and lawmakers are also zeroing in on reforms to terms of service agreements that would help reset the balance of power between consumers and tech companies. At the same time, several large companies, like Google and Facebook, have been buffeted in recent months by antitrust lawsuits and investigations into their market dominance. Regulators and lawmakers say their propensity for acquiring smaller rivals, gobbling up user data and striking exclusive deals with one another has allowed them to operate illegal monopolies that ultimately hurt consumers.


The root problem is that consumers are simply outgunned. Because corporations and their lawyers know most consumers don’t have the time or wherewithal to study their new terms, which can stretch to 20,000 words — about the length of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” — they stuff them with opaque provisions and lengthy legalistic explanations meant to confuse or obfuscate. Understanding a typical company’s terms, according to one study, requires 14 years of education, which is beyond the level most Americans attain. A 2012 Carnegie Mellon study found that the average American would have to devote 76 work days just to read over tech companies’ policies. That number would probably be much higher today.


At its core, the arrangement is unbalanced, putting the burden on consumers to read through voluminous, nonnegotiable documents, written to benefit corporations in exchange for access to their services. It’s hard to imagine, by contrast, being asked to sign a 60-page printed contract before entering a bowling alley or a florist shop. Though courts have held terms of service contracts to be binding, there is generally no legal requirement that companies make them comprehensible.


It is understandable, then, that companies may feel emboldened to insert terms that advantage them at their customers’ expense. That includes provisions that most consumers wouldn’t knowingly agree to: an inability to delete one’s own account, granting companies the right to claim credit for or alter their creative work, letting companies retain content even after a user deletes it, letting them gain access to a user’s full browsing history and giving them blanket indemnity. More often than not, there is a clause (including for The New York Times’s website) that the terms can be updated at any time without prior notice.


Some terms approach the absurd. Food and ride-share companies, like DoorDash and Lyft, ask users to agree that the companies are not delivery or transportation businesses, a sleight of hand designed to give the companies license to treat their contract drivers as employees while also sheltering the companies from liability for whatever may happen on a ride or delivery. Handy, an on-demand housecleaning service, once sought in its terms of service to put customers on the hook for future tax liabilities should their contract workers’ job classification be changed to employee. Uber requires most global users outside the United States to adjudicate their grievances only in the Netherlands, which the Canadian Supreme Court last summer found “unconscionable” — while Facebook and Google simply switched their United Kingdom customers to U.S. terms when local laws didn’t serve their needs.


“This is one of the tools used by corporations to assert themselves over their customers and whittle away their rights,” said Nancy Kim, a California Western School of Law professor who studies online contracts. “With their constant updates to terms and conditions, it amounts to a massive bait-and-switch.”


Technology companies will assert that none of their policies are mandatory — if customers don’t want to accept them, they can close their accounts or decline to sign up in the first place. But many companies have made their services so essential that opting out is not a feasible option, and customers are often presented with new terms at the moment they most need to use a service. Consider how difficult it would be to avoid signing up for a single Google product, let alone to retrieve saved emails or photos, if the account has to be closed quickly.


The foundation of such online contracts dates to when software was sold in a box, and the terms of service inside were considered agreed to when a customer opened the shrink wrap. Ever since a 1996 ruling upholding this notion, companies have tested the limits of so-called shrink-wrap agreements through increasingly creative means, like hiding terms of service behind layers of hyperlinks, burying them in small print, forcing users to agree before they can get access to a previously downloaded app or making the terms binding when a customer simply opens a webpage. Lyft, for instance, informed many customers last month that its terms had changed — a week after the fact.


“We have become so beaten down by this that we just accept it,” said Woodrow Hartzog, a Northeastern University law professor. “The idea that anyone should be expected to read these terms of service is preposterous — they are written to discourage people from reading them.” Contracts are, in theory, meant to be mutually agreeable. How can they be if they’re designed so consumers cannot understand them?


There are signs of waning tolerance to all this. Early this month, a Massachusetts court found that Uber failed to make its terms clear because it had hidden them in a hyperlink on the third page for new customer registrations, with no click-to-agree requirement. Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, has proposed legislation aimed at improving transparency around privacy policies that govern how consumer data is used. In 2016, Congress made it illegal to include clauses that prohibit consumers from posting negative reviews.


But the burden remains far too great for average consumers. Because courts have largely sided with the tech industry on terms of service rules, Congress needs to act.


Lawmakers should consider instituting rules that require greater transparency around changes to companies’ terms of service and clearer means by which customers agree to them. Burying them in novella-length documents is neither honest nor forthright.


Another smart requirement would be to clearly highlight the changes in a new policy and to include a discussion in plain English about how they will affect regular users, particularly when they have a grievance. If a company’s online service is open to 13-year-olds, as many are, then the terms of use need to be written so an eighth grader can understand them — in fact, such a standard may be warranted for all such user agreements. That would be a step toward informed consent, allowing for the possibility that an eagle-eyed consumer catches something unconscionable.


That said, better and more frequent disclosure may have the unintended effect of making onerous conditions more enforceable, because users would be better informed of them, said Omri Ben-Shahar, a University of Chicago law professor. Consumers would be best served knowing that certain terms are never allowable by law, even if disclosed, particularly companies’ attempts to absolve themselves of all liability for harms suffered through negligence or poor manufacturing, as well as predatory financial terms.


Other rules could set intervals between informing customers of new terms and when they take effect, and prohibit automatic contract updates without customers’ consent.


There is broad and bipartisan agreement that the biggest tech companies are far too powerful. A pending set of antitrust lawsuits could lay the groundwork for a more competitive future for start-ups, giving consumers greater choice and leading to superior services. But it’s past time to begin to restore power to consumers by curbing tech companies’ everyday overreach through lopsided consumer contracts.



9) We Don’t Need Another War on Terror

Prosecute the Capitol rioters. But new antiterrorism laws could end up targeting people of color.

By Adama Bah, Jan. 25, 2021,

Ms. Bah is an immigration activist.


Adama Bah, Immigration activist. (Screen shot from video)


“What we witnessed yesterday was not dissent. They weren’t protesters. They were a riotous mob, insurrectionists, domestic terrorists.” [SHOUTING] “We don’t have a domestic terrorism law.” “We don’t have many of the tools to battle domestic terrorism.” “I think it’s time that we had a domestic terrorism statute.” “The people who stormed the Capitol definitely need to face consequences. They are filled with hate. But we should not call them terrorists, and we should not pass a new anti-terrorism law. ” Can I act funny?” “Yeah.” [SINGING] [GENTLE MUSIC] “In 2005, I was 16 years old. My apartment was raided by the NYPD Terrorism Task Force, FBI. They came, ripped the blankets off my head. My father and I were detained and put in handcuffs. The government suspected me of being a potential suicide bomber. Ooh. I was trying to avoid my emotions — depression, fear, anger. I didn’t do anything wrong, and I was still treated as a criminal. I was honestly just a 16-year-old, a typical 16-year-old. My grades were great. My friends were awesome. I was into boy bands. [LAUGHS] When I hear people say we need to expand the war on terror, or we need to make new laws, it’s an insult to me because, for some reason, they found the laws to detain me and accused me of terrorism. And these people essentially passed the most secured building in the country just fine. History shows that having anti-terrorism laws just affect people like myself. “Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, former Army buddies with a grudge against the government, planned the bombing.” After the Oklahoma City bombing, President Clinton passed a law giving the FBI more power to go after terrorists. The law didn’t go after people that looked like the Oklahoma City Bomber. “From now on, we can quickly expel foreigners who dare to come to America and support terrorist activities.” “The same thing 



10) Amazon Union Drive Takes Hold in Unlikely Place

Workers at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., are to vote next month on whether to unionize, the largest and most viable effort of its kind involving the technology giant.

By Michael Corkery and Karen Weise, Jan. 25, 2021


Union organizers talk to Amazon workers when they are stopped at a traffic light outside the warehouse in Alabama.

Union organizers talk to Amazon workers when they are stopped at a traffic light outside the warehouse in Alabama. Credit...Bob Miller for The New York Times

The largest, most viable effort to unionize Amazon in many years began last summer not in a union stronghold like New York or Michigan, but at a Fairfield Inn outside Birmingham, in the right-to-work state of Alabama.


It was late in the summer and a group of employees from a nearby Amazon warehouse contacted an organizer in the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. They were fed up, they said, with the way the online retailer tracked their productivity, and wanted to discuss unionizing.


As the workers arrived at the hotel, union officials watched the parking lot to make sure they had not been followed.


Since that clandestine meeting, the unionizing campaign at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., has moved faster and further than just about anyone has expected. By late December, more than 2,000 workers signed cards indicating they wanted an election, the union said. The National Labor Relations Board then determined there was “sufficient” interest in a union election among the warehouse’s roughly 5,800 workers, which is a significant bar to hit with the government agency that oversees the voting process. About a week ago, the board announced that voting by mail would start next month and continue through the end of March.


Just getting to an election is an achievement for unions, which have failed for years to break into Amazon. But persuading the workers to actually vote for a union is a bigger challenge. The company has begun to counter organizing efforts by arguing that a union would saddle workers with dues without any guarantee of higher wages or better benefits.


This will be the first union election involving the company in the United States since a small group of technical workers at a warehouse in Delaware voted against forming a union in 2014.


Much has changed since that vote seven years ago, allowing organized labor to make inroads with Amazon employees in a place like Alabama. Most of that change had come in the past year during the pandemic, as workers from meatpacking plants to grocery stores have spoken out, often through their unions, about the lack of protective gear or inadequate pay.


The retail union has pointed to its success representing workers during the pandemic as a selling point in Bessemer.


“The pandemic changed the way many people feel about their employers,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the retail union’s president. “Many workers see the benefit of having a collective voice.”


Union organizers are also building their campaign around the themes of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many of the employees at the Amazon warehouse are Black, a fact that the retail union has used to focus on issues of racial equality and empowerment. And leading the organizing effort are about two dozen unionized workers from nearby warehouses and poultry plants, most of whom are also Black.


Since Oct. 20, the poultry workers have been standing outside the Amazon gates every day starting at 4:30 a.m., urging workers stopped at a traffic light to join a union.


“I am telling them they are part of a movement that is worldwide,” said Michael Foster, a Black organizer in Bessemer, who works in a poultry plant. “I want them to know that we are important and we do matter.”


Unions have been forming in other unlikely places this year. This month, more than 400 engineers and other workers at Google formed a union, a rare move in the mostly anti-union tech industry. The Google union is meant primarily to bolster employee activism, while the union being proposed at Amazon in Bessemer would eventually be able to negotiate a contract and would seek to influence wages and working conditions.


Amazon, which has embarked on a hiring spree during the pandemic, now has more than 1.2 million employees globally, up more than 50 percent from a year earlier. But the company has also begun to face pressure from its corporate employees, over climate change and other issues, and from many warehouse workers around the country who have felt emboldened to speak up. The attention is likely to only increase with Amazon on pace to surpass Walmart as the country’s largest private employer in a few years.


Success at the Bessemer warehouse, which opened in March, could inspire workers in the booming e-commerce industry more broadly, said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “If you can do it in Alabama, we can do it here in Southern California for sure,” he said. “It would have a huge ripple effect.”


In a statement, Heather Knox, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the company did not believe that the union “represents the majority of our employees’ views.” She added, “Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”


The company created a website that suggests that the union’s dues — which could total about $9.25 a week for a full-time employee — would leave workers with less money to pay for school supplies.


“Why not save the money and get the books, gifts and things you want?” the website says.


An early version of the website included photos of happy-looking young workers, including the image of a Black man leaping in the air that appeared to be from a free stock photo website. On the site the man and a woman are pictured in an image labeled “excited african-american couple jumping, having fun.”


Asked about the site, Amazon called it “educational” and said it “helps employees understand the facts of joining a union.” (As of last Tuesday evening, the company had removed the stock photos including that of the leaping man.)


Race has often been at the heart of unionizing campaigns in the South. A century ago, multiracial steel and coal miners unions around Birmingham were a “cockpit of labor militancy,” Mr. Lichtenstein said.


In the 1960s, unions — including the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union — gave Black workers a venue to assert their civil rights and gain more equality in the workplace.


Organizing was dangerous work. A Black organizer with the retail union in Alabama named Henry Jenkins recalled being shot at and receiving death threats at his home. At one point, a bomb was found in his car outside a church in Selma. Mr. Jenkins died in 2011 after an illness.


The retail union has been influential in the Northeast, where it represents workers at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. But its strength has also grown in the South, particularly in poultry, an industry with traditionally dangerous jobs and a work force that with many Black employees.


This spring, the union was active in publicizing deadly virus outbreaks in poultry plants. The union’s Mid-South Council president, Randy Hadley, called out the industry for “egregious inaction” in providing basic protections for workers.


Buoyed by its rising profile during the pandemic, the union trained a group of workers to start organizing additional poultry facilities across the South. When the Amazon workers reached out, the union, which had failed to gain traction at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island two years earlier, decided to redirect the poultry workers to the Bessemer warehouse. In contrast to past campaigns, the union decided it would keep mostly quiet during the Alabama organizing drive.


“Some people do not expect us to succeed,” said Josh Brewer, who is leading the organizing effort. “I believe we can do it.”


On the evening of Oct. 20, two dozen poultry and warehouse workers showed up outside the Amazon gates.


Mona Darby, who has spent the past 33 years processing chickens, immediately started approaching the Amazon workers in their cars as they headed home. Ms. Darby grew up in Alabama, one of 18 children. She started working as a housekeeper for local doctors and lawyers when she was 15. But she wanted more stable work, health care and retirement benefits, so she got a job in a chicken plant.


Today, the starting wages in Alabama’s unionized poultry plants are about the same as those at Amazon. (The average hourly wage at the Bessemer warehouse is $15.30.) But Ms. Darby said the union provided her with protections and job security that other jobs lacked.


“You can pay me $25 an hour, but if you don’t treat me well, what’s that money worth?” she said.


On that first evening at the Bessemer warehouse, Ms. Darby said, a white man approached her and said that Amazon didn’t want a union and that he didn’t want her “Black ass on our property.”


“You are going to see my Black ass out here all day, every day,” Ms. Darby said she had responded.


Ms. Darby said she had seen the man remove his name badge before he walked up to her. She told a police officer present what the man had said, but the officer didn’t take notes.


The Bessemer police said they had no record of the incident. Amazon declined to comment.


On Dec. 18, lawyers for Amazon and the union gathered on Zoom to discuss how many workers would be part of the potential union.


The hearing dragged on for days, as Amazon’s lawyer asked questions in minute detail about the warehouse, until the federal hearing officer eventually cut the testimony short.


One issue Amazon has insisted on is that the election be held in person at the warehouse. The company even offered to rent out hotel rooms for the federal election monitors to help them isolate from contracting the virus in an area with an infection rate of 17 percent. The National Labor Relations Board ruled against in-person voting on Jan. 15, stating that a company paying for hotel rooms for government employees was not a good idea. On Friday, Amazon asked for a stay of the mail-in election, arguing that infection rates were declining and insisting that voting should take place at the warehouse.


Until all the votes are cast, Mr. Foster and the other poultry and warehouse workers are planning to stay outside the Amazon gates. He said some of the Amazon workers were fearful of being seen talking to the organizers at the stoplight.


On a few occasions, Mr. Foster has said a prayer with workers before the light changes to green.


“We want to show them we are not leaving them until this is done,” he said.



11) Harriet Tubman, an Unsung Naturalist, Used Owl Calls as a Signal on the Underground Railroad

The famed conductor traveled at night, employing deep knowledge of the region's environment and wildlife to communicate, navigate, and survive.

By Allison Keyes, Reporter, Audubon Magazine, February 25, 2020

Harriet Tubman, 1870s. Photo: Harvey Lindsley/Library of Congress

Many people are aware of Harriet Tubman's work on the Underground Railroad and as a scout, spy, guerrilla soldier, and nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War. Fewer know of her prowess as a naturalist. 


At the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park in Church Creek, Maryland, Ranger Angela Crenshaw calls Tubman “the ultimate outdoors woman.” She even used bird calls to help guide her charges, eventually helping some 70 people, including her parents and four brothers, escape slavery. 


"We know that she used the call of an owl to alert refugees and her freedom seekers that it was OK, or not OK, to come out of hiding and continue their journey,” Crenshaw says. “It would have been the Barred Owl, or as it is sometimes called, a 'hoot-owl.' 'They make a sound that some people think sounds like ‘who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?’ ”


That nugget comes to Crenshaw from the park’s historian, Kate Clifford Larson, author of the Tubman biography Bound for the Promised Land. “If you used the sound of an owl, it would blend in with the normal sounds you would hear at night. It wouldn’t create any suspicion,” Crenshaw says.


Harriet Tubman spent much of her young life in close contact with the natural world. Likely born in 1822, she grew up in an area full of wetlands, swamps, and upland forests, giving her the skills she used expertly in her own quest for freedom in 1849. Her parents were enslaved, and Tubman’s owners rented her out to neighbors as a domestic servant as early as age five. At seven, she was hired out again, and her duties included walking into wet marshes to check muskrat traps. Tubman also worked as a field hand, in timber fields with her father and brothers on the north side of the Blackwater River, and at wharves in the area. All of this helped when, later, Tubman made 13 trips back to Maryland between 1850 and 1860 to guide people to freedom. The abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison dubbed Tubman “Moses.”


“It was in those timber fields where she learned the skills necessary to be a successful conductor on the Underground Railroad,” Crenshaw explains, “including how to read the landscape, how to be comfortable in the woods, how to navigate and use the sounds that were natural in Dorchester County at the time.”


Being able to travel and navigate was paramount for people risking their lives for freedom, and that's why it helped that Tubman was an astronomer, too, says Eola Dance, former coordinator for the National Park Service’s Network to Freedom program. Like other freedom seekers, Tubman used the North Star and the Big Dipper to orient herself. 


“Tubman was leading family members as well as strangers from Maryland to Philadelphia, New York and as far as St. Catharine’s, Canada, by traveling at night, using science to find her way," Dance says.


Botany proved another necessary skill; people used plants for food and other survival needs. “Whether it was using certain plant life to quiet babies, or it could be relieving pain or cleaning wounds, this was the type of knowledge that Tubman had,” Dance says. Travelers along the Underground Railroad would have also looked for vegetables such as okra, tomatoes, collard greens, and trapped animals, such as muskrats, she notes. 


Tubman’s natural expertise also helped her after her Underground Railroad days when she served in the Union Army, says Dance. She arrived at Fort Monroe, in Hampton Roads, Virginia, in 1861. Her experience with the waterways she crossed repeatedly while shepherding freedom seekers was essential again. 

“If you’re thinking of traveling from Maryland through Pennsylvania, Tubman would have had to cross several rivers, creeks, and streams, and that would have been important not only directionally, but also something we don’t talk about as much: as in the way people were tracked,” Dance says. “Freedom seekers would have been tracked by dogs, and by traveling through the water and knowing these waterways, it would have aided them in throwing off their scent so that the dogs would not be able to find them.”


At the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park, Crenshaw likes to memorialize Tubman's connection to birds through verse. She’s memorized former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hayden’s poem Runagate, Runagate, which mentions Tubman, and also the owls she mimicked with such accuracy.


Hoot-owl calling in the ghosted air,


Five times calling to the hants in the air,


Shadow of a face in the scary leaves, 


Shadow of a voice in the talking leaves.


Combined, Harriet Tubman’s understanding of the human environment, surrounding landscapes, and wildlife prepared her for both the great and small tasks of the Underground Railroad and the Civil War. To Dance, what's incredible is that Tubman began acquiring her expertise as a child, while doing what she had to do to just survive. “We don’t really think about what knowledge and skills she had to have,” Dance says, “in order to accomplish the impossible.”



12) They Found a Way to Limit Big Tech’s Power: Using the Design of Bitcoin

Companies inspired by the cryptocurrency are creating social networks, storing online content and hosting websites without any central authority.

By Nathaniel Popper, Jan. 26, 2021

Bitcoin transactions are tracked by a decentralized network of computers around the world.
Bitcoin transactions are tracked by a decentralized network of computers around the world. Mark Blinch/Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO — Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, publicly wrestled this month with the question of whether his social media service had exercised too much power by cutting off Donald J. Trump’s account. Mr. Dorsey wondered aloud if the solution to that power imbalance was new technology inspired by the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.


When YouTube and Facebook barred tens of thousands of Mr. Trump’s supporters and white supremacists this month, many flocked to alternative apps such as LBRY, Minds and Sessions. What those sites had in common was that they were also inspired by the design of Bitcoin.


The twin developments were part of a growing movement by technologists, investors and everyday users to replace some of the internet’s fundamental building blocks in ways that would be harder for tech giants like Facebook and Google to control.


To do so, they are increasingly focused on new technological ideas introduced by Bitcoin, which was built atop an online network designed, at the most basic level, to decentralize power.


Unlike other types of digital money, Bitcoin are created and moved around not by a central bank or financial institution but by a broad and disparate network of computers. It’s similar to the way Wikipedia is edited by anyone who wants to help, rather than a single publishing house. That underlying technology is called the blockchain, a reference to the shared ledger on which all of Bitcoin’s records are kept.


Companies are now finding ways to use blockchains, and similar technology inspired by it, to create social media networks, store online content and host websites without any central authority in charge. Doing so makes it much harder for any government or company to ban accounts or delete content.


These experiments are newly relevant after the biggest tech companies recently exercised their clout in ways that have raised questions about their power.


Facebook and Twitter prevented Mr. Trump from posting online after the Capitol rampage on Jan. 6, saying he had broken their rules against inciting violence. Amazon, Apple and Google stopped working with Parler, a social networking site that had become popular with the far right, saying the app had not done enough to limit violent content.


While liberals and opponents of toxic content praised the companies’ actions, they were criticized by conservatives, First Amendment scholars and the American Civil Liberties Union for showing that private entities could decide who gets to stay online and who doesn’t.


“Even if you agree with the specific decisions, I do not for a second trust the people who are making the decisions to make universally good decisions,” said Jeremy Kauffman, the founder of LBRY, which provides a decentralized service for streaming videos.


That has prompted a scramble for other options. Dozens of start-ups now offer alternatives to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Amazon’s web hosting services, all on top of decentralized networks and shared ledgers. Many have gained millions of new users over the past few weeks, according to the data company SimilarWeb.


“This is the biggest wave I’ve ever seen,” said Emmi Bevensee, a data scientist and the author of “The Decentralized Web of Hate,” a publication about the move of right-wing groups to decentralized technology. “This has been discussed in niche communities, but now we are having a conversation with the broader world about how these emerging technologies may impact the world at quite large scales.”


Bitcoin first emerged in 2009. Its creator, a shadowy figure known as Satoshi Nakamoto, has said its central idea was to allow anyone to open a digital bank account and hold the money in a way that no government could prevent or regulate.


For several years, Bitcoin gained little traction beyond a small coterie of online admirers and people who wanted to pay for illegal drugs online. But as its price rose over time, more people in Silicon Valley took notice of the unusual technical qualities underlying the cryptocurrency. Some promised that the technology could be used to redesign everything from produce tracking to online games.


The hype fell flat over the years as the underlying technology proved to be slow, prone to error and not easily accessible. But more investments and time have begun to result in software that people can actually use.


Last year, Arweave, a blockchain-based project for permanently storing and displaying websites, created an archive of sites and documents from the protests in Hong Kong that angered the Chinese government.


Minds, a blockchain-based replacement for Facebook founded in 2015, also became an online home to some of the right-wing personalities and neo-Nazis who were booted from mainstream social networks, along with fringe groups, in other countries, that have been targeted by their governments. Minds and other similar start-ups are funded by prominent venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures.


One of the biggest proponents of the trend has been Mr. Dorsey, 44, who has talked about the promise of decentralized social networks through Twitter and has promoted Bitcoin through the other company he runs, Square, a financial technology provider.


His public support for Bitcoin and Bitcoin-related designs dates to around 2017. In late 2019, Mr. Dorsey announced Blue Sky, a project to develop technology aimed at giving Twitter less influence over who could and could not use the service.


After shutting down Mr. Trump’s account this month, Mr. Dorsey said he would hire a team for Blue Sky to address his discomfort with Twitter’s power by pursuing the vision set out by Bitcoin. On Thursday, Blue Sky published the findings of a task force that has been considering potential designs.


Twitter declined to make Mr. Dorsey available for an interview but said it intended to “share more soon.”


Blockchains are not the only solution for those in search of alternatives to Big Tech’s power. Many people have recently migrated to the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram, which have no need for a blockchain. Moxie Marlinspike, the creator of Signal, has said decentralization made it hard to build good software.


The experimentation with decentralized systems has nonetheless ramped up over the last month. Brave, a new browser, announced last week that it would begin integrating a blockchain-based system, known as IPFS, into its software to make web content more reliable in case big service providers went down or tried to ban sites.


“The IPFS network gives access to content even if it has been censored by corporations and nation-states,” Brian Bondy, a co-founder of Brave, said.


At LBRY, the blockchain-based alternative to YouTube, the number of people signing up daily has surged 250 percent from December, the company said. The newcomers appear to have largely been a motley crew of Trump fans, white supremacists and gun rights advocates who violated YouTube’s rules.


When YouTube removed the latest videos from the white supremacist video blogger Way of the World last week, he tweeted: “Why do we waste our time on this globalist scum? Come to LBRY for all my videos in HD quality, censorship free!”


Megan Squires, a professor at Elon University who studies new computer networks, said blockchain-based networks faced hurdles because the underlying technology made it hard to exercise any control over content.


“As a technology it is very cool, but you can’t just sit there and be a Pollyanna and think that all information will be free,” she said. “There will be racists, and people will shoot each other. It’s going to be the total package.”


Mr. Kauffman said LBRY had prepared for these situations. While anyone will be able to create an account and register content on the LBRY blockchain that the company cannot delete — similar to the way anyone can create an email address and send emails — most people will get access to videos through a site on top of it. That allows LBRY to enforce moderation policies, much as Google can filter out spam and illegal content in email, he said.


Even so, Mr. Kauffman said, no one would lose basic access to online conversation.


“I’d be proud of almost any kind of marginalized voice using it, no matter how much I disagreed with it,” he said.



13) The High-Risk Group Left Out of New York’s Vaccine Rollout

Virus cases are surging among incarcerated people at prisons and jails. But state officials have not announced when they will be vaccinated.

By Troy Closson, Jan. 26, 2021

An outbreak at Greene Correctional Facility near Albany was linked to cases at an assisted-living facility and an elementary school, officials said last fall.
An outbreak at Greene Correctional Facility near Albany was linked to cases at an assisted-living facility and an elementary school, officials said last fall. Credit...Will Waldron, via The Times Union

When New York announced new vaccine eligibility guidelines two weeks ago covering millions of additional state residents, one particularly hard-hit group remained unmentioned: the nearly 50,000 people incarcerated in the state’s prisons and jails.


Now, with state supplies dwindling and no clear plan for vaccinating incarcerated people, the virus that tore through the state’s correctional facilities in the spring is roaring back behind bars. At least 5,100 people living and working in New York’s prisons have tested positive and 12 have died in recent weeks, outpacing even the early days of the pandemic.


But how and when to vaccinate incarcerated people as millions around the state wait has raised legal, logistical and ethical questions that the state has so far struggled to answer.


Across the country, the arrival of a vaccine was hailed as a harbinger of the pandemic’s eventual end. But administering the limited supply has proved challenging, and correctional facilities — where more than half a million people have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic — present additional complications.


Officials grappling with the same difficult questions have come to different conclusions, creating a patchwork of policies and timelines that vary dramatically, according to an analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative, a research nonprofit devoted to reducing mass incarceration. But at least 27 states directly name inmates in their public plans, and about a dozen place them in the first phases of vaccine distribution — including Massachusetts, where tens of thousands of prisoners are set to be vaccinated by the end of next month.


Others plan to vaccinate prison and jail workers before incarcerated people, breaking with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends vaccinating everyone at correctional facilities simultaneously. Some, like New York, do not address those behind bars at all.


“We have people dying on a weekly basis,” said Stefen Short, a lawyer for the Prisoners’ Rights Project at the Legal Aid Society. “What are the plans? There’s got to be a consistent message coming out of Albany and coming out of these agencies on this. Otherwise, you’re just generating a lot of fear.”


Vaccinating incarcerated people in the early stages of distribution has proved politically fraught. In New York, state senators have questioned whether prioritizing people in prisons makes sense. In Colorado, a draft plan to offer the vaccine inside prisons was met with fierce backlash for, as one district attorney wrote in The Denver Post, prioritizing “the health of incarcerated murderers” ahead of “law-abiding Coloradans 65 and older.”


New York officials said the state was preparing a plan. But public health experts broadly agree that incarcerated people are at particularly high risk for contracting and spreading the virus, as at least 8,800 people living or working in New York’s prison system have tested positive since the start of the pandemic.


And because guards, lawyers, workers and people entering and leaving custody move between the facilities and the community at large, the public health implications of outbreaks behind bars extend far beyond the prison walls. Officials said last fall that an outbreak at Greene Correctional Facility near Albany was linked to cases at an assisted-living facility and an elementary school.


The absence of any clear plan for incarcerated people has left their relatives and advocates confused and concerned.


“I really don’t understand it,” said Dr. Robert Cohen, a member of the Board of Correction in New York City. “But the consequences will be quite severe.”


For Jeanette Velazquez, the uncertainty has been frustrating.


Her brother, José Leon, is incarcerated at Adirondack Correctional Facility in upstate New York with several underlying health conditions, including hypertension and colitis. But he was not among the thousands of inmates granted early release last year to stem the spread of the virus.


Now, Ms. Velazquez said, her brother has taken his own precautions out of fear: Mr. Leon, 62, stopped going to communal mess halls and began skipping meals; he stays as isolated as possible; and, after years of his calling her regularly, Ms. Velazquez said she has not heard from him in days, unsure whether he is avoiding public spaces or if something went wrong.


Mr. Leon, who is one of three plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit over prison conditions during the pandemic, is serving a sentence of 15 years to life for sexual abuse, prison and court records show.


“I’m scared that he’s not going to make it,” she said, adding: “He’s not getting the medical attention that he really needs, and him not making it home alive, that’s my concern. It’s like he has a death sentence.”


To be sure, the first weeks of the state’s vaccine rollout have not been seamless for the public at large either. Medical providers were forced to throw out shots early on as other doses sat unused for weeks. Once the rollout sped up, New York’s reserve of first doses was depleted, and thousands of vaccination appointments were canceled. Even as inmates clamor for eligibility, millions of people who already qualify continue to wait.